It was one of those really fine afternoons where you can sit on the front porch and no matter which way you looked there wasn't much in the way of cloud or haze to stop your eye. Off to the west the line of the mountain was held in place by the sky at the top and the ground at the bottom.
To the east and north all you could see was flat prairie stretching away into the distance, the only interruption the occasional scrub brush or the dips in the ground where a sinkhole had formed some time in the past. They'd filled in long ago, leaving just a slight crater scraped out of the surface. If He was in a good mood He'd call them acne scars. Catch Him in a bad mood and He'd start muttering about pox-infested blankets that left scars even on Her face.
The good thing about living out here and being able to see as far as the mountains in one direction, or as far as your eyes let you in the two other directions He could come from, (there's no way you'd ever be catching Him coming along the south road), is that you get plenty of warning as to what His mood is going to be like.
If He was just trotting along with his tongue lolling out the way that it can, then you know things will go as well as can be hoped. But if there's any deviation from that then you can be sure there could be some trouble. If you weren't able to distract Him quickly enough you could wind up with anything from a bad trick being played on someone to war on your front porch.
So this afternoon when I spotted Old Coyote approaching out of the north, He was still some five miles away. But oh boy, could you see that He was more then a little pissed about something. Forewarned is forearmed they say, so by the time Old Coyote arrived at my porch that looks out over the prairie in three directions, I had pulled up His favourite chair, made a pot of tea, and had His favourite cup filled with sweet tea (four lumps, no milk).
"Hey," I said to that one, "sit and have some tea, sit and have some tea before it gets cold. Have some fry bread, I just made it, or one of those microwave pizzas – you want one of those – those microwave pizzas?"
But Coyote just continued to pace in front of my porch with His tail dragging in the dust behind Him. Boy, He was one steamed Coyote. I'm wondering what I'm going to do about that, because there's nothing worse than steamed Coyote (although I've heard that Coyote pot roast is pretty bad, too) and if He keeps pacing like that I'm going to have me a trench dug in my front yard.
"Hey," I said to that one again, "you want to go inside and watch television on the satellite dish? We can sit here and look at the TV Guide and find out we should be watching." I had put up the satellite dish for Coyote because He wanted to watch Oprah and Jerry, and all the other funny shows they play during the daytime. He liked to talk to them and see if He could get them to talk back; sometimes He did and sometimes He didn't — get them to talk back that is.
But that one must be really steamed because He continues to pace back and forth – even the thought of back to back Jerry and Oprah doesn't seem to be penetrating His mood. There being nothing else that I could think of suggesting to distract Him, I gave in and did what He wanted.
"Hey Coyote, why don't you come over here and sit down; drink some tea, eat some special fry bread, and tell me what put the burr up your butt?"
You know what it's like to watch a friend get carried away sometimes and talk while they're drinking and eating? Well you haven't seen anything until you've seen Old Man Coyote try to drink tea, eat fry bread, and talk all at the same time. He only slowed down after that first coughing fit almost made Him lose more than just what was in His mouth.
When He finally stopped spluttering and sneezing, and was no longer in any imminent danger of swallowing His tongue, He started again to try and tell me what had happened to make Him so upset on such a beautiful day.
"Nobody wants me," that one said. "Okay, so I eat some sheep here and there, maybe the odd chicken or duck, but c'mon, you leave them lying around like that, what do you expect from me — I'm only Coyote. But it's not even the farmers and ranchers who've got me so angry and upset – they're just playing their part. I try to trick them and they try to stop me from tricking them. That's good – I feel more alive on the days that I'm dodging shotgun pellets than I have in hundreds of years."
He stopped talking this time to drink some tea, and eat some fry bread; He asked for and I got Him one of those microwave pizzas He like so much. "Don't burn your tongue on the cheese," I said.
"Yeah, yeah, I never burn my tongue on cheese," He said.
After He had stopped moaning and crying about His poor burnt tongue for what seemed like forever but wasn't more then fifteen minutes, half-hour tops, I got Him to sit down again to try and tell me what was wrong. "Nobody wants me," He started off again, and I told Him he'd done that bit already, 'cause He can do the same bit over and over again and a story will go nowhere and you could sit there all week waiting for it to move.
"People used to tell stories about me, the tricky me, and all the smart things I'd do. How I made the world and all the great things everybody needs, and all the adventures that I had along the way. They learned how to be brave, honest, and true because of the things that I'd do. I was a great hero too many different people of many different faces all over the world."
Now wasn't the time to be telling Him, I'm thinking, that most of the stories most of us told about Coyote were as examples of what you shouldn't do. But He was right, in His contrary way; people did used to learn from Him how to be brave, honest and true – by doing the opposite of what He did in his stories. Coyote thinks something is a good idea, you'd usually be better off doing the complete opposite.
"But now people, they're just like sheep, you know. They have people who tell them how they should think, what they should feel, and who they should believe. How they gonna learn anything acting like that? Nobody wants to hear tricky tales of wise, brave Coyote when it reminds them of how they could be and not how they are.
They just want things easy now – give me this, I deserve it, they say. Nobody tries to figure out how they going to go out and get it and make it happen. If I had acted like that where would the world be today? There would be no world is where it would be today and how would they like that if they was just standing around on nothing with nothing to do? They wouldn't like it all, I'm betting."
He stopped talking then, did Old Coyote. He picked up a piece of that microwave pizza and tested it with the tip of His tongue to see how hot it was. He remembered this time, and began to eat it all down.
Me, I sat and stared at the sky as the light moved away to make room for the dark and thought about what He said. I thought about all the foolish things that Coyote had done in His time, all the trouble He had created for Himself and others, and all the tricks He used to try and get away with – how some worked and some didn't.
Whether my good friend Coyote knew it or not, He was all of our worst characteristics rolled up into one four-legged, drop-tailed, long-tongued, sneaky-eyed bundle of fur. He never learned from His mistakes, it was always someone else who was at fault when His tricks failed. He was always looking for the easy route and it nearly always backfired on Him.
If He figured out a way to make lots of kills at once it either ended spoiling before He could eat it, or Him not being able to get at it after it was dead. Everything was always about how to make Coyote's life better for Coyote. He never thought about anyone else. He was like a small, petulant, spoiled child who needed to always get His own way.
As we sat there the mountains disappeared off in the west as they turned the same colour as the sky and the prairie stretching out flat in front of us gradually got smaller and smaller as the night sky came down to lay on top of it. Somewhere off in the distance one of Coyote's cousins started to sing his or her lonely song of love for the star who had stolen Old Coyote's heart all those years ago. He had been so foolish in love, and so beautiful. Sad and beautiful just like the song.
I could hear Coyote sitting in the dark breathing beside me, and we listened together to the night. I thought for a minute and then, "Do you want some more tea?" I asked the night beside me.
I heard it sigh quietly and say with Coyote's voice, "Thank you."
More than ever the world needs Coyote, but we seem to be killing Him as fast as we can. Are we ever going to stop chasing our own tails and shooting ourselves in the foot?