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Coyote and Sturgeon Morning
I stepped out the front door at 6:20 on a Saturday morning. It was gray and bright at the same time. I was loaded up with Old Crow books to distribute to street libraries. I began crossing the avenue and trotting through the intersection 20 yards down the block was a coyote. He stopped and looked right at me. This was no scrawny coastal coyote I was used to seeing on the wildlife refuge or Nestucca Spit or the beaches south of Newport. Oh no, he was large, the largest coyote I have ever seen, with a big head, big ears, and exquisite dark brown and red coloring. He had obviously been feasting away on the neighborhood's succulent offerings: cats, squirrels and baby ducks and geese.
The coyote turned and trotted away. I followed him at a brisk pace. He turned around and stopped and looked at me again. Our eyes met!
When a coyote looks at you twice in a morning, you best pay attention. I instantly divined his appearance meant something good might unfold soon, perhaps even later this day. I felt it with ten thousand more times of certainty than I ever felt about anything related to Jesus and God in my youth as a preacher's kid. Moreover, I had received a visit from a nearly all white coyote on an Oregon beach over 15 years ago that led to a drastic change of mind and wiser outcome and I have never forgotten that magical encounter.
I stocked the books and made it to the Willamette River. Dozens of boats bobbed near the bridge hoping to land a salmon. Kayakers and dragon boats were also sharing the channel. I walked to my favorite bench to watch the show. Something about watching people fish makes me feel very good.
Four young men fished from the boat dock below me. They were smoking and drinking energy drinks and malt liquor. They were laughing and casting with astonishing vigor. Three out of four of the men had the mistakable vibe of being homeless, which didn't surprise me because I have seen homeless men and women fish for salmon in Gladstone, Oregon City, Portland, Eugene and for perch pretty much up an down the Oregon Coast. I've also seen scores of homeless crabbing from the docks in Newport.
I was considering the coyote when a bit of a ruckus went up from the dock. One of the men had landed something, and something big.
The next ten minutes was a struggle between the man and the fish. What a show! The three other men were shouting instructions and reeling in their lines so as not to become entangled. This being 2023, the man struggling with the fish somehow managed to retrieve his phone and hand it to his buddy who began documenting this Saturday morning's malt liquor version of Young Man and the Sea.
At last, the man reeled in the fish and hauled it onto the dock. It was well over four feet and definitely not a salmon. It was a sturgeon! I had just seen a homeless man land a damn sturgeon! Everyone was celebrating and the man posed for pictures with his prize.
Then he released it back into the river. I was shocked, but then again, what exactly was a homeless man going to do with such a behemoth? Carry it away on his bicycle or over his shoulder and then fry it up for supper near his tent?
I looked at all the men fishing from the dock and noticed there was nothing to hold any fish they might catch. They were all there for the pure sport of it. As was I.
My walk home was especially invigorating. I stopped to talk to an obviously exhausted homeless woman in her 60s in the park. I saw a homeless man in the park emerge from a lean-to of branches under a towering Doug fir. I heard a bald eagle chirping overhead. I saw a blue heron undulate in the sky.
Back home, I did a little research: catch and release of sturgeon only on this stretch of the lower Willamette River. The homeless fisherman had obeyed the law.