Today my favorite fictional character is Wile E. Coyote, and his human counterpart with the "hangdog look," John Dortmunder. That’s because I’m staying just outside Joshua Tree National Park, and the federal government’s literature is telling me that the desert is "vulnerable." Really?

Day before yesterday, a coyote walked past our kitchen window. It was mid-afternoon. In a residential neighborhood. Don’t be fooled by the slouchy, hangdog body language. These critters are arrogant, unafraid. They come close at night, howling and snarling. We focus our four-battery maglite in their direction and see a half dozen pairs of yellow reflections shining back.

Wile E. and his buds are at home in the sand and the rock piles with little water, jumping cholla, four kinds of rattlers, tarantulas, and black widows. Maybe if I were a developer with $25 million and a battalion of earthmovers, I could build another golf course and set the desert back for maybe a hundred years or so. But I’m not.

Coyote never gets Roadrunner. Dortmunder’s capers generally go awry. They are undignified and unkempt, but also wiry and tough. They always come back for another round.

We are the vulnerable ones. That’s why we keep reading.

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