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Coyote Medicine

I grew up on two thousand acres of vast fields and wooded mountains. Part cattle ranch, part quaking wilderness, coyotes were never strangers. At night, we’d see their glinting eyes out in the dark, just beyond the border of our front yard. For over a decade, I fell asleep to their sad trailing declarations to the stars.

It was with Coyote that I had one of the most painful and traumatic animal experiences of my childhood. We had barn cats, darting streaks of fur that we never were able to catch. Nonetheless, we gave them names and in the spring we’d shift a bale of hay and occasionally reveal a batch of kittens. One year, we uncovered five small barn kittens, hungry and crying their tiny cries. It didn’t look like mama cat had been there in days. We decided that if we came back the next day, and they still seemed abandoned, we would bring them into the house and nurse them ourselves.

That night, the high-pitched howls of the coyotes were animated, excited. They sounded closer than ever.

In the morning, fully believing that I was about to come home with five new tiny kittens, we sprinted to the barn. Only to find a savage massacre, a scene that has stayed with me these fifteen years later.

For fifteen years, stubborn in my own guilt, I have hated Coyote.

Two weeks ago, returning late at night to my new home in the biggest city I have ever lived in, I pulled my car into the parking lot. Ever since I moved, I have felt an innate yearning from my very core to be back in the wild. Unexpected realizations spark an empty feeling in my chest, like not being able to see the stars, and the fact that you don’t find eagle feathers as long as your forearm in the city. That night, as I parked my car, I looked out the window to find, not twenty feet from me, a large full-coated coyote scavenging in the bushes. My headlights hit her, and she paused, completely motionless. I swear, she looked me straight in the eye.

In a Native American legend, the earth becomes overpopulated because everyone lives forever. Fearing for his own life, Coyote creates eternal death as food becomes scarce. From that time on, people grieve the death of their friends and are very unhappy. When Coyote realizes what he has done, he becomes very afraid and runs far away. Because no one will give him anything to eat, he has been starving ever since and, in his regret, has had to become the ultimate survivor.

Legend or not, most people understand the feeling of carrying certain guilts forever. But, like Coyote, we must adapt and continue on.

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