Every time I ask myself what to write about next I say, “Coyotes.”
Well, it’s not necessarily coyotes, but fear. For nearly three months I have put off sharing this story (other than with close friends and family) because it left me terrified. Once the initial terror wore off, I wanted to allow the space to overcome it. Get back out there and face it.
By now, you probably know that I. Love. To. Run. Love it! It’s as much a part of me as my soul. Early January I started to find my post marathon running groove again. I enjoyed all the freedom of someone not telling me what mile I was on, or what was my split pace. My pups became my best furry running friends (BFRF) for every run. This season was special because I was able to “run naked” (without any tech or headphones), and I couldn’t run more than 4 miles. Bell needed to build up to longer runs. It was truly a JOY every time I got out there. Slow, steady, and free.
On January 18, my plan was to drop Owen off at daycare, come home and grab my running gear. I thought maybe I should leave Bell and Libby at home. Sometimes I want to run by myself. However, they gave me the saddest puppy dog eyes when they saw me lace up my running shoes. I hooked them onto leashes and headed out.
That morning was cold, bright, and energizing. Exactly what I needed. My route was well known to me—a gateway to the forest service for long runs. It’s the one where I find solitude. It’s the one where I am completely alone with God. It’s the one Bell and I have spent many hours on together, especially during the many months David traveled for work. It’s the one my best friend and I took after someone close to us was assaulted on the job. It’s my solace, peace, and security. It’s where I’m the most comfortable.
This morning was unbelievably beautiful. It was the kind of run I purposely stopped to take in the glory around me. One of these stops I noticed how many birds were singing, and dancing from limb to limb, from bush to ground. All I could do was smile while watching them. Being in a forest as it’s waking up is truly an amazing space. I kept running until this delicate patch of winter grass caught my eye. The sun had risen enough to make the frost sparkle. THIS is one of my favorite things—the way frost or snow turns into diamonds when the sun catches it. This time I stopped long enough to take a few pictures. Then I noticed the forest was awfully quiet.
I was about 20 yards from my turn around point—the park border with the forest service. Libby acted like she caught the smell of an animal. I assumed it was a deer or an elk. She didn’t dart off into the woods. I was turned to the left watching her as I instinctively turned right to head back. My head caught up with my body and there they were—two large coyotes about 30 yards away. I stopped, and greeted them with an “Oh, hello,” while we stared at each other.
Now, I should say that I am not one to be afraid of wild animals. At least the ones that live on the South Rim. I give all animals a respectful distance, and will turn around if it’s the rut or birthing season for elk. Most coyotes in the Village keep moving away from people. At this point I wasn’t afraid. Only cautious because I’ve heard story after story about coyote packs luring dogs away.
I started to walk, and they ran toward me. Something caught my eye off to the right. It was a third coyote. Immediately, I heard a howl behind me on the forest service land. This is when I started to realize that we were caught in a pack at breakfast time. I started to run, and the three visible coyotes followed us. The more I walked, the closer they came to us. I threw rocks, sticks, and yelled absurd things like, “YOU WILL NOT WIN TODAY!” But every rock/stick I threw Libby chased after it. It took a minute or two for Bell and Libby to realize the coyotes were close. The two coyotes on the left ran ahead, and cut us off to meet up with the third on the right side. Libby tore off after them into the forest and I couldn’t see her. This is when the fear started to sink into my bones.
Terrified doesn’t fully convey the emotion that encompassed me for that half mile as the coyotes chased us. Libby and Bell both bullied them into the forest one at a time, and ran where I couldn’t see them. The tears rolling down my face were from the thoughts of losing them. When I put Libby on leash, the coyotes approached us and Bell took off after them. My dogs would fight to the death for me, but that couldn’t be the outcome today. We just had to make it back to the Village. I had nothing but sticks, rocks, screams, my nails, fists, and teeth if it came down to it.
I ran to the Village with a target on my back, and left a piece of me on that power line road. I still can’t put my finger on what was left.. the naivety of taking wilderness for granted? My comfort zone being stripped from me? A loss of place? Regardless, I have yet to face my fear. This morning I thought about taking that same route. Running back to the boundary line and daring a coyote to come at me, and finding that piece of me. I couldn’t do it.
I wanted to write this piece from the other side of fear. From a place of conquer rather than hesitation. However, I’m still hesitant to venture back there on my own. You know what? I think that’s okay. Sometimes we have fears that we can only face for ourselves, but most of the time we face fears with others. We confide in those we love and trust. They walk with us into the darkness to battle by our side. In my heart of hearts I know that I will go back to that boundary line. It might not be at day break, and it might not be solo. But I will not let my fear control me.
I’m learning to not dust my fears under the bed.
I’m learning to not allow fear to take my joy.
I’m learning to turn and face them.