NYC Baby Raccoon Woes

Posted June 2, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, In the City, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, raccoons, Riverside Park, Seasons, Spring, Walking the Pandemic, Wildlife/Natural History

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From the Walking the Pandemic Series

Two young raccoons gaze out at Riverside Park as the sun sets over the Hudson.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a video of urban raccoon babies venturing out from their den in the retaining wall of Riverside Park. Amusing and cute, like babies everywhere.

But life in the urban raccoon world is complex and so is the intersection between urban humans and the wildlife that lives among them.

Three masked animals regard each other.

Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic caused by a wildlife disease, let’s start with raccoon health.

Check out the raccoon on the left in the photo below: No tail. Not even a stub! This could be due to a genetic abnormality or the result of a scuffle with one of its many siblings or perhaps with an adult raccoon.

No tail.

More worrisome is that many of these young raccoons are suffering extensive hair loss.

No pants.

They look, well, mangy.

Mange is, in fact, my guess as to what’s ailing them. Sarcoptic mange is caused by parasitic mites that lay eggs beneath the surface of the skin where the larvae hatch. Some burrow to the surface, while others burrow deeper into the skin, causing intense itchiness. The mites are highly contagious, so it’s hardly surprising that most, if not all, of these raccoons are showing signs of the disease.

Bare-chested.

Mange is not lethal in itself. But infected animals tend to scratch excessively in an attempt to relieve the itch.

This well-furred if itchy raccoon was photographed in 2011. It is not one of the current crop.

All the scratching can inflame and break the skin, causing secondary infections which in turn can lead to death. I reported the situation to the Urban Park Rangers who confirmed that it sounded like mange and said the rangers would check on the raccoons to assess the situation.

About ten years ago, Riverside Park’s squirrel population suffered from mange. The following year, I talked about the disease with a man I met in the park. He fed the squirrels when he could afford to and called them his friends.

“I was afraid they was all going to die off,” he said. “Lot of them did die. But they came back. Yes, they came back.”

A friend to Riverside Park’s squirrels.

I’ve been watching raccoons in Riverside Park since 2009 and this is the first year I’ve noticed mange. Which is not to say the raccoon population has been healthy all this time.

In 2018, an outbreak of canine distemper killed hundreds of raccoons in NYC’s parks. And in 2010, a rabies epidemic swept through Manhattan’s raccoon population. You can read my coverage of the epidemic here, including the painstaking, humane and remarkably effective response by USDA, the Parks Department and the NYC Department of Health that involved trapping, examining and vaccinating the entire non-rabid raccoon population. Non-lethal traps were baited with … well, who knew raccoons like marshmallows?

But then, what don’t they like?

Garbage raider along Morningside Park.

Which brings me to the ongoing problem of New Yorkers feeding the wildlife, which seems to me worse than ever during the pandemic. I understand. We’ve all been shut up and confined. Many of us are craving connection with nature and more people are out walking in the parks at all hours of the day. People often feed animals out of a genuine, but misplaced desire to be generous and to help. But please, for your own sake and for the sake of the animals: don’t do it!

As of mid-May, large amounts of food were being left out nightly on the retaining wall, directly above the den. And as you can see, it did not go to waste. (Of course, whatever raccoons don’t eat simply helps to sustain our bloated rat population. But that’s another story.)

Nuts, sandwiches and take-out dinners have all been left for the raccoons.

Instead of learning to forage effectively on their own in the park, these curious babies are learning that food comes from humans. They’re already coming to expect it.

Is the buffet laid out up there yet?

This is not healthy for either species. We need our wildlife to stay wild. Our parks offer plenty of natural food, even discounting the raided garbage cans.

I haven’t been able to check on the raccoons since mid-May, but will post more about them as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, stay healthy and keep our wildlife healthy.

A Quick Shot of Spring

Posted May 3, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, Birds, Central Park, Flora, In the City, NYC Parks, Seasons, Spring, Walking the Pandemic, Wildlife/Natural History

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Walking the NYC pandemic

Over the past two weeks, I have twice strolled across Central Park to the Conservatory Gardens to see the blossoms.

I’d like to go again today, but with temperatures going up to the 70s, there will be too many people to easily maintain social distance.

So today, I’ll walk vicariously by sharing these photos with you.

Let’s enter the Gardens through the grand gated entrance at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street.

There are spirals on either side of the iron gates.

A wisteria-drenched pergola at the western end is not yet in bloom but already lovely.

Inside the gates, there are three gardens, Italian, English and French in style. Here’s a taste of what lies inside…

Click on any photo below to see it larger and to click through the gallery.

A mesmerizing allée.

I left the gardens and ambled down Fifth Avenue.

Not Art. Good to know.

Let’s look a little closer at what is Not Art.

Hello, I am not art either.

I took a look at the field hospital set up in Central Park’s East Meadow by an evangelical not-for-profit called Samaritan’s Purse. Partnering with Mount Sinai Hospital across Fifth Avenue, the field hospital has treated over 300 COVID-19 patients, but will be closing down its NYC operations and leaving under a cloud of controversy.

The organization’s leader Franklin Graham, son of preacher Billy Graham and a staunch ally of President Trump, has repeatedly made homophobic and anti-Muslim statements. And although the organization maintains it does not discriminate, medical personnel are required to sign a “declaration of faith” that opposes same-sex marriage. According to Gothamist, ‘Graham has previously said that homosexuals will burn in the “flames of hell,” described Islam as “wicked and evil,” and railed against the “transgender lie.”‘

Oy vey. Can I just receive my charity straight up, no chaser, please?

Back inside the park (whew), I saw a multitude of robins on the hunt for earthworms. Some worked the ground like tiny pneumatic drills in feathers. Like this fellow.

Before I say farewell, I want to thank my friend Jane for sending me a beautiful handmade owl mask. Jane runs Bridgetown Bow Ties where she makes, you guessed it, bow ties.

Thanks, Jane!

Gone Fishin’: Great White Egret in Central Park

Posted April 24, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, Birds, Central Park, In the City, NYC Parks, Seasons, Spring, Wildlife/Natural History

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Walking the NYC pandemic

At the northeast corner of Central Park is the Meer, a small lake stocked with fish and home to birds.

At the edge of a small island, I saw bright movement: a great white egret.

A mighty hunter seeking prey.

It flew across the small expanse of water and landed on the pathway.

How still it holds itself and how extraordinarily flexible is its neck. We humans have seven cervical vertebrae while an egret has, count them. eighteen.

Solitary human and solitary egret.

After a few minutes, the big bird opened its wings and swooped low along the shoreline to try its luck a little further on.

Hunting, waiting, flying ..

Beautiful.

For more on bird necks, including photos of bird contortionists and a brief anatomy lesson, see Bird Neck Appreciation Day.

NYC’s Quiet Rush Hour (video)

Posted April 22, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, In the City, Spring, Walking the Pandemic

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Walking the Pandemic in NYC

The city is eerily quiet these days. Fewer cars and buses on the streets, no sidewalk disputes, no children squealing in the playground.

Empty playground.

Without the usual ambient noise, other sounds seem louder. The pigeon family that hangs out on our window ledges seems to coo more loudly.

Pigeon parent (red eyes).
Pigeon baby (brown eyes).

Even the wing claps of rising flocks seem louder.

Rising flock.

The mockingbird on the roof seems to sing more wildly than ever.

Mockingbird not singing, for the moment.

And from our own perch above 109th Street, we hear ambulance sirens as we’ve never heard them before. There have been days when the sound of sirens threatened to merge into one continuous urban wail. Or so it seemed.

Happily, in recent days, the sirens have diminished in number. Maybe this is only at our neighborhood hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside (formerly Saint Luke’s). The news this morning reports that the daily death toll in New York has dropped below 500 for the second day in a row. Hospitals remain overwhelmed, and hospital workers are drawing on extraordinary personal reserves each day. I hope fewer sirens equates to fewer hospital admissions and is a sign that NYC is entering the long slow movement away from our COVID peak.

Mount Sinai Morningside – Emergency.

It’s going to be a long quiet haul. Last Friday around 5:15 PM, I stood on the roof of our building and thought the street sounded just the tiniest bit busier than usual. A bus belching down Broadway, one horn honking, a sparrow cheeping relentlessly. And then I realized, So this is what passes for Friday rush hour in the middle of a pandemic.

Have a look.

Pink is the Color

Posted April 20, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, Flora, In the City, Spring, Walking the Pandemic

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Walking the pandemic in NYC

Spring is just another word for pink these days.

Wow.
Delicate.
Intense.
Pink with sculpture
Pink with bench watchers.
Not-fully-blossomed pink with Cathedral. See next photo for what’s coming…
We can look forward to this full-on pink with Cathedral. (Photo from early May last year.)
Pink again.
And again.

Stay safe, New York and world. One of these days, we’ll walk again without fear.

This photo is from last spring, but these undistanced, unmasked days of yore will eventually return.
Hudson River pinks.

Hang in there, stay safe and see you back here soon!

Peacock Boys at the Cathedral

Posted April 17, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, Birds, In the City, Peacocks, Spring, Walking the Pandemic

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Walking the pandemic

Peacocks have freely wandered the grounds at Saint John’s Cathedral in Morningside Heights since the 1980s.

The three peacocks currently in residence, Jim, Harry and Phil, are older gentlemen now, but age is no obstacle to the call of spring. There are no peahens on the premises, yet the three peacocks still rise to the season, displaying their gorgeous tails, squawking and strutting. I went seeking them on this beautiful chilly morning.

Someone peeks around the corner …

I see you.

And lets out a joyful sound. More like an ear-splitting honk to human ears, but presumably a romantic “come-hither” to available peafowl.

Glass-shattering squawk.

The other blue peacock was hidden behind a truck and I had almost given up on finding the third, when a flash of white drew my eye to a far corner of the extensive grounds.

It was Phil, the white peacock, flapping to the fence rail.

He landed awkwardly, then posed for a moment.

And launched himself down onto the other side.

He grazed a bit in the grass.

I left him there and walked away. Again, a flash of white caught my eye. In his quiet corner, just off Amsterdam Avenue, the peacock displayed his beauty for no one.

Thanks to Saint John’s Cathedral for keeping their grounds open to the public and providing the neighborhood with respite from its cares.

Baby Raccoons on the Move (video)

Posted April 13, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, In the City, NYC Parks, raccoons, Riverside Park, Seasons, Spring, Walking the Pandemic, Wildlife/Natural History

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Walking the NYC Pandemic

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my obsession with a raccoon den on the huge retaining wall in NYC’s Riverside Park. Well, ten years on, the joint’s still jumpin’ at the Raccoon Lodge.

All year, a raccoon or two will quietly emerge as the sun gets low to loll about on the ledge, grooming and stretching. Eventually they’ll move out along the wall to begin their night of foraging.

But it’s spring, people. And springtime is a whole other thing, because … BABIES! This year seems to have yielded a bumper crop with little guys pouring out of the den like clowns from a clown car. I counted seven the other night, bumbling up and down the wall and bumping into each other like furry Keystone Kops.

Enjoy.

Hey, where’s Mom? Anyone seen Mom?

Cheers for NYC Essential Workers (video)

Posted April 12, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2020, In the City

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Walking the NYC Pandemic

Every night at 7 PM, our neighborhood explodes with sound. From inside our apartments, perched on fire escapes or up on our rooftops, New Yorkers explode in loud appreciation for all our essential workers and, incidentally, we let each other know that we’re still here, still neighbors, still in it together.

We cheer, whoop, holler, bang on pots and pans, we raise a joyful sound. The streets are empty and, aside from the occasional silhouette of a torso at a window, we are invisible to one another. The sound seems to rise from bricks and pavement and for these few minutes, it’s as if the streets and buildings themselves are cheering. Stay inside, people, they seem to say, but know you’re not alone.

Here is one particular night’s noise, looking north from a rooftop over 109th Street and beyond.

Walking in the Pandemic

Posted April 10, 2020 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: In the City

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Walking the Pandemic

I’m still out walking and though the dog no longer walks with me, I hope you’ll join me as I walk my way through the pandemic. I’m staying close to home, but there’s plenty to see. So put on your mask, maintain social distance and let’s head out into the New York City streets.

Flowering trees on quiet Broadway.

Spring has come this year as it does every year. Plants are flowering and the animals are going about their business in the parks. Baby raccoons, birds, humans and plants, we’ll keep an eye out for all of them in the coming weeks.

This morning, clouds and cold temperatures kept the city even quieter than usual. It actually snowed for a couple of minutes, about the length of time it took to walk two blocks. (In case you don’t know, blocks are how a New Yorker measures both time and space.)

Amsterdam Avenue looking north from around West 119th Street

Today I walked to Morningside Park. Here is just a little of what I saw:

Bright spots of color.

On a recent sunny day, turtles basked on the rocks of the little pond. Hey, what about social distancing?

Turtle cluster.

And a smaller group from the same warm day.

Four turtles.

But on this chilly morning, there’s not a reptile in sight. Just a single pair of mallards.

Mallard pair with tulips.
What is this plant? Anyone know?

The feral cat communities were out in force in two different areas of the park.

Solitary feline, looking pretty rough.

And amiable but socially oblivious park rangers filled the path.

Stay safe and stay tuned for more.

My Dog the Yeti: Effects of the Blizzard

Posted January 23, 2016 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: dogs, In the City, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Winter

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After our morning blizzard walk, the dog and I hit the streets again mid-afternoon, shortly before NYC’s travel ban went into effect.

Upper Broadway was quiet.IMG_2380.JPG

On 108th Street, a flock of sparrows fluttered between bare branches and the shelter of a building’s decorative shrubbery.IMG_2383.jpg

Many more people were now in Riverside Park to sled on the fine slopes.IMG_2393.JPG

And yet the park had a ghostly look.IMG_2400.JPG

The dog contemplated the blizzard.IMG_2397.jpg

And I contemplated the dog, wondering what he sees.IMG_2404.JPG

A well-camouflaged squirrel munched on an unidentifable object.IMG_2410.JPG

Dark-eyed Juncos ventured out in search of food. IMG_2409.JPG

Heading home, the streets were empty.IMG_2412.jpg

Inside our building, I discovered the dog had transformed into a yeti.IMG_2421.JPG

And if not a yeti, then what? I ask you. What is this creature? What?IMG_2413.jpg

Slowly, the dog returned to his canine form. IMG_2416.jpg

Fully dog again and dry, the beast slept off the transformation.IMG_2376.JPG

The Blizzard and the Dog Walk

Posted January 23, 2016 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: In the City, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Winter

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The dog must out.

Neither snow nor rain nor sleet nor gloom of night stays the dog and his walker from their appointed rounds.

We went out this morning around 8:30.

Riverside Drive is empty.image1.JPG

Inside the park, we spot a handful of sledders.image3.JPG

Deep inside my beautiful retaining wall, the raccoons are nestled all snug in their beds.image4.JPG

The windblown dog is happy in the park (though he may not look it here).image2.JPG

But where is everyone?
image5

Back at home, snow, snow and snow.
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Panic Artists: The Snow Family of 106th Street

Posted March 4, 2015 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: In the City, Winter

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It’s been a slow year for snowmen.

In years past, snowmen popped up all over Riverside Park after every big snow, like mushrooms after a rain. Here are a few examples.

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A few years ago, a snow person pushed a positively ecstatic snow baby in a swing in one of the Tot Lot playgrounds of Riverside Drive.

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Despite the snowy winter of 2015, the population of snow people seems to have declined dramatically. Luckily for the snowman aficionado, the quality remains high.  Take a look at this wide-eyed family.

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Every year, some version of the central figure presides over West 106th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway.

This was the 2010 incarnation:

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The current family triad began, as ever, with the behemoth at the center.

funny-snowman

Photo by Maya Rajamani in the West Side Rag, my neighborhood paper. (Click photo for the Rag’s excellent analysis tracing the influences on this snowman. Hint: Think Gerard Depardieu.)

One day, in an interesting twist, the figure suddenly spawned a companion. Notice also the smile that appears on the behemoth’s face after the appearance of the little tyke.

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And then, some days or weeks later, the behemoth spawned again. But now, sad to say, the behemoth’s expression has changed to dismay, and, oh dear, is that a look of panic in its now-yellow eyes?

IMG_0939(Thanks to Out Walking the Dog reader, Ken Hittel, for alerting me to the appearance of a third figure.)

All three beings are looking pretty wild-eyed. In fact, the more I look at them, the more worried I feel. I mean, these guys are clearly not sleeping, Take a look at those eyes. I’m pretty sure they’re all three lying awake at night, each in a separate, incommunicable state of high anxiety as they stare into the strange glow of New York City after dark.

Alas, poor snow creatures. Their days are numbered, and every hour brings them closer to the Great Thaw.

Let’s take a moment to look a little closer at each member of our goggle-eyed family of insomniacs, starting with the profoundly anxious little panic artist in the green hat.

The end is coming.

The end is coming.

I so wish I could blink.

I so wish I could blink.

Sure, I love you. But WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE.

Sure, I love you. BUT WE’RE ALL GONNA FUCKING DIE.

On a gentler note, the dog posed beneath a sweet snowdog on the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

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And back over at West Side Rag, nycmaggie captured a rare snow cat scaling a tree.

I hear there’s more snow predicted this week. Let’s hope more snow creatures follow.

And it’s snowing! Again.

Posted March 1, 2015 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: Art and Literature, In the City, Winter

Tags: , , , ,

Down in the playground beneath my window, birds gather in the snow to peck and fuss.

So we begin March as we finished February – cold and snowy.

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New York has just finished the coldest February in 80 years, and the third coldest on record.

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I’ve become fascinated with ice on the Hudson River.

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I especially love to watch the tide come in, and see the river flow north toward the great interior. Here is ice flowing north.

It’s easy to forget we live in an estuary, and our mighty river is tidal.

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The waterways are filled with ice, ice, and more ice. A beautiful bird’s eye view from an NBC helicopter takes you down the Hudson River to New York Harbor and around the tip of the island to the East River. (It’s well worth waiting for the ad to finish.)

Later today, or tomorrow, I’ll check on my friendly neighborhood behemoth and its sidekick.

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Dispatch from the Icebox: Wildlife Update

Posted February 17, 2015 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: Art and Literature, Birds, cats, dogs, February, Hawks, In the City, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

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IMG_0398

It’s cold here in the Northeast. Today the dog and I went down to the river.

Looking south along the Hudson River Greenway.

Looking south along the Hudson River Greenway.

We were surprised to see the river flowing freely with just a few large ice chunks floating by the shore.

Looking north toward the George Washington Bridge.

Looking north toward the George Washington Bridge.

You can see ice over by the Jersey shore, but virtually none on our side. Yesterday, the river had an ice crust stretching out to the middle of the mighty waters.

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(The images below are drawn from the past three weeks of wintry walks and window watching.)

Nothing stops the dogs or their walkers, not even the deep freeze machine.

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Dogs gotta walk, and birds gotta eat.

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They also have to stay warm. Look at these mourning doves, puffed up like little Michelin men.

And this flock of starlings trying to catch some eastern roof rays on a morning when the temperature hovered in the teens.

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The feral cats in Morningside Park are fed hearty meals year-round by well-meaning humans. Feeding cats also feeds rats, which contributes to a burgeoning rat population, which leads humans to set out poison for the rats that eat the cat food which leads to the death of the hawks that eat the rats that eat the trash that humans set out to feed the cats that live in the park. (Read that five times fast.)

It’s a regular “This is the house that Jack built” scenario, except that the cats (indirectly) feed the rats instead of just eating them, as in the old nursery rhyme.

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Here are a couple of our apex predators, viewed from my window, that do their best to keep our rat and pigeon population under control.

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I haven’t seen a Riverside Park raccoon for some time. They must be laying low inside their snowy den.

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There may even be babies snuggled up in there, or, if it’s still too early in the season, a pregnant female, waiting for spring. Come spring, I’ll hope to see the whole family out and about on the retaining wall and in the park.

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Meanwhile, brrr.

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Urban Coyotes in Art, Poetry and Music

Posted January 30, 2015 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: Art and Literature, coyotes

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In honor of our recent coyote visitors in New York City, here are a few images and songs inspired by urban coyotes.

Coyote Under Moon.

By Atty Gell.

Beautiful, no? This print was made by Atty Gell, an artist who lives near Trout Lake Park in East Vancouver, Canada. Coyotes are not infrequently spotted passing through the park and the neighborhood.

When I was working on my play, NYC Coyote Existential, I asked Atty to create some coyote images for me to use for publicity purposes. She sent these lovelies.

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For poetry, listen to Tim Seibles read his poem: Midnight, the Coyote, Down at the Mouth.

For music, try this music video of Coyotes by Modest Mouse, inspired by an incident in 2002 when a coyote was spotted riding light rail in Portland, Oregon. Don’t know what well-trained coyote played the role, but here’s a photo of the actual wild coyote, looking no more harried than any other habitual commuter on a bad day.

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The same Portland coyote inspired the Sleater-Kinney’s song, Light Rail Coyote:

And if you need to bang your head a bit (and as evidence that the urban coyote has been around and has legs, as it were), here is Coping with the Urban Coyote, Unida’s 1999 album. Love that cover art.


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