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John Boston: The things you find in someone's stomach

Posted: January 17, 2009 6:57 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
"If the book is good, is about something that you know, and is truly written, and reading it over you see that this is so, you can let the boys yip and the noise will have that pleasant sound coyotes make on a very cold night when they are out in the snow and you are in your own cabin that you have built or paid for with your work."
- Ernest Hemingway

Around dusk the other night, I was pleasantly surprised to see my 6-year-old parked on a blanket next to the "Cowgirl Parking Only" sign next to the woodpile at Scared o' Bears Ranch. She was "writing" in her journal.

Normally, twilight holds too many obtuse possibilities, and Indiana favors the indoors. But Indy is becoming more adventuresome and that warmed my heart.

Until I heard the howls.

I find the coyote's mournful song most soothing. There is a big dusty-gray male who trots so boldly by our home. I have no idea where he lives.

There may be only a hundred or so of these wild dogs in the entire valley. The ones you see in Castaic might be the ones you see the next night in Sand Canyon. They roam where they roam.

As civilization encroaches, reported attacks are on the rise.

Just the other night Indiana and I were talking on the phone. In passing, I mentioned: "Life is just so beautiful."

"Yes." She paused and sighed, as someone too wise for her years: "Isn't it, though?"

I want her to find her own sense of reverence and marvel for the things outdoors. And I vow to keep her safe.

The coyotes were just a rock's throw away. We both were startled at the robust volume of their team yell.

A million years. I find that such a preposterously staggering number. Talk about old-timers, that's how long coyotes have lived in the Santa Clarita Valley. You think they know the place by now?

Indy and I walked down to the bridge. It was just pure evil how I snuck learning into the conversation.

"The Tataviams, our extinct Native Americans here, had but two clans: the Coyote People and the Mountain Lion People," I said. "At birth, it was decided which one you would be."

I asked her choice. She opted for the puma. Me, too.

As people, we seem to be always dividing up. Today, there are those - usually the owners of small pets - who demand that something be done about the coyote menace. Others ask why they can't be just left alone.

We've long made war against Brother Coyote. There is this wonderfully oddball story from the 1920s.

Farmers, eager to protect hens and sheep from canis latrans, demanded California do something about the predator menace.

A handsome bounty of $50 a pelt was offered. In a smaller-scale version of the recent billion-dollar bailouts, folks always seem to find a way to liberate money from the government.

It wasn't long before SCVians were plopping down dozens upon dozens of coyote skins onto the counter of the state game warden in town. Besides the occasional local predator captured, folks were wiring friends or family from all over the country to send their coyote skins here to Newhall-Saugus.

Officials were rather suspicious, especially when rich, huge Canadian coyote furs started showing up.

Mountain 'yotes are more than twice as big as desert 'yotes. No one said the pelts had to be local.

Of course, the local coyote population dwindled. With the decline, up went the birth rate of varmints.

Squirrels, rats, skunks, voles, possums all had a heyday.

Soon, the valley was like one giant, brown Swiss cheese. Trees were falling over in school yards, the runway at Newhall International Airport couldn't be used because of all the holes.

We had to hire two full-time local exterminators, who used such environmentally sound practices as pouring gasoline down the pests' subway system.

I am forever amazed how bold, how sneaky and especially how downright smart coyotes are.

It was a summer night years ago, after eight o'clock, and I was still tractoring the upper field. My companions were two coyotes, who watched me from no more than 25 yards away. I didn't find it unusual until I talked to my boss, Ed Muhl.

There was no one like Fast Eddie. Rancher, movie studio mogul - he was made of many interesting parts.

I'll never forget the time watching home movies with him. I did a cartoon double-take. During the unwrapping of Christmas presents on the 16mm footage, there on the couch was Cary Grant.

Ed was head of Universal Studios. He told me something that still wows me. He knew the two particular coyotes.

He had observed whenever he brought his rifle on the tractor, they would somehow know to stay just outside of firing distance. When he didn't have the rifle with him, they'd mosey up in haughty defiance.

"It was as if, through the diesel and steel, they could somehow smell that I didn't have that rifle with me," Ed confessed in that Big Bad Wolf gruff voice.

Why did the coyotes get so close when we tilled?

"The tractor sometimes stampeded the varmints in the fields," my mogul friend explained.

That's something they don't teach in school.

Old-time friends and neighbors of mine, Paula and Clem Cox, once fished a coyote out of their swimming pool. Paula, being Paula, toweled it off and dried it with a hair dryer, then fed it pork chops.

Oh, foof. So many stories. I could write a book.

In 1953, state Fish & Game sampled the stomachs of 2,200 dead coyotes over a 12-year-period here. As government does, they went out to discover what SCV people knew already: coyotes will eat anything.

The list was lengthy, including horse poop, horse, rattlesnakes, watermelon, poison oak, porcupines, bats, grass, a bobcat and candy bar wrappers.

Candy bars.

The next time Indy and I are strolling, I'll find a way to drop that arcane knowledge to my daughter.

You see, coyotes rarely attack people. But they have been known to dash up to a kid and grab food right out of his sticky mitts.

What a great way to teach your kid to wash his hands.

Not to worry. I shall stay close. ...

John Boston has earned 117 major national, regional and state awards for writing. His work appears Sundays and Fridays in The Signal. Check out his Web site at


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