“Coyote… you devil!
You tricked me once more!
Must I sit and ponder,
What you did it for?”
– Medicine cards
Coyotes are similar to wolves but are about 1/3 the size of them. Intuitively this says to me that we should consider the wolf but take it with less intensity. Like wolves, coyotes are one of north Americas top predators. There are some similarities, they are also loyal, they like to sing – apparently being enthusiastic singers from birth – and they are superbly designed killers with an excellent sense of smell and hearing.
But where wolves are pack animals, coyotes are not. Instead they form small family groups and when they grow up, the young head off to find a mate and create their own small unit and establish their own territory. They are also more adaptable than wolves, and in ideal circumstances are scavengers. This has led to conflict with humans as they encroach on ‘human’ spaces and take advantage of the helpfully available livestock.
We have unintentionally created great environments for coyotes, providing food and cover for them, and as land use has changed across America, they have been able to vastly extend their range. Whilst some people are angry that coyotes are killing livestock and naturally existing deer populations (a bounty programme has been created which incentivises hunting and killing coyotes), others encourage their presence – in one documentary I watched, someone was even going so far as to put out a heated pet bed for them on cold nights… This divide in opinions seems to depend on where the humans in question live, as opposed to where the coyotes live; in rural areas they are persecuted and in urban areas they are encouraged. This vast divide says much more about humans than coyotes.
“They don’t belong here, shoot them all.”
“We love them, we stole their habitats
and we owe it to them to let them live here.”
Neither these views are entirely correct but its clear that it’s an emotive issue that splits opinions. Even how we say coyote is divisive… coy-ote or coy-oh-tee…
“We tolerate animals only on our own terms. Mutualism is the existence in nature of a relationship that benefits both parties, the crocodile and the plover bird, for instance. The plover bird picks clean the teeth of the crocodile, who in turn does not snap its mouth shut. Dogs started out as wolves who entered a symbiotic relationship with man, helping to bring down big game in return for a place by the fire.”
– Aminatta Forna
Although she was talking about the fox, what she had to say was very relevant here. Like the fox, coyote is “a creature that chooses to live close to humans but refuses subordination, has submitted neither to domestication nor taming, will not bend to anyone’s will.” We find this irreverence challenging, reminding us of our own limitations when it comes to taming and controlling nature.
I checked my emails half way through writing this and right there was an email linking to an essay about urban coyotes! It described them as “quintessential adapters, they consistently defy human expectations.”
And I think this is something we need to think about in terms of the meaning of the coyote card. There is the reminder that we can adapt to changing circumstances, to changing relationships, to changing beliefs. We may not like change but that doesn’t mean that we can’t deal with it. Additionally, the defying expectations is an interesting point to ponder; do you defy expectations, where, why not, where do you want to? We can get stuck in a vicious circle where we are known as the quiet one, so people expect us to be quiet, and thus we are quiet, or loud or gossipy or scientific etc etc. There is nothing to say you need just be that, but we get comfortable there. I was always the mathematical one, but people who’ve only known me for the last few years would see me as the arty one. I am, like you are, many versions of myself, sometimes complementary and sometimes seemingly in conflict, but all are me.
Returning for a moment to the coyotes which aren’t just encroaching on human habitat but are actually integrating themselves:
“Coyotes let us know that the mental boundaries we keep—between the human and the wild—are more porous than we may have ever imagined. In the midst of our attempts to control the landscape, to put humans here and nature there, coyotes express an alternative set of ideas about boundaries.”
– Gavin Van Horn
Coyotes, more so than wolves, look like dogs and perhaps they challenge our ideas about our own civilisation in that way as well. If they can look like our tame pets but remain wild, what does that say of our own animalistic natures?
As they are territorial, boundaries are important and they are regularly patrolled and remarked. Whilst I’m not suggesting you take to scent marking, perhaps you could be looking at other ways of building and refreshing your own boundaries.
Coyotes are resourceful and clever, learning quickly which turns out to be very important when it comes to play. Like many animals, play is a way of practising life skills but there is a protocol which marks the lines between play and fight. If you are playing, you bow first then play. And fairness and honesty matters. If you bow and then attack, you won’t be chosen for play so much and so you won’t learn the skills you need, you may also find you have to leave the group and will probably die. Play fair guys! And know that there are consequences if you don’t.
Stealthy and secretly, they move through the landscape like ghosts, silently and leaving as little trace as possible. When a pack moves, they often walk in single file, paw print in paw print, leaving the impression that only one coyote has moved through the land. This puts me in mind of the countryside code – take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints. An interesting association given the debate about hunting coyotes…
Coyotes watch and assess situations with powerful amber eyes and keen radar like ears. This observation, paired with their intellect, makes them virtually indestructible. Even putting out poisoned bait doesn’t trick the coyote as their exceptional nose sniffs it out.
Some North American mythology tells of how the coyote create the world along with the wolf, in one case they sang the universe into being. Known to some as God’s dog, Coyote has been said to be the creators spy on earth. Another myth involved the coyote being sent to earth to help clumsy and stupid humanity. It is said that the north American peoples knew that coyote was intelligent and resourceful and believed that they were sent by the gods to teach humans how to live. The gift of fire is also attributed to the coyote.
There are also many stories where the coyote takes on the role of the trickster. He can trick himself and fall into his own traps but he can also make others laugh – so much depends on what trick he chooses to play. He asks us who we are tricking, who is tricking us, is this playful or hurtful? Don’t be tricked by appearances when coyote visits you, things often aren’t what they seem to be on the surface. You may need to dig and search for the wisdom or the message.
As a trickster, coyote has been referred to as a troublemaker, prince of chaos but also, because of this tendency to mix things up, as transformer, as catalyst. To make change, you must break conformity and take a risk that this change will not turn out for the best. Because Coyote isn’t afraid of change, he does make mistakes, but through these, he has become wise. They may fall but they can put themselves back together again. They may get hurt, but they can heal. One belief around the coyote echoes this; the Chief Coyote was said to possess the indestructible disc of the sun which gives him immortality, or a daily renewal.
He teaches us not to take ourselves so seriously, that laughter can be a powerful message and that staying playful can be healing. Do things for the fun of them.