A few Saturday mornings ago while walking down the hill to the Cape Cod Bay, my daughter, Willa told me that she had never seen a coyote. She’s traveled to South Dakota at least once a year her whole life to visit my family and I was surprised. We stepped on the beach before sunrise and the very first thing I noticed was a coyote in the shadows walking the shoreline. The shape was haunting, and instantly familiar.
“In Plains Indian stories, Coyote nearly always takes the shape of a man. He is clever but reckless and is constantly getting himself and the people around him into trouble with his socially inappropriate behavior like greed, boastfulness, lying, and chasing women…
He is both trickster and culture hero – often described as witty, clever, obscene, vulgar, and thieving.” http://www.native-languages.org/plains-coyote.htm
Growing up in South Dakota I frequently heard coyotes howling outside my bedroom’s eastern-facing window that overlooked acres of the uninterrupted prairie where my horse, Honey Bear lived.
Like the mystery of fog and the way it makes me feel, coyotes also hold a similar sacred space. They are a tether to the wide-open plains where I grew up and the inner wildness instilled by the freedom I was granted to roam that spacious landscape. Coyotes, I’m now realizing are part of my interior geography.
In Native American storytelling, the coyote plays a crucial role. Interestingly enough though, the coyote is seen quite differently from nation to nation, region to region. The familiar thread is that the coyote is generally viewed as a trickster meant to serve as a example of traits that don’t always serve the community. The flip side though is that the coyote’s cleverness can often get them out of certain pickles and predicaments.
When I got out of college, I wanted an adventure. In September of 1988, I went to Auckland, New Zealand to volunteer in the public relations department for a non-denominational radio station, Rhema. While I was there an American man who claimed to be a prophet arranged a visit. I don’t remember his name. He wanted to pray with us all right away when he arrived. I was the only American on staff.
He gathered everyone in a circle, my hair stood up on my neck and arms. I was so certain he was a fake. He singled me out and said, “come here, Dakota, please join us”. I said “no” without any explanation. My colleagues were surprised, but not pushy and let me hang back. Kiwi’s are wonderfully respectful and polite. I looked up while they prayed and watched his body language closely. He opened his eyes to look at me. I didn’t blink.
Of course, the American Prophet wanted the only other American to lend authenticity to him and help advance his narrative. He was seeking, as many before and after him, donations of course, and a larger platform to spread his message about what those donations could do for his personal cause and humanity.
$ I grew up in a household with Tammy Faye and Jim Baker on in the morning. I saw the tricks used to get donations, create false narratives, and get people hooked into the drug of magical thinking—a high that is never ever enough.
As a 22-year-old, I knew that American claiming to be a prophet was a snake oil salesman. I’d been in training to spot what’s inauthentic from a very young age, not the message intended by watching the PTL Club. However, an education I now find myself quite grateful for in hindsight.
This story was a pivotal event in my life. This was when I realized that I no longer had to accept the dogma of my childhood. Or at least that I could personally reject what felt inauthentic to me and navigate the world in a way that honored my inner knowing. I also understood, with maybe even more significance that I could handle the fall out if others thought I was wrong.
“Coyote is a revered culture hero who creates, teaches, and helps humans; in others, he is a sort of antihero who demonstrates the dangers of negative behaviors like greed, recklessness, and arrogance; in still others, he is a comic trickster character, whose lack of wisdom gets him into trouble while his cleverness gets him back out. http://www.native-langages.org/plains-coyote.htm
This morning I awakened at five, it was still dark and there was a bit of coastal fog in the air. I sipped my coffee outside and watched the light shift over the bay. In my head, I walked through what I would do if I encountered a coyote on the beach or during the half-mile walk down the hill this morning. I imagined I could be the trickster and outsmart him…magical thinking indeed, Lisa.
I arrived at the beach to pick up garbage and scanned east then west. There was now enough light to see the coyote. I didn’t. I was a little disappointed at first, but then I felt safe to walk the shoreline.
I started noticing the tracks in the sand . I never felt this way before. I had some unfamiliar energy and vigilance.
I thought about my northern Quebec ancestry…fur trappers perhaps? Maybe I should become a wilderness guide or a private investigator? I was heady with possibilities as I walked along.
Then I came upon these sandals and I got a little concerned.
The potential coyote tracks awakened my curiosity today in a way that led to further investigation. I don’t feel tricked. I feel sparked and pretty damn grateful.
PLEASE NOTE: I’ve tried to identify online the difference between tracks. I’m well-aware that I could be wrong, but without human prints closeby, it seems to me these are coyote tracks and not those of a large dog. Please let me know. I would like to learn how to easily discern the difference.