Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman
Note: The title of this post is a phrase used on page 13 of Dan Flores’ book, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History.
Storytelling. Our way of learning who we are, of making sense of experience. These days, with coyotes sauntering in from the wild and taking up residence in our towns and cities, it is becoming more and more common to hear stories of chance meetings with them. And, these stories are not simple chit-chat. They are important to us. They reflect our feelings and paint pictures of our surroundings and life styles.
Two examples: Stories of encounters with coyotes; one in a rural setting and one in a city park:
A couple of coyotes got in and killed all my chickens at the ranch one year. I shot quite a few and they stayed away, but we could hear them most nights by the ditch howling to each other. Never saw another one up close again. But when my friend’s little Yorkie lap dog went outside the yard gate one day – only wandered a few feet – we never saw her again! Weeks later I found her skeleton when I was tractoring the grove….plus, there were coyote tracks. I shoot them when I see them….but I haven’t seen any for quite a while. The coyotes are quite intelligent, so I’m not surprised!
My husband [we’ll call him Bill] jogs every day in the park. One morning a coyote appeared on the grass alongside the running path. Bill said that his first thought was, uh-oh, now I’m in trouble, and he started planning how he was going to run away or run into one of the apartment buildings across the boulevard from the park. Pretty soon, however, to his surprise and amazement, the coyote began to jog along on the grass, keeping pace with him. This kept up for about ten minutes, when the coyote veered off into a different direction and was gone. Bill looks for him most mornings now, but he hasn’t come back.
Telling stories involving coyotes is not a new phenomenon. The coyote was at the center of storytelling for thousands of years among the Indigenous people of our country. The Indians observed the coyote and recognized its intelligence, became familiar with its ‘personality traits’ and its behavior.
They saw the coyote as mischievous and cunning, a trickster who enjoyed causing trouble, but whose ridiculous plots and schemes often backfired, causing coyote great grief. On the other hand, coyote was also capable of wisdom and strength of character and tremendous adaptability in the face of ever-changing circumstances.
The Indigenous people in what would become America recognized these as human traits, things they saw in themselves, present in no other animal. In this unique connection to coyote, the Indians elevated the animal to sacred status, in some cases even attributing the creation of the world to him.
In the various tribes’ legends and myths, coyote is challenged by human-like dilemmas involving such things as food, power, money, sex, sharing and getting along with others. These tales presented opportunities for tribal members to observe the negative outcomes of selfish behaviors and to learn about the value of cooperation. Observing coyote’s perseverance in the face of great difficulty helped strengthen the resolve of the people to thrive and survive.
You might ask if there is a connection between what we now know about the Indigenous people’s knowledge of the natural history of the coyote and a modern-day rancher trying to protect her animals against the onslaught of coyotes and an urban runner who for a moment loped side by side with a coyote.
I believe Dan Flores stated it quite well when he wrote (p. 19),
Suffice it to say here that as we humans head off into an uncertain and probably dangerous future of our own making, it might be wise to keep an eye on [the coyotes]. I, for one, am going to be very interested in how coyotes cope with the twenty-first century and what insights we might draw about our own circumstances from a coyote history that so often seems to mirror ours.
For your pleasure: Here’s a fun photo-essay from coyoteyipps.com involving two coyotes and their ownership of a mouse.
SHE caught a mouse and began to play with it. HE, of course, noticed and approached.
Aware that HIS eyes were on HER mouse, she distanced herself fast.
Then she teased him and taunted him, provokingly, and continued to play with her mouse by tossing it and catching it, and dropping it sometimes: “ha ha, this is MINE and you can’t have it!!” But he watched her carefully, and . . .
the minute that little mouse was tossed a little too far, HE grabbed it and ran with it. She watched him tear off with it. Now it was HIS.
He distanced himself far enough not to be reached, and then played with what was now HIS prize. He kept looking over at her thinking she might try to grab it back. But she was sly and pretended not to care –she pretended to be otherwise occupied.
Then, when she felt HE believed that it didn’t matter to HER, and when he was occupied with “his” mouse and no longer watching her, she snuck over and,
now it was payback time: when that little mouse was tossed too far, SHE grabbed it and took off.
This time there was no more tossing the mouse around. Why take the chance of its being grabbed again? She chewed it up and down the hatch it went. After all, it had been HER mouse before HE stole it from her! And then she grabbed HIS snout in hers to show who was boss: she who laughs last . . .
Teasing each other is something coyotes do a lot of. It’s a form of interaction, and most of it is done in good-will.