Four in the morning.

Nearly full moon, illuminating the landscape with an eerie glow of light bouncing off snow.

Meadow stirs inside the house, waking me, alerting me by running to the door, wanting out.

Maia's out. Uh oh.

Keeping Meadow inside until I know why she's so insistent, I peek out the window into the yard.

Maia is standing four feet from the fence, watching a ... coyote? A canine-like critter is standing ten feet from the fence, in front of Maia. They're quietly watching each other.

Because of the snow-floating effect, Maia's head and shoulders are higher than the fence. She could so easily jump over, yet she doesn't. She's silent, alert, still.

I force Meadow to stay inside while I slip out the door. It's very cold - 14F - but I'm fascinated by what I'm seeing.

The moonlight is so dim - and my night vision so poor - that I can't be certain whether I'm seeing a fox or a coyote. I'm pretty certain it's not a wolf because it's smaller than Maia. But not by much.

By opening, then closing the door behind me, the critter becomes aware of my presence. He startles, thinks about running away, then decides I'm not a real threat and comes back to Maia.

I'm struck by this thought: He's flirting with her.

Maia, however, gains confidence with my presence (even though I'm mentally telling her to be careful, I'm barefoot and barely dressed and won't be very helpful should she need me quickly) and starts huffing aggressively, moving closer to the fence.

Worried Maia will now go over the fence, I clap my hands loudly. The critter slowly runs off, stopping every few feet to look back at us. Maia huffs once more, then comes directly to me, as if to say, "Wasn't that cool? Did you see how close we were? Wasn't I brave?"

The next morning I went through the yard to peek at the footprints left behind by the shadowy visitor, hoping I might better guess what I'd seen. I still don't know. The prints were larger than those of a fox, certainly, but whether it was a large coyote, or a small wolf, I can't tell. The prints were about the size Maia would leave, but smaller than those Meadow makes (Meadow has HUGE feet).

I'm wondering if Maia's caller was the same one I wrote about on December 12, 2007. The photo with this entry is a repeat of one posted then. I'm fairly sure the photo captured a coyote. A really big one. Almost as big as the girls. A very confident one.

I watched the visitor trot on top of the crusty snow as he made his way uphill behind my house, toward the forest. Gone into the silent, cold night, like a ghost.

I've been told many times that coyotes will try to lure dogs. One coyote will show himself and try to entice the dog to give chase, leading the dog to where the rest of the pack is waiting.

That thought kept me awake much of the next couple of nights. I kept the girls inside after midnight, something I've never worried about doing before. Meadow keeps asking to go outside in the wee hours. She doesn't understand why I'm being so obstinant all of the sudden. Under normal circumstances - little or no snow on the ground - the fence is a wonderful barrier, keeping the girls safe and allowing me to sleep easy. But now? If they're both out in the yard at the same time, egging each other on, with so much snow on the ground they're more likely to jump over the fence and give chase. I can only hope they like the sense of safety the fence provides and will stay on the inside.