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Jessie Veeder, Published April 20 2013

Coming Home: Humans, beasts learn to coexist

I know it’s strange, but one of my favorite sounds on the ranch is the yipping and howling of the coyotes as the sky changes colors and the sun makes its way for the other side of the world.

The windows may be open on a warm summer evening or we might be down by the barn, unsaddling the horses and that lonesome and familiar wail, no matter how faint, will interrupt our conversation as we stop what we’re doing, hold our breath and look toward the horizon for a moment.

My husband will make a calculation on the animals’ location, and we will listen for a moment or two, caught up in our wondering, thinking about what they might be saying to one another as our dogs chime in, throwing their heads back in the passionate yowl passed down to them from the wild bloodlines of their ancestors.

It’s not that I’m particularly fond of these predators that can wreak havoc on newborn calves and barn cats; it’s just that their merciless presence out here is a reminder that I live in a wild place, and it makes me feel kind of wild, too.

Because there’s no white picket fence or city-limit sign separating us from the beasts out here. And when you plop a house down in the middle of a coulee surrounded by creek beds and a dark tangle of oaks and thorns, you come to understand that it isn’t your backyard animals are invading.

No.

You’re invading theirs.

And when you pull into the driveway to find that a giant, prehistoric snapping turtle has crawled up from the beaver dam to make a home in your garage, well, you’re reminded pretty quickly about that whole food-chain, circle-of-life thing.

Rattlesnakes vying for the same real estate have a comparable effect and happen to be the reason speed dial was invented.

My poor mother.

I can’t begin to tell you about the countless times that woman has frantically called dad, the neighbor or my husband to, “Come over quick! Oh my gawd, the cat drug a chipmunk in the house, and it’s still alive!”

Or, in my younger days: “Jessie brought an injured bird in the house and it has miraculously recovered and is now flying all over the house.”

And the most recent, and my favorite: “Jessie, can your husband come over here? Dad’s gone and the cat chased a mouse up the curtain where he’s balancing on the rod and the cat is sitting on the piano just staring at it. Yes! The curtain rod! It’s just hanging out there! I’m scared what’s going to happen when the cat makes her move!”

Yes, there are some common pests both city and country folks can swap stories about. Mice are one of them. And so are raccoons, although I think my parents are the only people who’ve ever watched from the couch as a raccoon used his creepily human hands to peel back the screen on the sliding door, sneak into the house and start rearranging the decorative rocks sitting on my mother’s table.

That’s the sort of event that takes a moment to process.

Kind of like when you find yourself standing outside in your underwear in the middle of the night, half awake and wondering what to do with the raccoon dangling from the deck, holding on for dear life as his pathetic, glossy eyes beg you to save him from the dogs barking and howling from the lawn below, as if to say, “Hey man, all I wanted was the cat food.”

Yes, it’s times like these I decide it’s a miracle we can all survive together on this planet, especially humans, who can so easily be thrown into a panic by a surprise visit from a snapping turtle or a sneaky raccoon with interior design aspirations, reminding us just how sheltered and pretentious our species can be.

So I guess it makes sense that of all the wild things out here beyond the city limits, I like the coyote the best. Because he reminds me of my place in this world, while, you know, keeping his distance.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.