By Scott Weiser
The moon is blue tonight and I feel like howling, so the dog and I go walking through the turquoise air. The deer stand, watching warily, frozen in the liquid light of dusk. The buck, disturbed at the disruption, takes stock of us, trots a few steps and becomes once again a statue. I call the dog to heel, leaving them to their evening meal.
We climb to the high place and I sit quietly in the gathering dusk and creeping chill, watching the fiery filaments fade over the high peaks. When the light is gone in the west, and a faint mist fills the valley, turning the world to silver in the moon-glow, I throw back my head and howl. Trickster answers from the pasture below. He barks four times and howls, then is silent. Six beats of my heart later the whole coyote family begins. Three more heartbeats and down the valley, lost in the mist, another family joins the canticle, and the glowing darkness is filled with song.
Coyote is the Indian metaphor for our culture. In their mythology, the Trickster represents gluttony, greed and unbridled human desire. He lives in our world not as a god, but as a tribulation and a trial. He passes from here to the other-world with ease, wreaking havoc, deflowering maidens and unabashedly sating his lust for life on his own terms wherever he goes, beholden to none and heedless of the consequences of his actions. Sometimes he’s the creator of worlds, sometimes the instrument, but he is always as essential to the creation as the Creator is. Coyote is a transformer and a master of disguise, a maker of mischief, a foe to be wary of and an example not to be followed. Like man, however, Coyote is fallible, and as often as not he is the victim of his own excess. The Trickster cannot exist alone either, without any connection to mankind, any more than mankind can exist alone, without connection to nature. His excess is our excess, his failings ours, and his excess, like our own, must be tempered by wisdom and insight if we are to live in balance.
Coyote is also the messenger of mortality – the one who foretells of our death. You might think that a dark and foreboding task, but he brings another message . . . the message that mortality is not an ending, it’s part of a cycle. He shows us that in return for the grief and loss of death, we are blessed by the joy and wonder of birth and life. He offers no bland immortality, but a life of pain and pleasure, sorrows and joys, interleaved with all the emotions and feelings that a finite life brings. Coyote brings us humanity through his imperfection and excess, and in so doing, shows us that even the worst in mankind is eclipsed by our capacity for goodness.
I think about the metaphor of Coyote in the singing night, and I ask myself why we don’t see our place in the world with the clarity of the Indians? Why have we made Coyote our metaphor in their eyes? They see the Trickster in our attempts at dominion over the earth, in our unbridled lust and excess, in our demands that nature bow to our terms, and we see in them an enigma. Their sense of place and connection to the earth is so profoundly different from ours that it sometimes seems an unbridgeable gulf, so its little wonder that there still exists such deep misunderstanding between Indian culture and our own. I think though that we still have the chance to find our proper place in the Circle, if we choose to listen and learn, and there is no better place to begin than on a high place, in a cathedral echoing with the song of the earth and filled with the light of the Blue Moon.