Coyote Teaches a Lesson
A True Tale from the Pacific Northwest
©2009 Daniel A. Brown
In the summer of 1969, I took the train from Montreal to Banff, British Columbia, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. After hanging there for a spell, I decided to hit the road en route to Vancouver not knowing that the Trans-Canadian Highway was one of the worst hitching venues in the world, offering nothing but a never-ending stream of RV’s, all populated by middle-aged and middle-class Americans to whom a young longhair like myself was about as welcome as the Plague. As was common then, others shared the road with me and before long; I was joined by a young man about my age named Randy. A month ago, he had hitched down from his home in Prince Rupert, B.C. (up by the Alaskan border) to visit an erstwhile girlfriend in South Carolina. But said girl had found someone more local for her tastes and had given Randy the brush-off. Unruffled, he had gotten back on that same road only heading in the opposite direction and home. He was remarkably nonchalant about it, as if a futile 10,000 round trip trek happened every day.
I was lucky to have run into him because night was falling, there were no vehicles in sight and for the first time of my life, I would be camping by the side of a road under the stars without food or shelter. As dusk descended quickly, as it does in the north woods, I had the conscious revelation that all the money, power, influence and professional connections my parents enjoyed in New York City, meant nothing to me now. I was literally on my own beyond their help, surrounded by several thousand square miles of primeval wilderness. Somehow, that awareness was acceptable under the circumstances, seeing that any potential terror was replaced the knowledge that there was nothing I could do about it. Growing up as he had, Randy knew something about the turf we found ourselves in and casually cautioned me not to put my sleeping bag down in a certain swampy area because that was where rattlesnakes liked to spend the night.
Having no fire or venues for entertainment, we turned in early as the sky went black with a sea of stars. Much to my surprise, I fell asleep immediately. Only to be awakened a few hours later by some creature chewing on my boot. Which was attached to my foot.
Now, it’s an unsettling sensation to be abruptly aroused in the dead of night in the middle of the mountains to realize that something, completely unseen, has clamped its jaws around some extremity of your anatomy. So complete was the darkness that I could not make out whatever it was a mere four feet away. Naturally, the first thing I did was to shake Randy awake.
Me: “RANDY, WAKE UP!!! SOME ANIMAL IS CHEWING ON MY FOOT!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Randy: “Relax; it’s probably only a coyote. Go back to sleep.”
Which was exactly what he did, his unflappability reaching new levels that even Tibetan masters take lifetimes to attain.
With Randy effectively out of the picture, I was left to confront my terror alone. Which was soon to reach unprecedented levels as whatever it was, continued to have a jolly old time noiselessly worrying my foot with its fangs. Despite my utter unraveling, I remembered that I had a package of matches in my pocket. Lighting one, the creature dove back into the woods and out of sight. But once the match sputtered out, back it came to grab my booted foot. We repeated this performance several times with the same results. After which, it decided to add to the merriment by running around me in rapid concentric circles. And still, I never saw it, not even the barest outline. Only the senses of sound and touch were active.
By now, I was completely unhinged with fear, having vivid hallucinations about my friend Stephan, who was planning an African safari; being torn apart by lions, hyenas and wildebeests in vivid detail. I vowed that if I survived this ordeal, I would hide in my room and never leave New York City again, getting mugged at gunpoint by heroin addicts being far more preferable than the current horror. At least, you could see THEM! Meanwhile, the monster circled, chewed and taunted.
In my delirium, something unexpected came into play. I became aware that there were three new entities on the scene, all of them bathed in milky whiteness and, for some inexplicable reason, clothed in house painting garb, white bib overalls and squared-off caps. One camped on my head while the others rested upon each of my shoulders. Acknowledging their presence, I was rapidly filled with a calming peace, like psychic opium. I knew I was safe with them around me and that no harm would come. My conscious brain, however, would have none of this and reasserted itself with the admonition that I was only imagining them and that the danger was still clear and present.
But the three etheric housepainters did some reasserting of their own, bathing me in peace and letting me know that I was under their protection and therefore, safe. With this cerebral battle going on inside my head, I fell into a deep and exhausted sleep, undisturbed by beast or my own fevered mind.
I woke up again just before daybreak, feeling a reassuring sense of inner tranquility. As if on cue, Coyote came back for a final visit, for I knew now that Coyote it was.
“I’m not afraid of you anymore”, I said to him silently in my head, regarding the presence that I still could not see. Coyote acknowledged by leaving and never returning again.
Hours later, we got up and walked to the nearest town for breakfast. Four years later, I began a long career as a house painter. And my spirit guides and protectors became permanent residents in my consciousness.
Decades later, I shared this incident with my traveling pal at the time, artist Carol Snow who not only grew up on the Seneca Nation reservation but earned her Masters degree in biology by raising and studying coyote pups in Wyoming, the first American to ever do so. Wired into Coyote from various dimensions as she was, she stated the obvious when hearing my tale.
“Well, heck, Dan, Coyote was teaching you a lesson about fear. Once you let him know you weren’t afraid, he left you alone. Until then, he was having a wonderful time scaring the living crap out of you. That’s how Coyote the Trickster works.”
Apparently so. And it's a lesson that I've had to re-apply to other aspects of my life on a daily basis. But I thank Coyote for showing me the way so many years ago.