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Awakened by the call of the wild

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What was that wailing sound from the woods? Coyotes? In Kentucky?

By Steve Doyle

I was jostled from a questionable sleep about 3 a.m. Tuesday by the sort of cruel cacophony that makes you spring from your bed to see what was that clatter.

I first sprinted to the kids’ room, thinking one had called out. I found those visions of sugarplums must have been dancing, because they didn’t even twitch when I opened their doors.

But when I was returning to my bedroom, I heard the noise again, clear and loud, blaring through a third-story window opened for the cool autumn air.

It was a long, moaning wail that grew louder, faded and then reached a crescendo, a chorus of harmonious tenors, sopranos and altos, with no room for any bass.

I had heard it several times in the past couple of weeks, sometimes through the window, sometimes when I walked our deck, often at a vocal range of such height and length that Luciano Pavarotti would have been jealous, though I doubt he would have elicited the rousing responses from the dogs in our neighborhood.

Howl-o-ween seemed to be in full force.

Now if  you’re going to say this was just a mournful dog or two reacting to the bright but only half-sized moon, I’d suggest you were woefully wrong. The moon’s stage had no standing with when I heard these auditory assaults.

This was many more than even a small kennel full of dogs, and it was a wailing like I had not encountered except in horror movies and in sound effects rigged for trick-or-treaters.

Could this have been a pack of coyotes?

My property backs up to a wooded creek bottom running through a farm. There’s not a house for at least a half-mile to the west, and the nearest cattle roam dozens of acres away.

My brother, the outdoorsman, has told me about coyotes on the farm where he lives near Finchville.

I told him that this wasn’t the old west, and that such animals weren’t part of the landscape when we grew up.

But like the deer who invaded after I left for college, the coyotes seem to have resettled in  Shelby County.

I don’t know if I would recognize a coyote if it rested on its haunches and extended a paw for a shake.

I’ve spent time out west, been to the mountains and the desert, but the only real live coyote I’ve ever seen in the wide open world came when I was taking a scenic train trip across Canada.

Just west of Calgary, the tour guide in the domed car pointed out one picking on a carcass a few dozen feet from the rails, part of his lecture on the flora and fauna.

I also recall Droop-a-Long Coyote, the sidekick of cartoon sheriff Ricochet Rabbit, for those of you of a certain age.

But other than that, my familiarity with this crazed sound came from when Audie Murphy or Randolph Scott pointed it out when they waited for the Indians to attack.

Those of you who spend your time in the woods probably see these critters and know their habits. I’m only inferring from the sound that they are on the move or having a group cry (which may not be far from the truth).

I wouldn’t go near a spot where I heard such a commotion.

Sure, maybe some tricksters rigged an audio system with Guns N Roses-sized speakers aimed in direction of the five houses on our cul de sacand the 100s just east of us, but I’m not even sure those car-rocking boom boxes you feel at stoplights could generate enough amps to recreate the auspicious audio that I’ve encountered.

This is frightening stuff, especially when it shocks you from a slumberous state.

So I did what I’m supposed to do: research.

The state fish and wildlife experts say that coyotes are indeed found in all 120 counties in Kentucky, even living in suburban areas of big cities – though I’m not sure Simpsonville qualifies for that definition. But I read on and found other evidence that fits my investigative theory:

§       Coyotes arrived in Kentucky about 40 years ago – which is after I moved away.

§       They live in woods and farm land. Check.

§       And – get this – they tend to howl more in the fall, when their families break up, and in the spring, when the boys want to meet the girls.

They appear fairly harmless to 2-legged curiosities, unless they become rabid, which could happen to any sort of roaming animal, I guess.

They do pose a threat to fawns, calves and rabbits, depending on the season. I like fawns, calves and rabbits and love seeing them around.

But I’m also wondering about one other thing: There has in recent months been a scarcity of squirrels foraging in my oak-and-hickory-highlighted perimeter.

Maybe those howling hometown hyenas have a taste for large rodents, too.