An Imprecise Oral History

 

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”  -Alan Watts

There are different religions.  There are different beliefs.  There are different Gods.  Not everybody is right.  Not everybody is wrong.

This isn’t a treatise on religion.  I have no interest in that.  (Frankly, I don’t have time for that.  That subject is a quagmire, and when you get to the end of it, people are still likely to believe what they already believed.)  So, let’s leave it like this: People believe what they want.

And I believe what I want.

Shifting gears: Persecution.  People are persecuted for many reasons.  “Wrong” skin color, “wrong” religion, “wrong” politics, etc.  (Certain people can always find something . . .wrong.  For certain people, it’s easy.)  And not only are some people persecuted, some are killed.  All because they didn’t toe a certain “line.”

And shifting gears a little more, it’s amazing how some things haven’t progressed.  While driving through the southwest, I’ve seen not one, not two, but several coyote carcasses hanging from barbed wire fences.  The thinking goes: If I kill one of them and string it up for it’s family and friends to see, then they won’t steal any more of my chickens.  The coyotes had done something “wrong” and were persecuted.

From a simplistic, mano-a-mano, revenge-level view of things maybe that makes sense.  Except for this:  it doesn’t work.  Coyotes don’t think like we do.  They think the way Mother Nature wants them to think, which means they think a little more expeditiously than do we.  And with a little less clutter.  (When they traipse up to a fence and see a dead coyote hanging, a coyote doesn’t say, “Dang, so that’s why I haven’t seen Uncle Phil these last few weeks.”  Instead, the coyote smells and hears the chickens stirring and acts accordingly.)

And, now, we shift gears again.

There’ve been people on this continent for quite some time.  The details aren’t necessary because, truthfully, they’re sketchy, problematic and open to debate.  We’ve worked backwards from our world of written History into the world of passed-down Anthropology into the world of Wild-Eyed Guesses and still – we don’t really know.

But, as we all seem to agree, there were people already here when the first Europeans came a-knockin’.  Although their beliefs didn’t comport with that of the high-and-mighty Europeans, the Indians had a form of religion (more a spirituality), and in it was a God-like being (sometimes called the “Great Spirit”).

Indians lived off the land, and for the land.  Indians knew the importance of land.  (And, by the way, there’s even controversy as to whether to call these people “Native Americans,” “American Indians” or “Indians.”  Sometimes we over-think things in our quest to be non-threatening.)

They saw the way the land took and the way it gave.  They learned the seasons and that may sound simple, but it’s not, because to learn them . . . to really understand them . . . you have to live them.  There were no air conditioners to take the heat out of the day, or mile-long hoses for irrigation, or farmers’ markets down the road in case their corn failed to grow.  There were no do-overs.

Back to the coyote.  He was, to certain Native Americans, a mythical creature.  The Great Spirit had sent Coyote to help Man in whatever way he could, and Man came to appreciate that.  Yes, Coyote could be bad, and often was, but that was his nature and the Indians knew that, and respected that.  At the end of the day, they knew that Coyote possessed wisdom and that he’d share it because he was a generous dog, a dog who always had a smile, even if – and especially if – he were walking off with your prized hen in his jaws.

But Man came to have fancy ideas, and sometimes those ideas came so quickly he couldn’t keep track of them, and sometimes he’d forget some of them in his haste to implement the ones he did remember.  He raced against himself and others, because to Man it was about who crossed the finish line first, and sometimes Man left friends and family behind.

But Coyote?  He’s in no hurry.

Yet Man, in his rush to advance and win, forgot about his earlier friendships.  After all, Man now had air conditioners, and mile-long hoses, and farmer’s markets on every corner.  Man thought he not only knew nature, but that he controlled it.  Why’d he need Coyote?  In fact, Man came to see Coyote a threat and declared war on him.

Coyote was shot . . . trapped . . . poisoned . . . and left hanging from barbed-wire fences to rot.

Coyote could have folded up and gone extinct (as his bigger cousin the Wolf nearly did).  But that’s not Coyote’s way.  Instead he did something no one would have ever expected.  Historically, he’d lived primarily in the western states.  Yet when Man declared war on him Coyote did something fascinating.  He had much larger litters.  And he moved.  But he didn’t move away from Man; he moved in with Man.

Now – unbelievably, but beautifully – Coyote can be found throughout North and Central America, ranging from Alaska in the north to Panama in the south.  He’s been spotted riding the subway, entering donut shops and swimming in people’s pools.

He saw change, and not only did he adapt, he thrived.

Still, Coyote takes it slow and steady.  He knows how quickly the weather changes.

But Coyote has never been afraid of change.  He’s always ready for a good dance.

And the really funny thing about all this – he’s still teaching Man.

Let’s see if Man is smart enough to listen.

*****

For centuries man’s had a unique relationship with coyote.  Sometimes, probably many times, man has cursed coyote.  But, even before those words fade, and maybe in some other part of the country, someone else will say: “Hey, did you see what the coyote did?  We can learn from that.”

The word coyote is derived from the Aztec word “cóyotl,” which means “trickster.”  Through the ages coyote has worn many hats, one of which is a killer.  But others are “companion,” “comedian,” “prankster,” and “song dog.”  As to the last one: there are stories that would suggest coyote with his howl taught us to sing.  A lot of people think the coyote howl is only mournful, but that’s not true.  Many howls are playful in nature; or they’re sounds of love, a Mr. calling his Mrs.; or it’s a mother, lovingly, checking on her youngsters.

The photo shows Maddie our trickster, our coyote running hell-bent-for-leather.  She was always checking on Genie.

*****

It’s interesting.  Depending upon which tribe’s tales you read, you’ll learn about the time Coyote snuck into heaven.

He was amazed.  He saw beauty and felt peace.  Even still, he didn’t stay.  One day, he headed back to earth.

The Great Spirit asked why, what with all of heaven’s treasures.

“I reckon I have more to do for Man,” Coyote said.

“Yes, I reckon you do,” the Great Spirit said.  Then he smiled.

And when he did, Coyote smiled.


Every day Maddie smiles.

*****

I’ll never know what killed P.J.  I have my theories.

Yet, I write about coyotes.  Shouldn’t I be out killing them?

I loved my brother.  But my brother had good and evil in him.  There were times when he was like any other older brother and he’d come to my defense.  But there were times when he tried to kill my parents and me.  It was that extreme and that constant.

One time, after my father had died, and after I’d gotten married, he showed up unexpectedly at my mother’s.  He started acting in ways that indicated he was heading towards violence.

Instead of calling me, my mother called a good friend who happened to be staying with her parents down the way.  My friend, who knew my brother and what he was capable of, went to intercede.  She tried talking to my brother, but he was beyond that point.  He got rough.  At one point, he threw her against the wall.  Finally, with more words, she quieted him down.

I didn’t know about that until recently.  I asked my friend why my mother didn’t call me.

I’ll never forget these words:  “Your mother was afraid you’d kill him.  And she knew how much you loved him.”

In life, with some things, it seems there’s never a good, reasonable-sounding answer. 

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