MADORIN: Nature’s calling cards


By KAREN MADORIN

In Victorian times, people of a certain social class with
time on their hands went “calling.”  As
either a pass into another’s home or as a token of the visit, guests left a business-size
card in a lovely dish placed on a table in the entryway.  These ornate calling cards engraved with the
caller’s name held special significance if one bent the left top corner one way
or another meaning if a different corner were bent or torn. 

            While this
seems complicated in today’s more relaxed culture, I’ve found that nature introduces
calling cards of a different and less difficult-to-understand variety. While
walking hundreds of miles down country roads and paths, I’ve spied more than a
few calling cards deposited in the middle of the road to mark a local coyote’s
territory.  These greetings, while clear
in their message, aren’t nearly as ornate or as collectible as those left by
our Victorian ancestors.

            For those
unfamiliar with canid behavior, passing coyotes leave scat in strategic and
clearly visible patches of road or trail. They want other coyotes, foxes,
bobcats, house cats, dogs, and humans to acknowledge their domination of the
neighborhood. In fact, their very frequent messages pronounce their dominion
over the drive, pasture, and surrounding section roads. Anything or anyone else
trespasses.

            While
Victorian cards present the visitor’s name in ornate script, surrounded by the
filigreed designs, coyotes leave simple communication. However, the attentive
can read volumes in these tubular epistles.

Over summer and into fall, I interpreted a list of such messages.
Wild canids tend feed opportunistically. Though they possess a lovely set of
incisors designed to shred raw flesh, they also eat fruits, berries, and
melons.  Late spring and early summer mid-road
deposits reveal nature’s fibrous, fruity “ink.” 
These calling cards vary little in theme.

            Some
include lines that state, “Hey, check out the mulberries.  Who needs rabbits when berries fall from the
tree into your mouth?” Another might read, “Mulberries rule, but watch out for attack
birds.” By late summer, I might find a message along these lines, “If you
thought mulberries were good, you must try the currants. This season’s little
berries defy description—flavor and bulk make them first choice of all coyotes!”

Once berries shrivel and fall to
the ground, Yote pronouncements take on new texture and dimension.  Rodents come back into fashion.  The messages read, “Whoa, that was one big
bunny!” or “Packrats make great snacks.” Fall diets include plentiful rodent
fur and little round seeds I haven’t identified, hence the following motto,
“Eat a balanced diet—a little meat combined with a little grain make a coyote
sleek, sassy, and fast.”

            While it
may seem odd to relate a coyote’s natural bodily function to calling cards left
behind by Victorian gentlefolk, similarities exist. Relying on sight and scent
features, they intentionally drop scat in the road to serve the same purpose as
old-fashioned human calling cards. Dogs read it with their noses and quickly cover
its scent by lifting a leg. You read the announcement that you’ve invaded
another creature’s marked territory with your eyes and think, who poops in the
middle of the road?

            Coyotes do
because it’s theirs, and they can.



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