Of course, cockroaches are everywhere. We know it and accept it, at least to a degree. Cockroaches are visible cohabitants of many city apartments. City dwellers persist in taking preemptive action against an expansion of the cockroach population, but they do so diffidently, aware that at some undocumented moment in time, years, decades, and even centuries past, cockroaches established a beachhead in the precincts of human activity, and they intend to stay put. Humans hold the line against cockroaches. Accepting their visible presence in our lives, we do not hope to turn back the tide of these terrorists.
As to rats, we've had slightly better results. In the old days, when there were dumps, before landfills or transfer stations, rats were favorite targets for kids with BB-guns, pellet guns, or .22s. The claim was that we were doing our part in the centuries-old struggle against rodents, but mainly it was just fun to have a quick, darting target you could plunk at, and do it at night.
The dumps are gone, and nowadays few of us see rats living among us. If we do, we call the exterminator. The exterminator works his magic, and the rat hordes are suppressed. We know they have not been eliminated, we understand that they are peeking in the windows, but at least they are not dining with us every evening like the cockroaches do. That's the watershed indicator. If the pests are present but discreet, we imagine their numbers are under control. If they are set scurrying when we open the dishwasher door, we know they are not.
The question is, what about coyotes? Saturday afternoon, about three, driving west along Main Street in Falmouth, beside the town green, a dog crossed the street in front of the truck just ahead of us. We thought it would be run down, but no, it slipped fluidly through the rail fence and continued across the grass, through the fence on the other side. As we watched, it became obvious that it wasn't a dog at all, but a coyote. Dogs, expecting the best from humankind, have a bounce in their steps. Tongues lolling from their jaws, they pause for a sniff here or there. They trot purposefully but not hurriedly.
Coyotes are not doglike in their way of going. They are rat-like. Think Templeton, hurrying along the perimeter of the room, head down, quietly malevolent, not looking left or right though his eyes flick this way and that, every minute expecting the worst.
Anyhow, this coyote knew he was in hostile territory, and he was keenly on guard, but it was familiar territory. He'd been here before, probably shopping for a pug-size dog to take home for dinner. (Or a cat, see below.) This guy didn't have a Cape Cod Mall gift bag hanging from his jaws, but if coyotes are sporting around Falmouth with the Saturday shoppers and war protesters on a brilliant, cool November afternoon a couple of weeks before the Thanksgiving Day kickoff to Christmas shopping season, are coyotes more like cockroaches than rats? Have they become numerous enough to join us in our work-a-day lives, no longer second class citizens, no longer living in the shadows, but full-fledged varmints demanding equal rights and a place at the table?
The answer appears to be yes, at least in Barnstable County. "Although used rarely in proportion to their availability, coyotes routinely traveled in residential areas on Cape Cod." Jonathan G. Way, Issac M. Ortega, and Eric G. Strauss, in an article entitled Movement and Activity Patterns of Eastern Coyotes In a Coastal, Suburban Environment, published in Northeastern Naturalist in 2004, drew this conclusion. "Although our direct sightings of animals were limited in neighborhoods, this habitat type was potentially important for hunting. We regularly observed coyotes foraging at a trotting pace, zig-zagging in and out of backyards (mostly at night) apparently searching for prey (e.g., lagomorphs and domestic cats). ...Coyotes appeared to be much more comfortable traveling at night, and even stood in yards and driveways without appearing nervous. This sharply contrasted their behavior in the daytime when they usually traveled through these areas relatively quickly. Coyotes were only occasionally active in residential areas during day, although they commonly bedded down within 50 m of houses. Neighborhoods that bordered natural or altered areas were especially used on a frequent basis. Apparently, coyotes were comfortable in residential areas when it was dark and they likely spent a good deal of time foraging in these areas...."
And, downtown in daylight, too, I'd submit. So, as much progress as we humans have made in the age-old war against pests, the truth is they are more adaptable than we, more industrious, hardier and unpretentious. They make their livings at the fringe of society, keeping us in their sights during the never-ending standoff.