Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Coyote

Yesterday, on the way back to Marquette from Ishpeming's Ren Faire, I spotted a dead coyote in the grass on the side of the road. Steph and I were traveling on US41, though, so we couldn't come screeching to a stop; after taking a Michigan Left or two, we finally parked alongside the highway. I approached the coyote's body carefully; in our quick pass-by I had seen the unmistakable orange-brown fur and a set of very white, very sharp teeth pulled back in a death grimace.

As soon as I was standing next to the body, I immediately felt quite uncomfortable. It was no longer the judgmental stares of passing cars that bothered me, but the subject I was about to photograph. The body was smaller than I expected it to be (though Steph tells me that what I saw was the normal size for a full-grown coyote), and the skin was bunched in strange places, though the body was not bloated. Flies swarmed over the corpse, and for the two minutes I was photographing it, they seemed to drown out the passing traffic.

What I saw first, though, was its eye. The coyote had been there for at least a couple of days -- perhaps its bloating had come and gone -- but the lens of the visible eye was crusty and popped from the eyelid. It didn't gross me out, or make me feel physically ill; it was disconcerting, and, when matched with those sharp, white teeth, almost scary. The photographs that I chose to use, for the most part, hide the eye, though it can be seen somewhat in this view:

August Coyote I

I refused to get too close to the coyote's body. It didn't have a bad smell (the cooler weather we've had for the past few days probably helped), and though the flies were kind of gross in their abundance (one landed on me at one point), they didn't drive me away, either. It could have been the teeth of the coyote that made me keep my distance.

August Coyote II

I think, though, in the end, what kept me from taking my time photographing this animal, and what distressed me so much about it, was that it was a coyote. It was a coyote, so domestic dog-like in appearance and yet, so wild, that was mangled on the side of the road. It was a coyote, so hated by farmers and unjustly feared by hikers, which, in actuality, was so small and defeated and undignified along US41. It was a coyote, an animal I've never seen alive outside of captivity, and have only heard howling on occasion, that was feet away from me, dead.

August Coyote III

In this entry I mentioned, briefly, what I imagined my feelings would be like if I were to photograph a coyote that had been hit by a car. It was a sad experience, but it was also disturbing, owing both to the appearance of the animal and the fact that the coyote is so familiar, but, all the same, so wild.

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