Holly perks up on the green armchair, eyes wide and unblinking. I turn and stare out the window with the same intensity. What does she see? Ah, there. I spy two tall, triangular ears atop a small, pointed face: a blonde, rust, and sand-coloured coyote blended so well into the yellow, brown, and burnt orange pasture grasses that it’s barely discernable. Perhaps that’s how the coyote wants to be seen, barely seen. Perhaps that’s part of why indigenous folklore calls the Coyote the “Trickster” – one second you see him, the next, he’s vanished. Is the coyote capable of conjuring magic?
Once I see the coyote, I cannot see anything else. I can’t look away. How does nature do this so easily? Strip everything away so I become just a body watching without want of anything else? It’s as though my eyes have locked on the coyote and someone has gone and thrown away the key. I’m supposed to be working on an essay about the cultural meanings of “time” and yet now time, for me, has stopped. Without even trying, I’m tethered to the coyote’s hunt.
The coyote hunts, unbeknownst to my presence on the other side of the window, according to old instinct. It’s a warm, sunny day in September. The field mice are out hunting, too, caching seeds in their expansive cheeks. I am here, more by choice, than necessity. Although, perhaps, my own instinct has led me here, to a place where birch forest meets grassland, where there is more observing than posturing. A place where I can forget myself and pretend to be a coyote. Here, says Annie Dillard in her essay The Weasel, “I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical senses and the dignity of living without bias or motive.”
I long to live as the coyote lives, out of necessity, not choice.
The coyote is slightly smaller than my dog, who is a mix of husky, shepherd, and lab. The coyote trots through the grass on wiry legs. The narrow, pointed jaw cracks open, revealing a toothy grin. I’m surprised by size of the coyote’s tail. Why had I always pictured the coyote with a thin, scraggly tail? The coyote’s tail is like a cattail that’s gone to seed, a bushy plume of white and black tipped fur. I’ve never heard of people hunting for coyotes, so much as exterminating them as “pesky vermin”, but apparently some hunters covet the lush tails as trophies. People sell them on eBay for $14.99.
Is that how much this coyote’s life is worth?
The coyote slows, then stops. He must’ve heard movement, the slightest rustle of grasses. Or, perhaps he smelled warm blood coursing beneath skin, pulsing through the tiny, delicate organs of a field mouse who’s scouring the pasture maze for seeds. Without warning, the coyote attacks.
The coyote leaps upwards, front legs tucked into its chest, back legs launching, then tucking, so the animal is completely airborne. The coyote arcs his back like a flying horseshoe.
Time ceases to exist. I swallow my breath. I forget myself. I can taste blood in my mouth.
The coyote tilts forward, diving, pointed jaw first, preparing to pounce the field mouse. Does the field mouse sense impending death? Can the mouse see the shadow, slipping overhead like a black hood? The coyote’s jaw snaps open and shut like a trap. The mouse bulges in the coyote’s throat. The coyote grins, then yawns widely. His ears perk up. He turns. Trots off on another hunt.
I long to follow the coyote with my eyes. I want to trot alongside him. To make another kill.
It occurs to me then, as Dillard writes, “I could very calmly go wild. I could live two days in the den, curled, leaning on mouse fur, sniffing bird bones, blinking, licking, breathing musk, my hair tangled in the roots of grasses.” Here, the mind is singular in purpose. Here, “time and events are merely poured, unremarked, and ingested directly, like blood pulsed into the gut through a jugular vein.”
Could I live the way a coyote lives? Noticing everything, remembering nothing? Hunting my calling with a pointed jaw? I could, you know. I could live any way I wanted: as a politician, a fisherwoman, a midwife, a poet, a mother, a monk.
People live according to choice, although, indeed, choice is wider for some than others. But even so, urges Dillard, the goal is “to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse.”
Yield to your calling, don’t fight it. The coyote lives and hunts as he was born to, not attacking his prey, but “yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.” Unearth your necessity – discover what’s sacred to you – and “dangle from it limp wherever it takes you”.
Hold on for dear life until death, old and inevitable, slips overhead like a shadow.