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My friend from high school, Michael Peter Smith, wrote a song called “There’s a Panther in Michigan,” inspired by an actual incident, but it turns out the panther isn’t half the problem. The Detroit Free Press reports today that there have been several accounts in the metropolitan Detroit area of dogs being killed and coyotes fingered as the suspects.

Detroit. Coyotes. I grew up associating coyotes with Tex Ritter, the prairie, and tumbleweed, but it turns out the wolf relatives are an adaptable lot, easily moving into new habitats. They are now known from Panama to Alaska and most of Canada. That’s why they are not an endangered species—good on them—but it’s also why they are now a problem in my New Jersey neighborhood. A woman who lives about a mile from our condo reported last week that coyote were systematically exterminating her sheep.

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© Warner Brothers

We’re accustomed to deer and squirrels and foxes and rabbits. There is even a herd of bison about four miles down the road—though, I’m glad to say, they are penned in. But the coyote is a relatively new  blush on life in these parts.

The article in the Free Press cited a research report in ZooKeys magazine that reported that since 1900 coyotes have been expanding their territory across North America (by around 40 percent since the 1950s) while other species have been in decline. And they’re not afraid of traffic. The Free Press writes that the largest urban study of coyote is going on in the Chicago area where more than 1,000 of the buggers have been tagged,

Although there has never been a report in Michigan of a coyote attacking a human being, it has happened elsewhere, sometimes with fatal consequences. Despite the aggressive personality of the Warner Brothers character, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Wildlife Resources said coyotes are “docile” and “retiring” by nature, a notion that you might not want to test. Keep your dog on leash, and don’t carry no hamburger in your pocket neither.

You can hear Michael sing “There’s a Panther in Michigan” by clicking HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MICHAEL SMITH

Planning a high school reunion is not, as Ed Norton might put it, “all beer and skittles.” The process, in which a small group of classmates and I are now engaged, forces a person to confront certain inconvenient truths, including the passage of time and his own age. Our class, the Class of 1960, had 299 members. Organizing a reunion makes us confront the fact that at least 44 of those classmates are dead. It makes us face the fact that the 22 or so we have not been able to locate in these 50 years probably are lost to us forever. And it forces us to accept the fact that many classmates don’t share whatever feelings make other classmates think of themselves as having something more in common than the date and place of our graduation.

MICHAEL SMITH

None of us believes that a man or woman has an obligation to continue any connection to the class. If anything, it makes sense to us that people have had far more experiences, relationships, successes and problems since high school than they had in the first 17 years of their lives, and that high school has become a relatively unimportant part of a bigger picture. In fact, it has occurred to me, at least, that those of us who persist in keeping this circle intact are driven by emotion and perhaps by an insecurity that makes us reluctant to put behind us the last stage of our lives in which we were not wholly responsible for our own fate. High school, for most of us, is one of the last places, as Robert Frost might have observed, that when you go there, they have to take you in.

MICHAEL SMITH

Still, there is another factor that must explain why some members of our class or any class turn their backs on the rest of us for good even before the recessional has ended. I started thinking about this last weekend while I was listening to a song called “Crazy Mary” that, it happens, was written by Michael Smith, who graduated from the same high school but in the Class of 1959. Michael, a folk singer who has lived in Chicago for many years, writes lyrics with a poet’s skill, and many of them can reach deeply into the psyche and the soul. “Crazy Mary” — not the Victoria Williams/Pearl Jam song — is about boys who torment a woman who lives in their neighborhood. The boys don’t understand this woman, so — like Scout and Jem Finch — they compensate for their ignorance by inventing explanations that satisfy their morbid, childish curiosity. When they no longer need her to entertain them, they forget her.

As I look through the yearbook, literally or in my mind, I can place my finger on the boys and girls in our class who were not treated well by the rest of us. Some of them suffered cruelty, some of them suffered ridicule, and some of them suffered indifference. Would they want to join us as we reminisce about those days? I remember the mother of one boy confronting a group of teenagers on the street and demanding to know why they had mocked her son. I was an adult and had children of my own before the recollection of that scene broke my heart. I wondered what had become of that boy; I never wondered when we were kids what would become of him.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to high school. Misunderstanding, or choosing not to understand, people who seem to hear drumbeats that elude the rest of us may be an inevitable part of growing up. There was an elderly man in my neighborhood when I was a boy who seemed to be perpetually angry and who would shout and flail at us kids if we came within  a perimeter that only he could see. We, of course, did our best to invade his space just enough to set him off. I wonder what became of him.

In the lamplight burning low
And dimly thru enchanted woods
We think about the sins that we commit
Along the green and golden paths of growing up
We light the fire
And say a prayer for Crazy Mary.

(Copyright, Michael Peter Smith)

The complete lyrics to “Crazy Mary” are at THIS LINK.

Biographical information, lyrics, videos, and touring schedule of Michael Smith can be reached through THIS LINK.

Poster from a previous Michael Smith concert