(Image: Britannica – Advocacy for Animals)
Greenwood Village, Colorado–the most affluent, wealthiest community in Colorado–has passed an ordinance that provides $60 an hour for hired guns to shoot and kill coyotes who have, of late, exhibited the temerity to expose themselves in public areas; areas that are, well, reminiscent of what the High Plains used to be; areas that are touted as representative of “nature” and, therefore, somewhat unspoiled by development (although certainly surrounded by development, human development). Nevertheless, the idea of a “greenspace” here is to maintain as pristine some small slips of the good earth to, in a small way, enable folks to “experience” these enclaves as representative of a balanced ecosystem. Yes, plants and critters alike, who, in their wisdom (yes, even wild plants exhibit a quietly intense understanding of their place in the whole scheme), learned long ago the value of balance, the value of respect for the land upon which their lives depend.
The codified killing of coyotes by the well-healed of Greenwood Village, a gruesome perk of the privileged, grates as fingernails scraping against a green-board.
I am reminded of Nickel, a singularly unique bison that was born to the City and County of Denver’s Genesee herd (they have two herds, one at Genesee, and one at Daniel’s Parks). I recall the memory of this special critter as a thing of wonder and love; a thing of respect for the essential worth of critters whose claim to the land, to Colorado, to the Great Plains supersedes any human notion of ownership or suzerainty over the spread of what once was the vast ocean of untamed land that was nearly eviscerated by Horace Greeley’s charge: “Go west, young man. Go west!” (Before you wish to correct me, I acknowledge that the attribution to Greeley is incorrect. It was John Soule, writing in the Terra Haute Express in 1851, who coined the line: “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”)
But, first, before the story of Nickel, it may be instructive to mention the specter of the eradication of Native Americans from America, a despicable outgrowth of the white man’s trudge across the nation that resulted a near genocide more gruesome and shameless than that of coyotes in Greenwood Village. (And, it wasn’t just the west. It was all points east from the Atlantic to the Pacific; north and south, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Border.) I believe we all know the shameful greed and mendacity and loathing and ignorance that characterized the white man’s move westward as he “dealt” with the “Indian Problem.” Native Americans were here long before any of our “white” progenitors, who may have been some of the first to set their foreign feet on American soil: Spaniards, Italians, English. Not so much incredible as it may be, but certainly indicative of how the “white” man viewed Native Americans is–one instance only–that it wasn’t until 1924 when all Native Americans were granted United States citizenship, but did not receive voting rights until 1948.
The concept of voting was, of course, not something essential to Native American culture. Indeed, in the case of the Ute Indians (one of the major “tribes” in Colorado) there were more fundamentally hoary imperatives than what the ballot box represented.
In the Ute Indians’ traditional view of the natural world, Father Sky created the sun, moon, stars, and the Earth. Mother Earth provides what is needed by those who show reverence and respect. For Utes, there was a vast and varied land–sometimes gentle and sometimes severe–where they survived by living respectfully in harmony with their environment, whatever it might be.
Before there were people, Senawahv, the Creator, made buffalo and deer, berries and pinon nut trees, and everything the people would need to live. Then he cut up sticks and put them in a bag. He meant for the sticks to be different peoples to whom he would give equal portions of the land and its good things, but Coyote, the curious trickster, opened the bag to see what was inside, and people scrambled forth in disorder, speaking may tongues. Senawahv looked inside and saw the remaining people, the Ute, and he declared that they would be so brave and strong that they would be able to defeat all others. “The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico” – Virginia McConnell Simmons – University Press of Colorado, 2001
Well, the Ute Indians were not stronger than the flood of white men seeking wealth and opportunity as they moved west. The Ute Indians were not stronger than those who sought to solve the “Indian Problem” with, for the Indians, the absurdity of Christian concepts anathema to their understanding of their place amongst the synergy that Father Sky and Mother Earth provided. Indeed, it is significant to note that primarily Mormons, and other “Christians” provided the means to the U.S. Government’s end to clear the west of those pesky Native Americans. The Indians were seen as interlopers, as savages, as an un-Godly presence upon the land that they, the good “Christians,” the divinely blest privileged of their time, were charged to corral, to eradicate from the good earth because, well, because they were in the way. Indians simply didn’t, couldn’t–after thousands of years of a harmonious respect for the good earth–fit the mold that the Great American Expansion demanded.
Then there were the buffalo, or American Bison.
We are told by an eminent historian that during the 1870s the “ruthless destruction” of the American Buffalo proceeded in Colorado with the help of bored travelers who, “In the name of sport, shot buffalo from the windows of the railroad.” He goes on to say of the general destruction of the buffalo that, “in the early (18) seventies one account gives 4million as slaughtered for their hides alone. Another indicates that in three months in the fall of 1874 over 50,000 buffalo hides were shipped on the Sante Fe railroad and total shipment on this and the Kansas Pacific were 125,000. In 1874, the Sante Fe railroad also carried 3,400 tons of bleached bones picked up on the plains to Eastern Fertilizer and button factories. “Colorado, The Centennial State” – Percey S. Fritz – Prentice Hall, 1941
Then came the eradication of wolves.
With the gold rushes of the 1840s, 1850s, and the 1860s there came teamsters, bullwhackers, and mule skinners to transport ore and supplies. In winter when the wagons couldn’t move easily these idled men turned to wolfing. It was easier than buffalo hunting, which required moving around looking for the animals and wrestling with large carcasses. All the wolfer had to do was set out strychnine and gather in the dead at two dollars a hide. …In…1875 to 1895, [it was then] that the slaughter of wolves on the plains reached its peak. Spurred y the promises of substantial state and local, as well as stockmen’s associations, bounties, a market value for the pelts, and the possibility of hiring on somewhere as a wolfer for wages, thousands of men bought up enormous quantities of strychnine and rode out pell-mell on the range. They lay down poisoned meat everywhere, in lines as long a 150 miles. …Ranch dogs died. Children died. Everything that ate meat died. The greed, the ready availability of poison, and a refusal to consider the consequences generated a holocaust. …No one knows how many animals were killed on the plains from, say, 1850 to 1900. If you count the buffalo for hides and the antelope for backstraps and the passenger pigeons for target practice and the Indian ponies (by whites, to keep the Indian poor), it is conceivable that 500 million creatures died. Perhaps 1 million wolves; 2 million. The numbers no longer have meaning. “Of Wolves and Men” – Barry Holstun Lopez, 1978
Native Americans, bison, wolves, coyotes. Does George bask in the melodrama of it all? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The Denver Mountain Parks system was, apparently, first envisioned in 1910. The “idea” behind the establishment of the Mountain Park system was, understandably, to enable city folk the opportunity to experience nature in its pristine form, its unspoiled splendid form. There is the further justification for a mountain park system, in about 1914, that further argued for such a “wilderness” presence, in that the introduction of a bison herd, as well as elk, to the system would provide sustenance for soldiers fighting the Great War, WWI. Livestock raised in the mountain park system would, some argued, be Denver’s significant contribution to the war effort.
Fast forward to the nineties, and the saga of Nickel.
Nickel was born on the Genesee Park land in 1986. Due to death of his mother, he was raised by the resident caretaker of the park, who was housed on-site, in a log structure that dated back to, I believe, the 1860s. Nickel became an orphan and, as is the want of those who value the simple gifts of critters, the caretaker took the young calf in, bottle fed it, raised it within and around his home. No mystery about the naming of the calf, Nickel. U.S. currency provided the apt name.
Nickel grew-up with dogs and, as a consequence, came to view himself a member of that species; mimicking the particular nuances of dogs as a natural thing–chasing cars, romping through the scrub, playing, as all dogs will, within the holy domain of their particular view of the world. When he began to grow, he still sought the comfort of the caretaker’s home, bulling his way through the house as he’d done as an infant, but now, older, much larger, creating some little havoc within the old house. It was, I was told, at this point the caretaker’s wife drew the line. No bison in the house, honey! So, Nickel was banished to the confines of the meadow where the rest of the herd spent their days.
I was told by the caretaker of Genesee Park, that Denver cops would occasionally visit Nickel, once he was put out to pasture, where he chased cars along the fence line that separated him from his earlier environment. Just like the dogs, he continued to run with the cars, snorting and huffing against the intrusion of the fume-spewing behemoths along the road that paralleled the fence line. The cops would bring soda pop with them and delight in watching Nickel grasp the open end of the pop in his mouth and guzzle the contents, tipping his head back to get the very last drop. Nickel had no fear of humans. He allowed himself to be patted, scratched by the cops and certainly by the Mountain Parks crew who, perhaps, felt blest to be able to do such a thing.
On my parent’s fiftieth anniversary–a year before my father’s death–I arranged a visit to Genesee Park where the crew accommodated an outing–within a pick-up–into the bison pasture, where Nickel sided-up to the vehicle, allowed my father to pat his head as he sniffed the interior of the cab (he was full-grown at the time). He then would pace the pick-up and, several times, run in front of the vehicle, lay down in the dirt and wallow on his back, raising a cloud of dust, and then stand up, shake and return to the window of the pick-up, sniffing and snorting…celebrating his unique status amongst the herd. The herd stood off in the distance, seemingly oblivious to the goings-on in the meadow where Nickel, once again, exposed his special understanding of, and his bond with human beings.
Nickel, of course, was a “freak.” And, in saying that, I mean to convey that his perception of the truth of himself was unnaturally formed by his upbringing. A human error, if you will. But, who among us would have abandoned the orphaned calf to fend for himself within the cruel reality of the herd, where an orphaned calf would have little chance of survival? Oh, yes, most likely those who surround themselves with walls, live next door to a golf course, sip single malt Scotch at the country club and bemoan the intrusion of coyotes within the open spaces which purport to provide a “natural environment” for their leisure; yes, most likely those folks would have, under the moniker, “The Wisdom of Nature,” let the calf perish. I am wary of generalities of this sort, knowing there are, certainly, some amongst the privileged of Greenwood Village who would have seen the worth of nurturing an orphaned calf to adulthood. And, certainly, it is probably those folks who see the killing of coyotes as a thing to be disdained; an unsavory response from a community that, perhaps, has lost touch with the essential lessons nature teaches; a community that, perhaps, sees no shame in the what was done to Native Americans, bison, wolves and, of course, coyotes.
Why, in the context of this post, mention the story of Nickel at all? Two reasons: First, my friends of Greenwood Village, nature assigns you, along with the rest of us human beings, the moniker “freak.” But, goodness, we have surely adapted with our BMWs, 12,000 sq. ft. homes, indoor toilets, three irons, fences and walls. We, my friends, are the interlopers on nature. Secondly, I like the story. It makes me smile.
Coyotes are a natural part of the ecosystem. When communities intrude upon the territory of these critters they adapt. Coyotes, in fact, adapt very well. If the hired guns kill two coyotes, then the species will produce four coyotes to take their place. That’s fact. Observable fact. Larger litters will ensue in response to any attempt to control their numbers. Ah, nature responding to the imperatives of the unnatural.
For Greenwood Village there are options. Strobe lights, air horns, moth balls, ammonia-soaked rags, throwing rocks, waving sticks, shouting, all of these options preclude the shameful specter of hired guns. But, then, it is so easy to just pay the $60 an hour and be done with it. But, unless it is the intent to exterminate every last coyote in the area, the killing field you have created, Greenwood Village, will only serve to kick-in the primordial response of a critter, the coyote, to preserve and protect the species. They were here long before you arrived. They will be here long after you have gone.