Note from the author: I’ve been running on and off since late 2017. My local coyotes started showing up regularly on these runs a couple years ago. But in 2021 I started running consistently again, sometimes every day, and saw the coyotes almost as often. I came to see the morning habit as critical to my well-being, both for reasons that are common and reasons that are more particular to me.
In predawn glow alone, I take off at a brisk trot, floating in diagonal symmetry.
It’s about the closest I can come to peace in my body. Homologies are apparent – and there are many. Vertebrates are all built off the same body plan, the sum of modifications to the same blueprint. Natural selection guides our forms purposefully toward better survival and reproduction, crafting multitudes of shapes. But look closely and it’s recognizable we’re all cut from the same cloth, running on variations of the same foot.
Padded metatarsals. Digitigrade, at least for now.
Bipedalism, still half-baked evolutionarily, feels dissociated from the physical. I want to drop, feel the ground push back, engage my back. Dorso-ventral flattening of the rib cage is all wrong. I’m scrunched and stretched into a size and shape that can feel bizarre. But I’ve done the best I could with it. When the body discomfort peaked, I knew things might never be perfect, but they could be better. So I got fit, as close to the human equivalent of a coyote’s lean-muscled form as possible.
Latissimus dorsi, serratus, obliques, the sleek torso definition of a canid or hominid. Functional strength.
I hit the transition from pavement to packed dirt. Dawn warms the horizon with rosy glow. Liminal space, liminal time, somewhere human and animal. The pond will be frozen soon. My legs power on.
Soleus, gastrocnemius. Achilles tendons springing. Calcaneus, that hammer of civilization that beats ungracefully, ungratefully, on soil dense with death.
My breath floats to frost my hair and neck warmer, that makeshift ruff. I let my jaw open to pull in more air, smelling frost and decay.
Temporalis. But what are they without a sagittal crest as anchor? Rostrum nearly absent, nasals truncated. Canines a bit ironic. Pinnae pitiful.
But the pieces are mostly there. And it’s possible, even with limited hardware, to catch a vole, a whiff of old cottonwood, a rustle of magpies. As I crest the highest ridge, the sun strikes just the treetops. I take it in with eyes lacking the tapetum lucidum, that eye-mirror that would catch more dusky pre-dawn light, but with the cones to appreciate red and orange and peach hues of daybreak. My breath ragged from climb, I pause to savor the instant before treading on.
The path forks and I take the overgrown one littered with detritus. Here the tall grasses ripple along rib cage, and the vegetation is thick even when barren. It’s here we cross paths.
A flash of motion. Slipping through the brush, a wraith in every shade of dust and senescent grass. A pause. Molten gold gaze. Just that moment, and then he’s gone, winding between the blades to become invisible again.
I pad along, striding over familiar roots and ducking overgrown branches. Muscle memory. I know he’s still in the field somewhere, also running, sharing this cursorial lifestyle molded by evolution. But I keep moving. People will be awake soon, and here with their dogs, and we both would like to be gone by then. The sun spreads across the tips of the grass just as I turn back into the neighborhood, back into shadows.
By the time I return, the morning is in full swing. Slowing to a walk, I take a few deep breaths.
I shed down to skin and step inside, civilized enough for now.