His name was Moth because he was flighty and he liked the light.
Days old, he’d creep to the mouth of the den, drawn by the brightness and the odors. He saw colors out there. Shapes. His eyes found focus, many moving things, climbing and flying and crawling. So much to see.
He had brothers and sisters, and they were warm and squirmy. They smelled like him. They rolled all over each other. Their whole world was the den.
But when his siblings slept, he’d be behind the rocks at the entrance. Watching the changing shadows. Wondering at the wind. Studying the birds and buzzing creatures. How he ached to chase them.
Moth was the curious pup. When Mother took her litter hunting, he wandered off by himself. There were butterflies to chase. Holes to explore. Raccoons to tree. He was always taking chances.
Father taught him too. He took him farther, showed him more than the others. Moth was the fast one, smart and quick. They stalked voles together. They even caught a rabbit.
His long nose out front, sniffing up a feast, got everywhere first. It ran into trouble before the rest of him could catch up. When something under a log snapped at him, Moth yipped and danced backward, shaking his head in pain. He thought that was what noses were for—learning lessons. He carried a teaching tool on the end of his shapely snout. He could lick it with his tongue and savor the new scents of animals and plants he discovered.
A sister wouldn’t eat, and then wouldn’t wake up. One of his two brothers fell ill too. Only three pups remained, but they were growing fast. The den could hardly contain them.
One day his father nipped him on the flank. Mother watched as the older coyote goaded his son, forcing him away, letting him know it was time for him to find a new home. Moth was the strong one. She knew he had better odds of making it on his own than the weaker pups. They’d stay a little longer.
No fair, Moth thought. Why did he have to leave? He turned on his father, his lips curled back. That earned him another lesson, a bite on his tender nose.
Head low and tail tucked between his legs, he headed into the hills. He clambered through the scrubland and crossed a narrow road at the top of the ridgeline. He traveled down the other side and lapped his fill at a small lake. He was lucky to find lunch, a delicious decaying fish on the shore.
He nestled in a eucalyptus grove with a clear line of sight in three directions, as he’d been taught. He slept well.
When he returned to the lake at dawn, another coyote was there. Moth wanted to play, but the larger animal chased him away.
He followed the watercourse. When he discovered a stream that headed downhill, he went with it. He crossed an interior valley, staying near the windbreaks so he wouldn’t be seen. The second night he discovered a drainpipe and ducked into it. He ran swiftly on the moist gravel, completely unaware of the eight-lane freeway above him.
He arrived at an area of dense housing, shining with many lights. Moth stood on a small rise and whined, spellbound. He stared at the streetlamps and the bright windows and the trimmed suburban yards.
After a while, the windows winked out. Moth stole closer to the houses. There were different smells—the short grass, the hard surfaces, the unusual fruit on the trees. He followed his nose to a dish loaded with pellets and scarfed the tasty food.
High-pitched barking came from inside the structure. A bright light turned on above his head, and then a hateful noise began. He’d never heard a sound like that—hoarse and coarse, utterly obnoxious.
Moth scampered back to the lawn. He watched as part of the wall opened and a tall, ungainly individual emerged. It was waving its long upper legs and making the alarming noise. He’d never seen a human before. So ugly. So unfriendly.
He ran from it. He hid in a cluster of trees and regarded the lights burning over the hushed streets.
On the third night, he stumbled on an open space filled with wide paths, large tables, and strange, twisted metal objects. The raccoons dashed away when they saw him.
Moth was left alone in a place he didn’t understand. He raised his muzzle and howled, long and loud. “I’m here! Is there anyone like me out there?”
Again and again, he howled, “I’m here! I’m here!”
No answer—except the barking inside the houses.
Lonely, Moth pawed the dirt. There was nothing for him at this place. What next?
He trotted down the center of a hard black strip. Along the sides sat large, lifeless pieces of metal, each resting on four black, dish-shaped feet.
He came to a crossing made of two black strips. Lights hung in the air and they changed colors as he watched, captivated.
Suddenly, twinned white lights came toward him. He saw they were attached to machines like the ones parked along the sides. They made a harsh wiping noise as they passed him.
Another pair of white lights approached. He tried to catch them, but they were too fast for him.
A bleating noise and then a screeching sounded directly behind him. He looked back and saw more twinned lights swerving to the side.
He streaked to the skinny trees on the other side of the black strip and disappeared behind a block structure. He crawled into a hole at the bottom of the building and sheltered in a cellar wrapped in odors of dampness and mold.
The next morning, a human came across him. It made the harsh noise and chased him. Were they always so grumpy? He spent the day in a culvert, safe, but starved.
The following night, he came to a lake so large, he couldn’t see across it. He couldn’t drink it because it was salty.
The surroundings were bizarre—the speeding machines, the angry humans, the strange smells. Even the water was weird. He had to be alert all the time. He considered turning around and returning to the territory near his old den. But, he pictured his father guarding the entrance. He knew he couldn’t go back.
He spied some small birds. He waited by a bush, downwind. They stiff-legged closer to him, looking elsewhere. He had his supper.
He followed the shoreline. He made good time along the packed sand. Soon, he came upon another open space, this one with long meadows and deep sandy pits. Water was spraying from a nozzle near the ground. He put his mouth next to it, biting his drink.
That day, he hunkered in the tall grasses. It was wet and uncomfortable.
On the last night of his journey, a dreadful shriek filled the sky. At first, the sound seemed to be falling and then it seemed to be rising. It came from tremendous metal birds, stupendous and sightless, with feet like the creatures on the streets. Up and down, up and down, they screamed across the sky.
Moth couldn’t stop staring. What were they? He prowled the tarmac outside a high wire fence that protected the terrible birds. He would have chased them, if he could have gotten to them.
His delicate ears ached from the awful piercing noise. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he hurried away.
He kept to the water’s edge. Barriers or outsized buildings blocked his way inland. Even in the middle of the night, nearby traffic made him nervous. He didn’t want to cross those black strips again. He’d learned to steer clear of machines.
He trotted past pipes spilling foul, stomach-turning fluids into the water. The smells sickened him.
Everywhere he went that night, it was too stinky to stop, and too loud to sleep. As the day brightened, he stayed in the shadows.
He thought of how warm his mother was, how secure. He was worn out, more tired than he’d ever been before. He didn’t think he could keep on, but he knew he had to. He had to keep going, even if he didn’t know where. He had to find a new home.
Then, he turned a corner, and there it was.