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A Lesson from Coyote

Camille Cole

The first time I saw Junior he was flying through the air, running from his owner, my daughter, in what looked to be a gleeful game of catch-me-if-you-can. He had run across the street, up a neighbor’s lawn, and then flew off the retaining wall and into the driveway. Iris, calling his name over and over, ran gasping and panting far behind.

The last time I saw Junior was last week, 13 years later. John and I wrapped his body in his favorite blankies, tears streaming down our faces–and whispered a final good-bye. We had hired a private vet to come to the house. She put him down peacefully in his bed, in our bed, Junior’s and mine, the one he and I had shared for years.

What happened during those 13 years is a story of love and devotion, frustration and on-going responsibility. Now I am learning the most important part of love: how to say good-bye, how to enjoy the memories—the laughter, the scoldings, the cuddling, and long walks in the woods sniffing at each bush, every suspicious-looking twig and rock.

During his first few years with us, after we had adopted him, he chewed my shoes—always the favorite ones—barked at every intruder, and sometimes left an unwanted surprise on the rug. He eventually learned to stop eating the shoes, where to do his business, and how to be somewhat polite to unwanted guests; but he never gave up his sorrow upon my every departure, or his glee upon my return. Without fail, Junior met each of us at the door, every time we entered, even if we had only been gone for a few minutes.

Now it’s our turn to feel the sorrow. I believe that every time we left, he may have felt the deep sadness I now feel every day when I open my eyes and remember that Junior is gone forever. As a human, I’m smarter than the dog. Right? I know for sure I’ll never see him again, and that’s just the way it is, this life. That’s what I thought until the other day.

I woke in the middle of the night to the sight of a coyote dashing about the bedroom. Without hesitating, I jumped out of bed and began chasing the creature around the house, up the hall, through the living room and back into the bedroom. What did he want? Darn critter. Out of my house! I was certain he had come to steal my Junior Boy.

Before Junior died, he and I lay on our bed together, drifting. After a while, as Junior drifted further and further into unconsciousness, we came to the presence of the great Min Pin goddess. I watched as she welcomed Junior home, allowing me to see that he would be in good hands (paws). He would be with his mother soon and she would wait for him when I was ready to let go.

Now that he had left his body, the night of the coyote visit, I was still not ready to let go of my boy and certainly not to this wily miserable creature. I awoke the next morning, lay there where Junior and I had lain together just days before, and ran the events of the night over and over in my mind. I decided I had to take action, but exactly what, I wasn’t sure.

I wandered into the living room and lifted a book from my bookshelf: Power Animal Meditations, Journeys with Your Spirit Allies, written by my friend Nicki Scully. A teacher and journey master, much of her work has centered around the spirit world of sacred totems and animal teachings. My heart beat faster as I shuffled through the pages of the book, and then I found him, the picture of coyote an exact replica of the creature who had been in my bedroom just hours earlier. I knew what I had to do. I would wait until dusk, the time coyote the trickster comes out; and I would go to him and find out what he was up to.

illustration of Coyote by Angela Werneke

When night fell again I lit candles on the altar I had made for Junior, where his ashes, crystals and a few other totems are arranged. I closed my eyes, grounded, ran energy and light up and down my weary spine. I was ready to go find coyote and took off running, breathless and nervous, beneath and through a thick and damp underbrush, deep in the Pacific Northwest forest. Just past dusk and getting darker and darker, I wandered deeper into the woodland. The further I went, the more I became the embodiment of coyote, smelling, searching, sniffing close to the ground. I felt him close-by. I knew he was watching me. We were face to face, his yellow eyes peering at me from behind a downed log. I ran straight toward him, ready for battle. I wasn’t sure what he wanted, but I was confident he intended to steal from me, to steal Junior for himself.

The two of us stood tall on our hind legs, front paws to front paws, deep in the woods on the edge of a cliff that left off on the abyss situated on the edge of eternity. He snarled and I snarled back. As suddenly as we had come at each other, he fell onto all fours and backed away. Was he laughing at me? Then he crouched and crept around the other side of the log and disappeared. No longer frightened, I gazed freely out over the gaping darkness, I saw stars and planets and all time. I began to understand that I was battling for something that could never be taken away…my heart-source. Coyote had tricked me into thinking, or perhaps I had tricked myself, that this was something that can be taken, that it could ever belong to anyone but me. I understood then that Junior came to us in the embodiment of love, the way dogs do. By losing Junior, I thought I was losing my heart, losing love.

Coyote had tricked me all right. He had tricked me into accepting the gift understanding that love is not something to be given or taken, it just is. It is in all of us, our hearts simply the metaphor representing our essence that is love; and no matter how much we fear this, it can’t be stolen.

I left coyote a tasty morsel of meat; left him chewing and slurping his gift. I meandered back along the path and it wasn’t long before I came upon a moonlit meadow, no longer a four-legged creature, but once again myself in my Camille body. Though I’ll miss Junior for the rest of my life, I’ll carry with me the gift of his love he shared to freely during his short stay on earth.