I was once straight Bobcat. A totem animal master of solitude, stealth and curious navigation of higher realms of consciousness. Until a year ago ..
A year ago today, I woke up in my beloved desert to a glorious sunrise over red rocks. It was too hot to sleep past sunrise, and I had a tour that day anyway – 8 am pickup, just one client for a Sedona hike. I hula hooped to a few songs, read emails in the shade of my shell and ate breakfast with my feet dangling off the tailgate. Just another happy perfect day in the life of The Bobcat. When it was time, I packed the truck and drove down my dirt road.
Less than a hundred feet from my camp-home, an orange flatbed pickup truck and two young bearded men were parked near the water hole. I looked with interest – I rarely see people in my corner of the desert. I drove around the thorn thicket, over the cattle guard and into plain view of their truck. Suddenly, time slowed down to a trickle. In that trickle, I saw blood on the bed of the truck, a grey mass at the end of the blood, a gun in one hand, a look of surprise on a bearded face. In one swift move, the hand that didn’t have the gun grabbed the grey mass and tossed it in the thorn thicket. It was a coyote. Without a tail. Time resumed its normal speed. Both men stood by the truck and waved a friendly “hello”. I waved back and said “hello” – my brain hadn’t processed what had just entered it yet. The larger of the two men climbed in the truck and said to the other, “The fucker put blood all over the truck. Let’s get outta here.”
My brain caught up. The human “fuckers” had killed one of my coyotes and taken its tail – for a trophy, I suppose. My blood flash-boiled with anger. If I had a gun, I’d have shot the fuckers – shot them dead and taken their shoes. Oh, I was seething. And simultaneously fascinated. So, that’s how it felt. That’s how men kill men, families kill families (by whichever large definition), wars are started and massacres feel righteous and justified. Through the anger, I became aware of a new level of appreciation for the warriors of the world. As a self-proclaimed Buddhist Anarchist (one who aims to dismantle the System without harm to anything), I had never before understood the act of killing, except in respect for the purpose of feeding oneself. But I did that day. My heart screamed “Revenge!”, and yet, I drove on. It was 7 am in the desert, miles from any help, I was an unarmed woman alone, and these two had just shot a coyote for a trophy tail. Self-preservation prevailed over retribution.
My client that day was a woman about my age. She lived in Manhattan, New York, had manicured nails and had never been on a dirt road before. When she climbed into the truck, I realized I was unlikely to hold my tears for the entire tour, so I preempted with “Before we go anywhere, in case I cry, this is what just happened …” She had recently seen two black men gunned down in the subway. In spite of our completely opposite lifestyles, we understood each other perfectly. I did not lead a fluffy tour that day. We discussed heavy subjects – senseless killing, protecting one’s own and other plagues of humankind – as we hiked through beautiful canyons. She was a soulfriend, not a client, for a day. We must have both needed it. She later told the concierge at the resort that my tour had been the highlight of her trip.
After the tour. I called the BLM. Killing coyotes, it turns out, is legal, but with a permit. No permit had been purchased. If I had noted the truck’s license plate, they could have issued a violation and charged the hunters a fine. Fat lot of good that would have done the coyotes.
The sun was just setting when I returned to the desert, straight to the dead coyotes’s bed under the thicket. I thought the hunter might remove the evidence, but they had not even bothered. There were actually two coyotes, one slightly larger than the other. If it weren’t for the missing tails, I would have thought they were peacefully napping in the shade. My anger was instantly replaced by sadness. I kneeled at the foot of the larger one and cried. I cried for myself, not for them. They were long gone – I could tell. No lingering coyote in those bodies. I cried in frustration for my inability to protect my desert kin, for my cowardice cloaked in self-preservation, and for the loss of their voices in my nightly serenade.
Because of my upbringing, it felt disrespectful to me to just leave them there. I thought I should bury them and bless their place of rest with a cross or some other symbol. But the Sedona desert is packed hard and impenetrable. Digging a hole large enough for two coyotes would have taken several hours, but I would have done it.
Luckily, Benny, the man whom I called to borrow a shovel, is part Hopi.
“You don’t want to bury them.” He said. “If you leave them out, the desert can make use of their death. If you bury them, then their death is useless. Say a prayer to wish them well on their way, if it helps you, and know that nothing is in vain. We just don’t always understand Spirit’s greater plan.”
I spoke a prayer of gratitude over the coyotes’s empty shells. I had hoped to feel their presence as I thanked them for their company and their songs. Just a small sign of acknowledgement that I mattered to them as much as they had mattered to me, a sign of forgiveness for my wrongdoings – not protecting them – or at least a confirmation of a bond between us – any bond. They gave me nothing. There were no songs in the desert that night.
I stayed with the coyotes throughout the entire decomposition process. Not out of morbid curiosity, but because at the age of 44, I had never really been around death. I buried small dead animals I found in the woods out of view, and to this day, have still not seen a dead human body. I didn’t fear death, but neither did I understand it. This was part of the gift of the coyotes’s death. I got to learn. Every day, I said hello as I drove by, sent them loving thoughts, wherever they were, and sometimes I stopped to check. They never smelled, but gradually sunk flatter, as though they were relaxing more fully into the earth.
I left Sedona in mid-July on a book tour up the West Coast and didn’t return until September. The coyotes were my first stop back in town. I couldn’t believe how much the bodies had changed. Nothing left but two flat carpets, empty skins draped over a few bones, and everything else recycled. I continued to say hello daily and check occasionally. The October rains further flattened the remnants. Holes appeared in the coyote carpets, particularly over the bones and at the edges. Then it snowed, and I left again. I left January 1st, off on adventures for 3 months. When I returned, in mid-march, even the skins had been reabsorbed by the desert. The skulls and large bones were gone, but most of the vertebrae were left- beautiful little pieces of bone jewelry. I extended my hand to pick one up. I meant to keep one to honor their memory wherever I may roam, away from Sedona. But before my fingers could touch the bone, I heard a loud clear “NO!” in my head.
“What do you know about Coyote medicine?” I asked my friend Mikhael, who is part Choktaw and my go-to source for spirit animals questions.
“You do NOT want to invite Coyote medicine in your life.” She said. “Coyote is the Trickster. It will put your life upside-down, shake things up, and rattle your peace. Unless you’re ready for a wild ride, I’d leave these bones be, if I were you.”
So, I did let them be … but Coyote found me anyway.
About a month ago, I turned at the thorn thicket and over the cattle guard just in time to see a handsome male cross the dirt road toward the water hole. I was struck with excitement. He still had his thick winter coat, a healthy mix of brown and grey fur. He stopped to look at the truck, then continued, unperturbed. He paralleled the road leisurely for a while, so that I could keep my eyes on him while the truck handled the 4X4 terrain.
“Hello Coyote. You are BEAUTIFUL.” He paused and looked at me for just a moment, and that made my day. I giggled as I sped up to pick up a family for a Grand Canyon tour. Coyote energy was mine all day. Coyote energy – as in … my sandwich was lost, my keys disappeared three times, food spilled on my clean shirt, and so forth … I explained to my clients that this coyote energy was mine alone and that they were in no danger of contagion. We laughed at each incident, and the Trickster’s tricks became part of the tour.
Coyote energy lingered for days, backed by Murphy. Anything that could go wrong didn’t go completely wrong, but got just a little skewed, enough for a giggle and a sigh of inconvenience: “Oh! Coyote!”
Coyote even occupied my nights – not every dream, but at least one per night. In one of them, I was adopted by a pack of coyotes. They protected me from an evil javelina, and I helped raised some of their youngs. In another dream, one of these youngs had grown to maturity. We found each other again after years of separation and danced and yapped in joy. I then realized he was hurt. I held him in my arms against my heart and gently rocked him, asking “Please don’t die.” My friend Miles walked through my dream just then and scoped out the situation. “Maybe he didn’t come to die.” he said. “Maybe he came to heal.” I woke up crying in spite of Miles’ reassuring words.
Benny and I took a group of 17 people on a Sacred Places tour that day. It was just what I needed. As we stood in a circle under the towering walls of Cathedral rock, one by one we chose a spirit animal, and Benny described the gifts of each. When my turn came to speak, I chose, “I am Bobcat, but today, I carry Coyote.”
“Coyote. Wonderful medicine! Coyote teaches us the balance between wisdom and playfulness. It reminds us to not take things too seriously, to lighten up. Coyote is nimble, adaptable and resourceful. Coyote plays by its own rules. It is not concerned about the risk of falling down or getting ridiculed. It walks the land confidently and trusts in the magic in all situations. In some myths, coyote sang the people into creation. It takes care of its pack, of its youngs. And also, coyote mates for life.”
Today is the anniversary of the death of two friends who didn’t even know they were friends. I thought about them when I woke up. I was actually woken up by an unusually loud buzzing of bees. This is the first time in all three months of May that I spent in Sedona that the cat claw shrub next to the truck is in full bloom and the bees were AT IT! I sat on a wood log right next to the cat claw to photograph the bees, but it took an hour just to get one fairly decent shot. Last year, two coyotes died. This year, the bees get fed. Is that what reincarnation actually means?
I am Bobcat and I carry Coyote – One bone jewelry piece from each of the pair, so as to keep them together still, picked up this morning, not to honor their memory – because let’s face it, they don’t care – but because I’m ready for it.
One of my bees, busy busy this morning.
Sitting on a log, trying to catch a bee, but taking a selfie instead. I sat there until it was too hot to pollinate and they went home. The scarf was to make a hood shade over the phone, so that I could see the screen.
One of my coyotes’ vertebrae.
All that is left under the thicket.
The water hole nearby, where desert creatures gather when I’m not around.