It’s fine when I turn in. All the chickens are snoozing quietly on their perches, the geese have their noble heads tucked beneath their wings, the dogs are curled up in the log dog cabin, and I have tunneled under the heavy layer of quilts, shivering a cold spot warm. No cars up the road. Not even a cricket chirping. Just peace and quiet. And it stays that way until 2 a.m. That’s when my rowdy neighbors start their serenade.
Have you ever heard of a mountain tradition called a “Chiva-ree?” It’s what used to happen when a young couple got married. After dark the friends of the groom gathered in the front yard and started singing to the young couple. After that, there was often a salute involving various firearms being discharged into the air, followed by the kidnapping of the groom until the next morning. I suspect this tradition stemmed from a last-ditch effort to get their buddy out for a final white lightning spree. I also suspect this tradition resulted in many a discontented new bride and sleepless nights for all involved.
Back to our rowdy neighbors. Their Chiva-ree didn’t include shotguns and booze, but they were singing at the top of their lungs. At 2 am, for the past two nights, a pack of coyotes have been creeping up behind the house and serenading us for all they’re worth. Now, I don’t know if you’ve actually ever heard a pack of coyotes in full song. Short of the screaming of a bobcat, it’s just about the creepiest sound in nature’s repertoire. It sounds like the devil laughing.
So there I was, ma in her kerchief, sleeping the night away. The coyotes started their song. I’m a light sleeper. I sat straight up in bed. The hair on the back of my neck sat up too. Biscuit, the little deaf poodle, was still snoring peacefully. I listened carefully and thought maybe I had dreamed it. Then they started up again, yodeling and yelping. I jumped up and ran to the window. I threw it open and listened. Sure enough, there was a pack of them, just behind the house.
I whistled to the dogs. Apparently, they’re even heavier sleepers than Biscuit is. “Sophie! Get em, Ivanhoe! Lugnut!” Down the hill, at the log dog cabin, I heard thuds as sleepy dogs hit the ground running, knocking heads on the low tin roof on their way out the door. Then barking fierce and loud, they took off in pursuit of the coyote pack.
After that, it sounded like the dogs disappeared deep into the woods, their barks growing more and more distant as they chased the interlopers out of their territory. Eventually the dogs came back, footsore and cold, and curled up in the log dog cabin for the rest of their long winter’s nap.
Now, if that were all there was to the story, I wouldn’t be so sore about it. But the coyotes came back two hours later for an encore performance. It seemed like just as I had managed to drop back off to sleep, the concert began anew. And the dogs joined in with a baying chorus, waking me back up for another sleepless stint.
As I lay there, listening to Biscuit happily snoring, I asked myself, “Why are the coyotes doing this?” Granted, the moon was bright and full, turning night to day outside. And I do have a chicken house full of plump, corn-fed dinner, just waiting to be snatched by an ambitious fellow. But why the announcement? Why didn’t they just sneak into the back of the coop, dig a hole under the fence, strike quickly and silently, and make off with the goods?
It seemed like they wanted the dogs to get out of bed and chase them. Maybe they were envious of my dog’s warm beds and wanted to have a good laugh at their expense. Perhaps it was trickier than that. Maybe they had one lone coyote hidden in close proximity to the chicken coop and they were creating a diversion to draw my dogs off, allowing him to do his deadly work in peace. That’s mighty cunning, although I’ve heard that coyotes are smarter than the “average bear.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why the coyotes are goading my dogs into pursuit at two o’clock in the morning. If I lose a third night of sleep, I am going to set the clock, sneak out in the woods, lay in wait for the coyotes, and give them their own little Chiva-ree, Carroll County style.
(Gentry is a Carroll County resident. Her column appears Thursdays in the Times-Georgian.)