River coyotes and canine lives

My first coyote encounter in Sacramento was with a bushy old wolf. Weird, my girlfriend’s dog (yes, that’s really his name), rousted it out of the brush about a mile south of Paradise Beach at dusk. The shaggy coyote—elderly, groggy, perturbed—stared down the carrot-colored Australian cattle dog before retreating south along the trail.

Ever since this bizarre meeting, I’ve secretly hoped to get up close and personal with more coyotes. And I have, twice, along the same path. And it was Weird both times who instigated, and survived, these canine-coyote standoffs, neither animal so much as twitching until the coyotes eventually gave ground. Which is not to say Weird is a bad ass; he isn’t. But I will give him this: He possesses an unforeseen and foolhardy confidence during moments of peril.

So I guess danger is what I was after this weekend when I went to the American River on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Early Friday evening was unexpectedly warm for October. A shirtless guy in his 60s cumbersomely slithered into a wet suit in the Glen Hall parking lot. Later, I spotted him freestyling north across the river. At Paradise Beach, a teenage skimboarder set up a makeshift wood ramp with PVC pipe for grinding. He ran, jumped on the board, glided some 40 feet, ollied, ramped, spun the board 360 degrees and landed in a small wading pool. His friend videotaped the feat. It’s probably on Vimeo already.

Farther south along the shore was empty, with nary a coyote. Or a lurker. You know, those bearded dudes who pop out of the thick with crazed eyes, whispering about Lyme disease. Nope, none of those fellas. Just silent, whipping brush and the grind of sand under shoes and dog paws.

On Saturday, my girlfriend and I entered the American River Parkway in Midtown, at Sutter’s Landing near 28th and C streets. Still no coyotes, but firefighters, I assume, had recently lit a controlled burn north of the levee, and the resulting charred terrain was straight out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: scorched tree trunks and dirt, decorated with golden maple leaf sprinkles. The earth still crackled under your feet, and even the mud along the shore had a wafery crispness, like the sugary top of crème brûlée.

Late Sunday afternoon back at Paradise Beach was a dog party. Splash—a burly Labrador cannonballed into the river just north of the parkway entrance. Another dog chased a toy into the rippling current. A man hauled a kayak upstream.

We ventured westward, away from the throng, deep into the brush. I clapped occasionally—just in case anything wanted to feast on my doggie. We emerged from the trees and stumbled upon a hidden beach. Beautiful. Serene. I reached into my pocket, couldn’t find my keys, but didn’t care.

I’d probably left them in the car, anyway. Hopefully.