I was given a new piece of America last night. By a coyote.
Marty and I were coming home from our evening walk when we spotted the bouncy gait of the coyote in the pasture. Just a few shades off the tone of the gold-brown summer grass, he swept across the plain as if he owned the place. Which, of course, he totally does.
When he reached the road not far ahead of us, the coyote stopped dead and turned to stare at us. We stopped too, and for maybe 30 seconds we all observed each other in silence before he upped and continued on his way.
As he disappeared up the ridge, we looked at each other and started laughing like fools. It couldn’t have been clearer if Loki himself had just booby-trapped our school lockers. Trickster energy!
So much about our recent life circumstances started to make sense when I looked into that clever, scraggly little face. Disparate pieces came together in that special way they do only when you have an unusually kooky belief system. You know, like I do.
Every tradition on earth has a trickster figure loitering somewhere in its mythology, probably leaning up against a wall with a cigarette with one hand and a stolen chicken in the other.
Because I’m looking for America, I need my magical messengers to be very specific, and in Native American cultures, the numero uno trickster is Coyote. The stories about him showcase a cunning and mischievous dude who wreaks havoc wherever he goes.
Now, I wouldn’t have been quite so blown away by my own Coyote encounter if things hadn’t been quite so strange around here lately.
If my recent life were a Coyote story, it might go something like this.
…Then Coyote came to a settlement of white people, where everyone had a firm plan for the next stage of their lives. Pleased at the prospect of causing some delicious chaos, Coyote announced that he knew how to make all their plans work. They just had to give him a sack of meat and an indefinite amount of time.
The naive white people gratefully handed over everything Coyote wanted, certain that all their dreams were about to come true. Coyote laughed uproariously as he ran off over the hills with his meat sack slung over his shoulder, vowing never to return a single one of the white people’s calls.
I’m not going to go into the prosaic details of the past couple of weeks, but as you can imagine, uprooting your life and planting it down on the other side of the country involves a complex set of moving parts. Many of them interdependent. Many of them time-sensitive. And, unfortunately, a great many of them are reliant on other people following through on promises they’ve made. Ah, there’s the rub, right?
My naive white family and I mistook our hopes for reality, and friends, we got trickstered up one side and down the other. Trickster energy’s no joke: it will harsh your mellow but good. Yet as with so many scary or infuriating aspects of life, this mayhem becomes far less menacing the moment you see its wolfy little face and recognize it for what it is.
How can you tell you’re being beset by tricksterism? This is what I believe. When things start getting really crazy around you, like this-is-so-bad-it’s-weird crazy, like WTF-24/7 crazy… that’s some trickster energy getting all up in your life.
THIS IS A GOOD THING. And I’m going to tell you for why.
Tricksters are disruptors. They spurn convention, cross boundaries, and generally create disarray. But there’s more to it than that. In myth, tricksters have a habit of sauntering into a group of people and, as Paul Mattick has it, “shaking things up so that they can be reconfigured in a different shape.”
A different shape.
When I saw my Coyote and understood why he’s been showing up in my life, what I realized is just how much I’ve needed him.
My family is about to move into a whole new life, and all our established structures need to be shaken up. More: they need to be shattered. We can’t create a new form for ourselves — in our routines, conventions, unquestioned ways of living with each other — without letting the current pieces shift around. That’s how we’ll re-form to fit our new life. The Coyote force wreaking havoc with our plans is helping us do that.
But fundamentally, it’s my own self that is in most need of some shattering and re-forming. I’m like a set of tiles destined to be a mosaic. And chaos is the artist. So smash me up, Coyote. Mess up all the colors and help new aspects of me to be born.
We can get so creaky, you guys. All the structures of self we build around ourselves can grow hard and brittle. And as any engineer of bridges or high rise buildings will tell you, what doesn’t bend is bound to break.
When Coyote comes into our lives, he shows us that we can’t rely on those things we thought we could rely on — people’s behavior, what’s knowable or predictable, where the edges of our reality really lie.
And you know what? When we can no longer take that shit for granted, it’s time to open our damn eyes. It’s time to say, okay, Coyote: break me open, shake me up. Let me become a swirling, colorful new creature born of today — not five years ago, not thirty years ago. Today.
It’s worth breaking for. It’s so worth it.
Tonight, on my walk, I looked up at the craggy line of the ridge far above me, and there he was: silhouetted against the sunset, gazing down at me. I smiled and waved; I couldn’t help it. Coyote was too far away for me to see his face, but I promise you, he winked, took a drag of his cigarette and drawled, “You’re welcome, Boo.”