A Living, Breathing Allegory

When in graduate school, my advisor was an avid traveler of the American Southwest and had brought back Native American Hopi Kachina wood-carved dolls and briefly told me the related stories of Coyote mythology.

I think that began a low-key fascination with coyotes for me.

If you follow snip-its of my life via Instagram, you might have caught that I picked up a book to bring along on our vacation last week, and shocker, didn’t get too far into it. I’m still working my way through it, in between refereeing sibling rivalry stemming from my little ones.

The book I picked up, Coyote America, covers the history of the coyote, beginning in the Aztec empire- spanning the American West and prairie lands- through their recent invasive into the Big Apple around 2010.

The Very Old Coyote was the Aztec deity and symbol of astute, pragmatic and divine wisdom. Aztec stories have been retold over the centuries as it spread out of the Aztec Empire and eventually into the ears of the Native Americans, retold as the European settlers moved in, and storied yet again today by American folklorists. And as such, the author of Coyote America suggests that stories of Coyote are actually older than our civilization’s oldest presumed story, The Gilgamesh Epic.

The coyote was held in such high regard until, according to Coyote America, Mark Twain came along and wrote the first real disparaging thing about them in 1872. Ever since, the sentiment has stuck.

The coyote is slim, long, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerable bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of foresakeness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The cayote is a living, breathing allegory of Want.

Mark Twain

I’m not even half way through the book but so far I’m enjoying every bit of it from the name origins and changes through out the centuries, to Lewis and Clarks descriptions, to the early naturalists’ and trappers’ field notes, to the documented ability of a species to expand and concur centuries of changing landscape conditions, like few others.

It gives a greater connection when you learn someone’s story, and for me the coyote is no different. So when I saw this individual trope along the stone wall in the early dawn hours, I felt particularly awe-struck.

I hope their reputation reverts before my children come of age and that they can hold reverence for a beast who’s story is as old as the oldest of stories known. I hope this living allegory visits me more often.

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