Akiko BuschUSAWriting2013

My subject as a nonfiction writer is often landscape, the natural world. How to locate and articulate a sense of place challenges me. Perhaps it only follows, then, that I have also managed to collect a growing file of essay ideas that do not have to do with place and that are not landscape specific. I used my wonderful weeks at Civitella to investigate one of these and worked on an essay about theft. Odd as it may seem, the opportunity to consider the human impulse to steal in such a gracious setting had a strange kind of logic.



Coyotes do not harmonize as wolves do; their pitch is higher, and the range of sounds a small family group makes is more diverse. Their vocalization includes eleven basic sounds that range from yips and barks to growls and whines, whimpers, low cries. But such words, of course, bear little relation to those declensions of sound that actually emerge from the night woods. A fugue, I think. Or an aria. But those words are not right either. And the function of these calls is as diverse: a cry to mate, to summon the young, to announce territory, to establish dominance, to welcome, to warn. Listening to them, I try to be more alert, more attentive to the gradations of sound. I can’t quite say where a bark becomes a whine or a yip a howl, any more than I can say where fear and desire converge or where a welcome may intersect with a warning. The variations of sound, at once fierce and plaintive, simply blend to my ear, rippling freely from flippant greetings to claims of authority, with only a few notes distinguishing one from the other. 

Something in the frequency of the calls also allows them to seem more distant than they really are. Listening to them, one is simply reminded of that fugitive equation between sound and intent; miss an inflection and you can miss meaning altogether. With their repetitions and echoes, the cry of two or three coyotes will sound like twenty, announcing their presence with a distant finality. This trick they have of seeming to double, triple, quadruple in number as soon as they set up their cry is another of their vocalization skills. Yet while the cry is collective, it manages to remain a soundtrack to solitude, and this ambiguity seems essential to their message—you are alone; you are not alone. Somehow, their choir manages to say both of these things.