It was the first time I had ever seen a live coyote and was sure of what it was. I've seen plenty of coyote carcasses along the highways or in the backs of farmers' pickups, and I once had a glimpse of what I thought was a live one in the snow near Pine Grove. This time, though, it was unmistakable, and I was thrilled.
Although I haven't seen coyotes up close before this year, I have enjoyed their company.
For more than 20 years, I lived away from Clark County, but sometimes visited my parents at their country home on Colby Road on weekends or holidays. Whenever I slept over, especially in the fall, I would open the bedroom window and listen to the night sounds: the honking of Canada geese as they flew overhead, the croaking of bullfrogs in the pond below the house, and the lonesome song of the coyote.
It's a pleasant sound to fall asleep to - better than listening to the love songs of Willie Nelson or Ray Charles.
These days all one hears is the cacophony of neighborhood dogs.
New to the Bluegrass
I know many farmers don't share my fondness for coyotes.
These canines are not native to the Bluegrass, and ever since they migrated here from the prairies 20 or 30 years ago, farmers have been shooting them because they think they kill their livestock.
Occasionally they do. I have a friend in Jessamine County, Henry Riekert, who is a sheep farmer, and coyotes are his bane. Unlike cattle and horses, sheep are defenseless and easy prey.
But coyotes are so small that I believe their diet mostly consists of tiny creatures like field mice and birds. I don't think they're a major threat to Clark County's cattle farmers, but I could be wrong.
Still, I think they add something to the beauty of this area. So do the whitetail deer and wild turkeys I sometimes see along country roads, or the red-tailed hawks and kestrels, or the great blue herons that stalk the ponds for fish.
There have even been black bears spotted in Clark County and a couple of sightings of bald eagles in Fayette. (My father thinks he saw an eagle over his backyard not long ago, and he once found a set of tracks in the ice near his home that a zoologist in Cincinnati said appeared to be those of a bear or cougar.)
I fear that if we don't control suburban sprawl in the Bluegrass, we may drive our endangered wildlife from their habitat and destroy the rural landscape that makes this region such a great place to live in the first place. It would be a shame if those who are children now never get to see a deer bounding through the woods or hear a coyote's wild hymn to the moon and stars.
Footnote: If you're wondering about the lines by Mark Jarman at the beginning of this column, they're from a book of poems called "To the Green Man," which is available at the public library. Jarman is from Mount Sterling and is a professor of English at Vanderbilt University.
Randall Patrick is the managing editor at The Winchester Sun.