Feb. 5, 2013 — Thursday morning I woke up to one of my favorite sounds: coyotes howling in the predawn. It began with a single mournful wail, and then others joined in until the desert sounded alive with the yipping chorus.
It’s a beautiful, eerie song that evokes something ancient and primal, almost like a genetic memory stretching back to the beginning of time.
Coyotes are opportunists and well deserving of their trickster reputation. A single coyote will lure in its prey while others hide in the brush, waiting to pounce. They don’t discriminate when it comes to food. A rodent, lamb or pet cat is all fair game; therefore, many people see them as vermin and nail their pelts to fences to warn off the rest of the pack.
Coyote stories figure prominently in the myths of this continent, and more than any other creature, I have trouble separating the animal from the myth. He lopes in a crooked fashion across the ground and seems to appear and disappear at will. Maybe that’s the shape- shifting part of him, the part that refuses to conform, yet can adjust to nearly anything.
According to the National Geographic website, coyotes once lived mainly on open deserts and prairies, but now they are at home virtually anywhere on the continent. I once saw one dash into an alley in downtown San Francisco, and I used to see them regularly in the parks and canyons of San Diego. They may be the most adaptable animals in the country.
I like to look at these multifaceted creatures as teachers, but teachers who lead me in circles to find answers. There’s nothing straightforward about the coyote. He’s a shadowy figure and, like a smoky mirror, points out my human foibles with tricks, contradictions and bad manners, and by doing so forces me to look more honestly at myself. A coyote lesson is not always easy, but it’s usually valuable.
So in the early morning before dawn has broken through the clouds, I sip my coffee and ponder metaphors and archetypes while the coyotes continue to sing the day into existence.
If I sit quietly, they may come close, and then dart, wild and wary, back over the desert and into the shadow of the Warner Mountains.
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