A lot of photos were taken over the last 24 hours of our overnight adventure. But I chose this one to share as I feel it depicts our time in the woods well. One word…peaceful.
This was our view the entire time. No one around. Not even the sounds of traffic could be heard. At night the lack of light pollution made the woods pitch black with the exception of the crescent moon that hung over the lake for most of the night.
Our short hike in was greeted with a cloudburst that dumped rain. By the time we reached camp we were soaked but also grateful as it cooled us off and brought a welcomed breeze from the east side of the lake. We quickly set up a tarp shelter in case of more rain and got a fire started to help us dry off. It never did rain again.
The night sky was clear and the stars shined bright. So bright their light bounced off the water like little twinkling lights.
Then just before climbing into our hammocks we heard from across the lake the howling and screaming of not one but a pack of coyotes. We ramped up the campfire to detour any curious wildlife. Especially a pack of coyotes. As I laid in my hammock I heard a hoot owl in the distance and soon after fell asleep.
I was awakened from a deep sleep at 3:00 a.m. to the sounds of the coyote pack. This time closer. The fire had gone out and was no longer providing its light of security. Leaving the comfort of my hammock was not something I anticipated, but I knew I had to get the fire going again. Coal embers smoldered making getting the fire going again easy.
Once the fire was burning bright I climbed back into my hammock. It took a while to fall back to sleep. The sound of one coyote howling can be uneasy, but a pack causes the hair on the back of your neck to rise. Eventually, I fell back to sleep until I was awakened again around 6:30 a.m. This time the pack was close by to our south near the two streams that feed into the lake. Daylight would be soon and the pack would move on to their dens for a long day of sleep if their bellies were full.
I sat on the bank of the lake drinking my coffee and watching the sun come up. I was also scanning the east side shoreline for any signs of the coyotes. Once we had eaten breakfast and packed up our gear we headed out for a hike to scout out another camp location that sits along one of the brooks. The air was still and the sun had already begun to beat down making the damp forest muggy. You could see the humidity rise from the forest floor creating a light screen of fog.
As we made our way to Tyler’s truck we were stopped in our tracks to that familiar sound of howling and screeching. Coyotes don’t bother me, but it was high noon and this pack was still very much awake. The fact they were up and about, alert and speaking to each other at noon after being up all night raised a concern that echoed in my bones. In all the miles and times I’ve spent in our Pennsylvania woods this was the first time I heard a pack of coyotes mid-day active. It’s not uncommon for them to be out in the day, it was simply my first experience with a pack being out.
Several years ago in the fall season, I experienced a lone coyote that seemed to be shadowing me as I hiked a trail. It would howl but I never heard him get a reply from his kin. I wasn’t too concerned over one lone coyote. But this time was different. An entire pack calling out all night and well into the next day set off my alarms and put me on high alert.
For the remainder of our hike, my senses were heightened and I kept a firm grip on my walking stick. Made from hardwood and covered in clear poly it not only keeps me stable on my feet but also doubles as a weapon. A weapon I had hoped I would not need to use.
While coyotes are often seen in the wild alone, they do form packs (families). They mostly hunt small game like mice, voles, and rabbits. But they are known at times to take down a cat, small dog, and even a lame deer. Humans attacked by coyotes are rare, but certainly can happen if a coyote is cornered, feels threatened, or is rabid.
At times a coyotes yip and howl can be mistaken for the alpha howling and calling out a mate and her replying with the familiar yip. But I’ve heard that before and the multiple howls and chorus we heard told me something else was going on. This was no mating call.
I’m not sure what had the coyotes stirred up all night and into the early afternoon and I’m sure I’ll never know. What I do know are the lessons I’ve learned since I was a boy regarding nature and the outdoors. While I doubt the pack was concerned about our presence or had any intention of causing us or Maggie the adventure dog harm, I learned in my early years to pay attention, listen, and respect the wild as I’m only a guest. And while I know some of you may want to break out your ‘tough guy’ custom and tell me to man-up because they are only coyotes, little-scared doggies. I’ll stick to the lessons I’ve learned and the words of our forefathers who blazed the trails we hike, camped deep in the backcountry where few men go, and haven’t a library of books based on countless hours of first-hand experience research.
And when we go back for another overnight adventure to that same spot I’ll take a moment to let the coyotes know I’m just visiting and give them their due respect. It’s their territory…they’ve earned it.