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An Unlikely Chorus

I can't whistle. Well, I can whistle. I can whistle an indistinguishable tune within a very limited musical range and at very low volume. But I can't whistle to call attention - no Fido calls, no cat calls, no whistling cheers. So I have developed a sort of warbling yell and made use of a certain vocal strength to help draw the horses up to the pasture gate at dusk when it's time to bring them in for the night.

One evening, quite recently in fact, I gathered lead ropes from the barn and started down to the pasture accompanied by Sarah, a gangling, overactive, adolescent shepherd/lab. Whatever remnants of sunlight remained were fast fading, and the occasional bursts of sound from grouse hunters' shotguns in the surrounding forest had since silenced. The picture was altogether typical of this farm, at dusk, at chore time.

I called to the horses as we walked down the path to the pasture. The sound is not terribly unlike a very bad imitation of a European siren. The horses ignored me. I continued to summon the obstinate beasts, adding frequency and volume as I walked. Still no response ... until ... a sudden, unexpected, mimicking reply from the direction of the swamp adjacent to the pasture fence. The sound was so like my own that I instantly presumed some prankish, or perhaps inebriated, hunter had decided to enjoy one last bit of fun before leaving the woods by mocking my whistle substitute. I felt a bit irritated and a little apprehensive at the presence of this unidentified and uninvited human intrusion into my normally comfortably uneventful routine.

A second voice then took up the cry from the same general direction, and my apprehension grew. Now there were perhaps several hunters joining in the game. I was not amused; neither was Sarah. At the first swamp answer, she had begun to bark and was now becoming increasingly agitated.

My voice and those of the swamp wanderers continued to play off one another. The horses were quite content to ignore us all. Another voice, a bit farther east this time, and, in rapid succession, another and another joined this unlikely chorus of piercing vocalizations. Voices north took part. In moments, sound surrounded me from all wooded perimeters of the open fields. A chill of fascination and eerie delight worked its way down my spine.

At last, a single member presented a gratefully familiar refrain ... the haunting howl of the brush wolf. Song exploded in untamed harmony from every quarter. Sarah howled. I continued my own vocal contribution. Though woefully inadequate, our efforts were graciously accepted and incorporated into the festival of coyote song.

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