by Francesca G. Varela ♦ Photography by Duncan George
Appears in the Spring 2016 Issue of The Wayfarer. Order a print or the full e-edition here»
I remember the night we heard the coyotes. It was summer, or almost summer, and I was still a teenager. Although long past sunset, the sky wasn’t yet at its darkest, and the air through my window smelled like dusk.
As I tried to sleep I listened to the outside. Car brakes. Fountain trickle. Creek water in the forested backyard. I breathed in cottonwood pollen and honeysuckle, wishing for some distant silver wilderness far from noisy highways.
And then, a sound I’d never heard—throat-heavy cries, a mix of crying babies and yipping dogs. I ran downstairs to the window facing the forest. My family, awakened by the noise, joined me, and we all stood there as the night breeze blew through the screen.
Coyotes. I knew very well where they were gathered; the vacant lot on the other side of the creek. Such a small piece of land, full of dandelions, and mice hiding in blackberry brambles, and a small oak tree that had died but not fallen over.
I used to go over there all the time, when the sun caught in the grasses, and the deer, silent in the dry fall wind, followed shadows to the yellow oak tree, everything still mysterious at mid-afternoon, the water overhung with throat-soaked crow songs, like every moment was heavy with the abruptness of dawn, all the flowers dead except maybe the last blink of goldenrod, or a cattail tuft along the streambank. It was always unwinding, with the ground ferns dead, and the tree ferns just returning to life. I thought it would continue like that forever, unwinding, unfurling, blooming, dying, summer to winter.
But I was wrong. These days the soil has been mounded up and covered with plastic. They’re going to build houses there. I try not to look that way. I try not to hear their machines crunch the last branches of that oak tree. I try not to notice that the robins have moved their nests, that the owls no longer visit, that the deer and coyotes are gone.
Instead I think back to when the vacant lot was still a meadow; that coyote night, when I realized that city animals and city forests can be just as beautiful as those in the wilderness. It seemed to me, as I lingered next to the window, that, maybe, wilderness was closer than I thought. It seemed to me that you could find it anywhere, maybe even right there in the meadow.
Francesca G. Varela was raised in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Her dream of becoming an author began in third grade, and her writing career had an early start; she had a poem published in the 2002 edition of The Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. Her debut novel, Call of the Sun Child, won the Bronze Medal in the 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Best First Book and also was named a Finalist in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Young Adult category. She recently graduated from the University of Oregon with degrees in Environmental Studies and Creative Writing. When not writing, she spends her time practicing piano and violin, figure skating, walking her dog, Ginger, and exploring Oregon’s wild places. Look for Francesca’s latest book, Listen, in March 2016 by Owl House Books.
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