Immediate impression:

That's a fox.

But within a few harrowing Wednesday night seconds, it became clear that the wild animal fleeing down my suburban street - after jumping out from behind bushes about 20 feet from me - was a coyote.

The lean and mean-looking critter was significantly taller than a fox, and was light tan, not reddish-brownish like the foxes you usually see in these parts. And he (or she) had a much more bounding-like gait than a fox, which sort of minces along, even when running.

That coyote's sudden emergence at about 11:30 - just three doors down and across the boulevard from Stately Wooten Manor - interrupted my just-before-bedtime, around-the-block stroll with Coco the Wonder Dog.

Guesses on Coco's genetic background peg her as half or all miniature dachshund, or somewhere in between.

I found the glorious little squirrel chaser 2 years ago at the Charleston Animal Society, where lots more terrific pets are waiting for you to rescue them.

Fortunately, though Coco also wanted to chase that coyote, there was no need to rescue her from that fellow canine. Coco was on a leash. That hasn't always been the case on our late-night excursions. It will be now.

And though this was my first sighting of a coyote in our Mount Pleasant neighborhood, it wasn't the first recent evidence of rising natural menaces in our midst.

Early one morning early last month, a sudden racket in our chimney sounded like a fallen rat with a bushy tail, aka a squirrel. But after the flue was opened, no varmint fell into the fireplace.

And despite my hope in a rope lowered down the chimney as a way up and out for the presumed squirrel, occasional chimney clamor continued.

Clash of wills

By the next morning, the periodic noise and growing stink of the clumsy intruder was increasingly intolerable for both Coco and me.

Finally, 36 hours into the crisis, after my repeated pokes of a broomstick up the chimney, the tail end of a feathered creature appeared in the opening above the fireplace.

My alarmed assumption: It was a hawk or some other sharp-taloned bird of prey. However, after summoning the gumption to grab it and pull it downward, new visual evidence revealed the head of a duck.

My manly duty then was to pull her (the brownness of the mallard revealed her gender) the rest of the way through that tight squeeze toward a cardboard box strategically placed to contain her.

An epic, loser-leaves-house rasslin' match ensued. The good guy, not the fowl intruder, won, then escorted the wing-flapping loser outside, where she waddled off into the dark of night with bitter quacks, minus several feathers but otherwise OK.

In fairness to that duck's martial reputation, she entered that bird-vs.-man conflict weakened by extended confinement in a small space without food and water - and was outweighed by more than 175 pounds. I also had the home-house advantage.

Yet how long can mankind maintain our advantage over other kinds of animals?

And how many more uninvited wildlife guests will invade my space before the unsettling trend can no longer be dismissed as mere coincidence?

Within six short weeks, I saw a duck in my living room and a coyote on my street - the first time for either traumatizing encounter since moving into our house nearly 23 years ago.

Plus, a wasp gained entry to our domicile last week. And lately we've be seeing more and bigger spiders indoors - and possums outdoors.

Sure, we're used to seeing roaches inside and skinks outside our house.

And as springtime climate change drives up temperatures, we'll be seeing more snakes, airborne insects (including skeeters, while only feeling the no-see-ums), turtles and maybe even a gator or two nearby.

Sure, "back to nature" sounds nice.

But "nature strikes back" sounds scary.

Natural selection

Ideally, our kind can live in harmony while exercising Biblical dominion over the beasts of the field.

Realistically, though, we compete with them for our planet's finite resources.

As Johnny D. Boggs writes in the voice of narrator Micah Bishop in his rip-snorting new novel "Valley of Fire":

"Coyotes ain't sociable. Not when they's fighting over their supper."

Boggs, who grew up on a farm near Timmonsville and often dons cowboy garb, is a six-time Spur Award winner, an officially designated "distinguished alumnus" of the University of South Carolina, a Santa Fe (N.M.) resident and a longtime pal of mine.

Bishop is a Wild West rogue saved from the hangman by a nun at the start of the "Valley of Fire" saga.

And coyotes aren't the only critters who "ain't sociable ... when they's fighting over their supper."

So watch out for wild things in your house, on your street and beyond.

Watch out for the Easter Bunny, too.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.