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Encountering Coyote

Two weeks ago I shared my journey to the nearby cemetery on a foggy morning as a way of being present to my mother on the anniversary of her death.  One thing I did not share then was my brief encounter with coyote on this walk of remembering, in part because I needed to reflect more on this meeting before speaking of it.

Despite the fact that I live in a very urban neighborhood of Seattle I had heard there are coyotes roaming who come from the many green spaces and Arboretum of our beautiful city, but I had never actually seen one in person before. Early in my pilgrimage among the trees and gravestones, there coyote appeared to me.  It stood looking at me for several seconds as I remained still, breathing in that moment. Then it slowly began to slink away and disappeared into the mist. On the morning I went to go meet the presence of my mother, coyote met me at the threshold.

When I returned home I opened to the entry on coyotes from Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small by Ted Williams:

“Oftentimes in many of the tales, the coyote makes things more complicated than they need to be.  If coyote has shown up as a totem, you may wish to ask yourself some questions. Are you or those around you being too serious? Have you forgotten that play time is essential to health?  Are you complicating what is really simple in some area of your life? . . . The coyote teaches the balance of wisdom and folly and how they both go hand in hand . . . In the tarot deck is The Fool card. This card is good for anyone with a coyote totem to meditate upon.  Its energies are tied to simplicity and trust. It is the card for developing poise in the chaos of life. It stimulates and renews innocence, and it reawakens a childlike wisdom in response to the world.”

Reversing expectations, the balance of wisdom and folly, being more playful.  In the fullness of these days, coyote offered me a meaningful reminder. Today is All Soul’s Day and also Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. There is a playfulness to this celebration with its sugar skulls, colorful altars, and offerings of marigolds, sweet bread, and tequila to the dead.  It is a reminder that death invites us into deep grief over our loss, but just as important is a jubilant celebration over the gathering of souls who continue to support us in this world.

In the busyness of our lives we often forget that we are so fragile.  In fact, I think part of our busyness is a way of running from our mortality, of numbing ourselves from the pain of our limitations. And then an event reminds us that all we can do is be fully present and to love as best we can, as fully as we are able. Contemplating the delicateness of our lives sometimes all we can do is laugh.  And sometimes all we can do is cry. I have found myself doing both in these days of remembering.

For the Poetry Party last week, Cindy Read shared a gorgeous poem by Marge Piercy I had never read before and bears repeating here.  It has been lingering in my heart these days of remembering.  This is an excerpt:

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me only
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted grey off the waters
of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of the morning
touching a face
I love.  We all lose
everything. We lose
ourselves.  We are lost.

Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.

Coyote comes to remind me not to take myself quite so seriously and at the same time to take life very seriously.  Coyote asks me to know simply that I too will one day die which means everything and nothing. And so I am invited to play, to laugh, to love, to behold as much beauty as I can and share it with others. 

What is coyote’s invitation to you this day?  How are you being asked to welcome in holy foolishness?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

My site was nominated for Best Religion Blog!

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8 Responses

  1. i LOVE this photo and hearing about your special soul-sharing moment with coyote….looking into each other. i wonder what coyote thinks you are asking of her.

  2. thanks christine. i love stopping in at your website. i live in lake forest park, and when we moved into our house there were three coyotes who appeared in our backyard. recently i came across two, walking with my dog on a trail – they darted past us out of the forest, right across our path, and quickly ran away. my faithful canine friend, libby, ran just as quickly after them, and then gave up the chase. the next day, right out on the road, there was a coyote, walking right toward us. i hadn’t really thought much about the coyotes, aside from not wanting my dog to go after them. thanks so much for this post, it’s given me some more to ponder

  3. the image is so beautiful and somehow also haunting. i am not sure what that means, but somehow i connect it with both the grief and the laughter. this weekend has been one of both beautiful, still celebration and also deep sadness and grief. sometimes i wonder how we put one foot in front of the other and other times the joy grips me and i am immobilized in delight. go figure?!?!? thank you for sharing coyote with us.

  4. SS, thanks for these great reflections! I love your words: “the coyote felt like a quick Native American lore encounter to me – reminding me that what does not seem logical often appears anyway. The coyote in civilization, watching, guarding, mourning the loss of its own ancestors in the sacred burial place of others.” I am really moved by the image of coyote there to also grieve. In searching for links about coyotes in urban areas I found many compelling articles about their value to a community and why we should not interfere.

  5. P.S. We live in a community that is not fond of the coyote. Farmers, ranchers, sheep and goat herders certain that the coyote only exists to pluck off their herds for the pure joy of the kill. Legal I believe to shoot coyote in this part of the country, if for no other reason than to kill them. All of the aforementioned ideas really breaking my heart when I hear the words. I cannot believe the coldness, hardness of heart that continues to exist in humankind toward any animal other than ones we cherish…..we cherish in order to kill, in order to profit, in order to feed. No, I’m not a vegetarian and can honestly not disapprove of food for human sustenance – but killing for killing’s sake confuses me.

    See, I told you the coyote triggered a lot of feelings in me.

  6. I have been messing around the “Abbey” for the last little while this afternoon, attempting to send an artist friend a photo of your beautiful new altar from Marcy……some days I wonder if I’ve ever used a computer before!!!

    Anyway, frustrated I decided to try one more time and I really sucked in a deep breath when I saw the “coyote” post… was like a little ghostly reminder to me of this day of the Saints. (Mind you, I’ve been to church already today and read Lucy’s post and others, so I know what day it is.) BUT, the coyote felt like a quick Native American lore encounter to me – reminding me that what does not seem logical often appears anyway. The coyote in civilization, watching, guarding, mourning the loss of its own ancestors in the sacred burial place of others….thank you for sharing the picture and your words. I’ll figure out the forwarding business…..this was more important:)