Apr 25, 2024

MADORIN: Nature’s calling cards

Posted Apr 25, 2024 9:18 AM


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.