When you hear a single coyote howl in the distance at night, it’s an old sound, like the buzz of a nearby rattlesnake, or the shriek of a raptor above you. It triggers ancestral thoughts and feelings. It’s a reminder of the vastness of the night sky, the emptiness of the high desert, the nostalgia of old cowboy movies and crusty Old West independence.

From the lone coyote, it’s a direct challenge to the darkness, to loneliness itself. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re the only person in the world hearing this, and there’s always a chance it’s true.

The sound also reminds you somehow that the task of cobbling together some personal meaning out of all this is among the loneliest jobs of all. It’s true for everyone – “alone together,” as the old song says.

In contrast, when you hear an entire pack of coyotes just outside your bedroom window, whooping and screaming and setting of car alarms as they conclude their hunt, you can’t really think of much at all. It’s sudden, sleep-ending chaos. Some part of you is wordlessly thankful for the walls that separate your pack from theirs, and some other part of you wistfully recognizes the sounds of unrestrained animal revelry, the unfiltered joy that simply does not accompany our own temporary victories over hunger.

You listen until they’re done, fully immersed, excited to witness it, and also relieved when it’s suddenly over. Sleep will eventually return, and so might the coyotes.

(If the universe has determined I will never, ever sleep 8 hours in a row again, at least I should give it credit for mixing things up.)