the true stories
A few days prior to the anniversary date of my twenty-ninth year as a letter carrier, I began a new route. The territory was some ground I had covered before. Two blocks of small business had been excised and twelve blocks of residential had been appended. The old route had measured out at fourteen kilometers and I decided that the new route would not require a pedometer. My calves began to cramp at fifteen kilometers and there was still over twenty blocks to go.
Six days shy of the anniversary which was to occur on the twenty-ninth of October, I was heading west on 29th Ave. and I spied an adult female coyote. She stood in the crossroads a block away on 28th Ave. and after checking me out, she walked off to the west. There was a tall young man about a half block away fingering a cell-phone who appeared to be following her.
When I reached the end of my westward run, I saw her heading east and the young man was still tailing her from a half block distance. I walked over to speak with him. He was about twenty years old, tall and working nearby on some residential construction. He had phoned the police, the animal control authorities and was keeping visual contact. The coyotress was keeping the normal coyote safe buffer distance of about twelve yards between her and the young man..
“I'm an Inuit,” he said, “I know coyotes. She found an apple tree and a house with chickens. She will stay in this area.”
“I'm a Cherokee-Swede,” I said, “Coyotes know me. This is my territory. This is also where I earn my apples.”
The coyote stood forty feet away in the middle of the road munching on a hard green Granny Smith apple and listening to our every word as her ears rotated in three hundred and sixty degrees. Her momma didn't raise no fool.
I worked for four blocks to my turnaround on Cambie St. and began the westward jaunt down 28th Ave. Way down at the end of this run, I saw the young man putting some underground sprinkler tubing in the yard of a new house. The coyote was gone. I stopped to ask if the authorities had collared the girl.
“No. They said if she's not showing aggression, they will not catch her.”
When I got down two blocks east of where the fellow was working it was time for my sandwich. I was in the six hundred block of 28th Ave. and it was on the crest of a north-south ripple that runs through the geography of this region. It was a fine Indian Summer day with achingly beautiful cobalt skies offset by the gold and jasper of the leaves of the tree-lined street. I sat on the north-side curb and dug into my tiffins.
As I poured out some warm coffee, I saw the coyote. She was directly across the street under a small maple. She was just licking her teeth after another delicious Granny Smith and circling the spot where she obviously intended to lay down. It was noteworthy as we were only twenty-five feet apart and it was broad daylight.
I ate my sandwich with the gusto of a starved wolf and began on my daily apple, a Gala. Now it was smoke time. I began to ponder many things that had been working their way from my deeps into my shallows. I pondered how much longer I would or should walk the streets delivering mail. I pondered the changing landscape of my city. I pondered the fact that after twenty-nine years I was earning two dollars an hour less than when I began, after adjusting for inflation. I pondered the fact that everything in my view would sooner than later be razed to the ground and rebuilt four stories deep. I pondered the fact that the “walking time” portion of the Canadian letter-carrier's job had doubled since I began. I wondered if this would prove to be my last route.
All the while I watched the coyote. She looked a little worn out and her fur was still in summer mode. She worked her large ears incessantly monitoring every sound. I could see that she had learned to filter large batches of repetitious city ambiance, just as I had. I named her Apple Annie. She kept looking west as if waiting for something to appear.
I told her in a soft voice that since we were having lunch together we may as well sit together. I rose up and crossed the street. I sat down on the other side of the little maple and could have easily reached over and stroked the fur between her ears. We were both leaving the realm of the noteworthy and tip-toeing into the extraordinary.
Apple Annie was a normal wild animal with her full instincts. She had a small circular wound on her left buttock which had mostly healed and she walked with no limp. She wasn't drooling, mad or dazed. Her teeth were clean and shiny, her eyes were as bright as the Korean gal at the SkyTrain coffee bar. Her pads were sound and her nails were straight and strong.
There was one thing I noticed right away, though as soon as I sat beside her. Annie was tired. I mean the girl was staying awake by Herculean effort. I know the feeling well. After every restructure, a letter-carrier does about two weeks of twelve hour shifts and there is much to monitor if one is to cope. I rolled another smoke and sang her a little Cherokee song I learned from Rita Coolidge. I told her that I would take another fifteen minutes on my break and watch over her.
She kept looking west and soon her eyelids drooped. I continued to talk softly and her head nodded just like mine used to do when we had math class in Louisiana and there was no air-conditioning. She fought it and resumed her vigil, just like her maker intended and her mother had taught her. I reassured her that I wouldn't let anyone harm her.
Across the street I could see an old customer watching from his living room window. His eyes were wide. He was a nice old man whom I had spoken to several times when I was his mailman before. He had met the Queen and had never gotten over it. He had been on a tour with some old veterans to the beaches of France. One of the entourage was Smokey Smith, the eldest vet then living. This man was wheelchair bound and was a chain smoker. As the august gentlemen stood on the strand remembering the gunfire, the Queen's escorts brought the old lady down a hill to address those assembled.
According to Mr. L., Smokey ditched his cigarette when he saw her coming. Elizabeth walked right up to him and told him to go ahead and light up another one. This “nobless oblige” was just the cat's ass as far as Mr. L. could see. We had spoken also of racoons and he had related a story of trying to reunite four kits with their mum after their tree nest had fallen in a windstorm.
He had shown me the spot on the yard where it all happened. He had donned a welder's mask and welder's gloves and tried to scoop them up one at a time and ferry them to the other side of a retaining wall where the mother waited. His Irish description of the ensuing caterwauling mayhem left me in stitches for several days. He had great respect for wild animals of any size.
Mr. L said I was the only man he'd met, save one, who knew of the danger of the black mamba. We had been talking snakes one afternoon after I told him that a gentleman in the next block kept a seven foot python. I had said that it was big enough to kill a man but posed no danger to me when sunning in the lawn with a full belly. I told him that there was one snake that was never safe and it was the mamba. It was the only snake I know of that will stalk a human with the intent to kill. In other words, it will kill what it cannot eat.
In Africa, people carry bundles of stuff on their heads if they have to pass under trees as a protection against this animal. Contrary to most every other snake, this one can raise its head off the ground to the height of a man's eyes when still and move forward with its head elevated well up off the deck. It is very long and of a small circumference, it can out run a man and climb like a monkey.
Mr. L. had an English military friend who loved to trek in southern Africa. It was from this man he had learned of the mamba. His friend had once spotted a mamba crossing a dirt road while on a journey. He had set his compass due east immediately, marched four miles off of his course, marched four miles north and finally four miles west to rejoin his original track. Such was the necessary precaution to take for those who know.
Mr. L. spoke of a circus that had come to Vancouver many years before I was born. The gypsies and carneys had set up along the railroad track right of way that runs near Arbutus Street. The main attractions were a very large elephant and a huge Anaconda. The snake was dubbed Methuselah in the adverts and posters. It's great size was attributed to its incredible antiquity.
Mr. L. had gone as a boy to see the circus and especially the snake. He was suitably awed with the monster. After a week or so the circus men pulled up the tent pegs to move on and a curious article appeared in the Vancouver Sun the following day. It so happened that when the animals were being readied for transportation, Methuselah was discovered to be missing. It was never found and Mr. L. said he had added a new clause onto his nightly prayers after that.
Today, the right of way is known for the feral rabbit population and the strange absence of homeless people who seem to prefer the dirty concrete downtown over the beautiful black-berry bushes, tall grass, shady trees and ditches.
As I continued to speak to Apple Annie, she looked directly at me and studied my face. She put her head between her paws, closed both eyes and relaxed her radar ears. You never saw anything like it. I turned to Mr. L.'s window. He made a gesture of astonishment. Two Japanese ladies hurried down the sidewalk. When they got close enough to see that Annie wasn't a wolf and wasn't a dog, they pulled out their camera phones and began to squeal. Annie rose after only a five minute rest and walked off to the west.
The next day when I reached a relay box where I intended to rest, as it was nearly exactly halfway through the route, I sat up my lunch on a low cement wall that ran along under a massive hedge. There was a red mail box as well, standing next to the gray relay box. I had three bags of mail in that relay. I had just poured my coffee when Apple Annie appeared from an alley across the street.
She walked up and lay down next to the mail box, munching on a Granny Smith. I sat about three feet away on the low wall and ate my sandwich. She kept looking west. In about fifteen minutes a red truck swerved to a sloppy stop and a bearded man and his chubby wife got out and started taking pictures with their cell phones.
The man came up close and his wife stayed about twenty feet away, as her maker intended and her momma had taught her. The man squatted on his haunches and started making the sounds you make when you are calling a dog. Annie looked at him and then looked at me.
“Is it your coyote?” the man asked.
“Are you feeding it?”
“Nope. She likes Granny Smith apples and chicken, while I prefer Gala apples and my wife's pork chop sandwiches. We are just having lunch together, is all.”
The man kept making kissing sounds, extending his hand and snapping his fingers, Annie got up and walked off to the west. He took one last photo and drove away.
When I reached Mr. L.'s house later that day, he was waiting in his yard.
“So, you are back on this route?”
“Micheal, now tell me my boy, is that your coyote?”
“Are you feeding it?”
“Nope. She has her own apples. I can scarcely feed myself enough to do this new improved route.”
“Her mother mustn't have taught her to kill. It's extraordinary! I saw her go to sleep beside you.”
"She knows how to kill chickens, don't fool yourself. That's a night-time job.”
The following day, I didn't see Annie and I haven't seen her since. Mr. L. inquired once more about her welfare and I told him of her disappearance. He shook his head and said it was altogether an extraordinary week. I reminded him of Methuselah. I'm part Irish and I couldn't resist the joke.
There are few really precious things in this world. There are fewer priceless things. On my trail, I have been fortunate enough to encounter and recognize one or two, thus far. Near the top of this small list is the unsolicited trust of one living creature freely bestowed upon another. Particularly the trust of a female or of a child extended to an adult male. Above this, the trust of a wild creature extended to another species. Thank-you Apple Annie. Vaya con Dios. Remember Algeciras?
My taxi driver had this to say when I told him the story later in the week while en route to my AM drop off, “Mike, there are too own-lee possy-billy-tees for this Kotee incident. May be she bas joor relative come to bisit from udder life.”
“What's the other one?'
“Dat dis Kotee know joo are Holi.”
“Or maybe she was waiting for me to drop my last letter.”
“I do not tink so. She bas tell something for you.”
So, there are as many explanations as there are traditions, religions and expectations. I have my own interpretation. There were questions on my mind that week in particular and I was seeking clarity and confirmation of my own inchoate decisions. Annie provided exactly what I sought.
I simply had to remember that Creator had made her a Trickster. She had been looking to the West and walking always to the West. She couldn't help it. This is the direction of introspection and sunset. It was likely the direction from which she had been shot or bitten. The East is the direction of new beginnings. Such was her message given in her own way. I knew this was to be my last route.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.