A coyote sauntered past the front bumper of my car as I was pulling into traffic—not unheard of, perhaps, but at the time I was leaving a parking garage in L.A., just a block from the civic center of the most populous city in the American West. At the time, I had a strange, disoriented feeling, thinking, “Something’s not quite right here.”
I hit the brakes, the tires chirped, and the critter turned its head just far enough for our eyes to meet. Never breaking its stride, the animal confidently pushed on like an afternoon commuter trying to catch a bus—which, now that I think about it, wouldn’t necessarily have surprised me.
Since then, I’ve regarded coyotes as marvels of adaptation, rather than predators in our midst. That is, until one recent night when I encountered one maybe 50 yards from our Laguna Niguel home while walking our snack-size dog. The admirable confidence I’d seen in that pair of eyes in downtown L.A. seemed exponentially more intense when I realized a serious predator was tracking our every move, calculating a strategy.
That’s the familiar tension that writer Marla J. Noel confronts in her essay, “The Coyote Compromise,” which appears on Page 90. She lives in Irvine, some of the most carefully barbered real estate in the world. The entire community was designed to be safe, and the FBI’s annual uniform crime statistics attest to the visionary success of its planners.
But in Irvine and Orange County’s other seemingly protected suburban refuges, it’s worth remembering that the divide between nature and civilization is remarkably porous. We all seem to like it that way—right up until we hear a chilling midnight chorus, or spot a pair of merciless eyes watching us in the dark.