Monday, August 03, 2015

The Coyotes of West Hills

View from the author's backyard, West Hills, California.

An essay by Daniel A. Olivas

We bought our second home fifteen years ago by looking farther west in the aptly named community of West Hills, a move that served several purposes, both practical and psychological.  On the practical side of the equation, we wanted better schools as well as a larger home for our son, one that included a small but serviceable swimming pool, a near necessity for combating the San Fernando Valley’s infamous heat.  On the psychological side, our first West Hills home that we purchased in 1989 had been the center of great joy but also too-many miscarriages.  We had stopped using the third bedroom which remained closed most of the time, filled with baby furniture and similar items—clothing, toys, books, wall decorations—saved from our son’s infancy and which we desperately wanted to reuse.  We needed a fresh start.

Our new house is nothing fancy: a circa 1984 tract Tudor revival structure.  Comfortable, functional, efficient.  The selling point was not the house itself, but rather its location up in the Santa Monica Mountains with a view of the entire Valley.  It sits in the shadow of Escorpión Peak (also known as Castle Peak), a natural landmark that anthropologists tell us is one of nine alignment points in the ancestral Chumash homelands.  All types of creatures and birds live amongst the scrub and sparse grasses: wild hare, quail, roadrunners, a bobcat or two, and of course coyotes.

A few weeks after we moved in, I was brushing my teeth in our upstairs bathroom getting ready for bed.  I heard something that made me stop, mid-brush, to listen.  I heard what sounded like whimpering just beyond our fenced backyard.  But it wasn’t quite human.  The whimpering grew louder, going up in pitch, more aggravated, and expanded with additional participants, sort of a mournful chorus of Las Lloronas.  It eventually morphed into what sounded like maniacal laughter.

“The coyotes are having a party tonight,” my wife said as she saw my worried expression.  “Probably caught a hare—celebrating before feasting.”  My wife grew up in the San Fernando Valley and would know these things.  My old stomping grounds were near downtown Los Angeles, a bit of a drive from nature.  I finished brushing my teeth as the coyotes quieted down.  They must be feasting, I thought.  They’re enjoying a lovely meal in West Hills in an evening redolent with possibilities and hope.


Nancy Reil Riojas said...

Life is too short to live in mundane surroundings. Coyotes of West Hills seems anything but. By the way, I purchased the book, Latinos in Lotusland, An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature. Cream of the crop writers, many in this group, and marvelous editing, Daniel. The Deep POV throughout draws the reader in. Your flash fiction/short story Bender was chosen by our local writers group for guidance in writing an intriguing allegory. "Let's talk about what 'it' is," they said.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this, Daniel. As one who grew up in the hills of Southern Arizona along the Mexican border, I had my sleep interrupted more than once by coyote howls or the occasional growl of a puma who came down close to my bedroom window. I kind of miss that. Better than the traffic moving along the Interstate too close to my window that I live with now.

Unknown said...

Thank both for your thoughts!

Sylvia Riojas said...

Very descriptive, Daniel. I'm very sorry for the loss of your babies.

Regarding coyotes, not too many years ago in my suburban city, my husband met a pair while walking the dog.