COYOTE FINDS A SHAMAN- Things I Learned from Dan Miller
Time and Memory
From a Mythology of My Own Making
Coyote found himself walking down a narrow spit of land. A second finger of land, a mirror image, lay across the water. The land reached a distance into a very restless sea. Coyote looked outward, and then lowered his head as time washed over him and memories enclosed him. Coyote stopped and sat for a long while dreaming. Later as he raised his head to look at the horizon, the wind blew into his face, ruffling his coat and pushing his whiskers back as though he was flying.
The sky was full of gulls, and three crows hurried around his head talking incessantly. He watched the crows wheeling across the water having a conversation, as crows will do. The crows would land for a moment and regard Coyote with one eye, then the other, as though they were trying to decide something.
“They seek my soul and my heart, so that they can scream and chatter at both,” thought Coyote with a small smile. “They are never quiet, and they will never tell you the whole story, even if they remembered it.”
Coyote continued to walk along the shore, picking his way around the stones while he looked at the water, where sunlight touched the waves but could add no warmth. The day was cold and the sun shone in Coyote’s eyes as he squinted into the east. He lifted his head to watch the gulls turning overhead and sniffed the ocean.
As he moved on the crows harassed his passage and argued among themselves.
“Those birds have a great deal to say, but little time to hear”, Coyote thought, as he suddenly jumped into the sky and snapped at one. It wheeled away easily and the movement agitated them all."
“It would be very good to be able to soar”, thought Coyote, and he began to run very fast towards the edge of the land.
“We are the conflict and the companionship,” they laughed, while diving at his head, “you might as well be trying to fly yourself, foolish Coyote. And that you will never do, for we are all bound to play our part,” they cried at him. “Every creature, each soul, has a different life and cannot be compared, you should know this.”
“They are like echoes of the spirit, barely listening, always talking, getting in each others way. But they confirm each others role and are better for it,” Coyote thought. He began walking inland, down the peninsula, towards the edge of a forest.
Coyote willed the sun lower so he could sit in the shade of the rocks. He turned in a very small circle three times, and when he knew where he started and where he ended, he lay on his side in a shadow not much bigger than himself, sinking into the dark of the shade, becoming part of the ground. His eyes were open.
“How did I come to be here?” Coyote said to himself. “I am always going somewhere and always finding myself someplace else. How does that happen?”
“Some trickster I am,” thought Coyote, “I am always getting lost.”
But Coyote knew he was never lost at all; wherever he was, it was where he was supposed to be, whether he liked it or not.
“You came here by chance”, said the ants, “but chance is not random.”
“The ants are right”, thought Coyote, “for my decisions led me here. Each decision impacts all those made before and those made after. And now I have arrived at this place. What is it I wanted, I wonder?”
Later he came upon a house near the water, and a clearing with trees facing the ocean. It sat upon a small hill and smoke was coming out of the chimney. The sun was high again and the ocean wind stirred the wild grasses that were the color of light, and moved like waves that sought the shore in all directions. There was a table near the water with trees slightly in front to one side.
Coyote lay down and closed his eyes and faced the sun, feeling that he must sit and wait, though he did not know why.
As the sun moved past its highest point a man came out of the house. He wore glasses and looked kindly and walked into the field. He did not look in the direction of Coyote even though Coyote felt the man might have known he was there. He looked familiar in some way.
“Could this be a shaman,” thought Coyote, “he does not look like a shaman should.” But Coyote knew that looks meant little when it came to power.
The man faced the ocean and stared at the sea and the sky and the trees, but he did not move. Coyote watched the man’s back carefully as the day moved slowly past and the wind lifted its stories past his nose.
Abruptly the man began to draw in broad strokes in the sky, his arms moving back and forth in great sweeping motions. Colors began to move above him, stretching from one side to the other in broad curves, and Coyote was amazed to find the sky above the man began to fill with images.
He saw water and rivers, mountains and people, all manner of things appearing in the sky and disappearing into the distance. The man continued to draw and paint, changing the world around him. Images of great size came and went so fast that Coyote could not keep up with them.
Coyote was very alert and his ears were drawn forward. The man paused and looked briefly over his shoulder. The shaman appeared to be smiling but Coyote was not certain.
The man stopped drawing and as he did, the sky dimmed and went back to being what it was and all grew quiet. He looked at the table for a moment, and then started working furiously, small objects flying off the top in all directions.
The sky as far as Coyote could see began to change. He sat up, too surprised to care if he was seen.
Moment of Color – Woodcut Relief ©Daniel Miller
Giant birds in bright blues stretched across the sky. Faces made of wood appeared as big as clouds. Islands and water appeared in the sky, as though the sky had become the earth. And trees, trees of every kind and shape filled the space above him and came and went like whispers of a song he wasn’t even sure he had sung. Coyote was amazed; they looked real but they clearly were not.
Suddenly Coyote saw himself sitting in the field, as large as the sky itself. He saw himself as the shaman saw him and all that he knew was changed.
Coyote lifted his head and began to sing.
He did not sing by himself often, and rarely during the day, but he sang his Coyote song to the evening sun and to the man, and in the sky he watched as the road he had been walking take shape and begin to shift with the man’s visions. The direction became unpredictable, but Coyote knew he controlled its existence, and chance became stability and uncertainty was its beauty.
Coyote sang and sang and the man continued to make images of life in many colors in the sky.
As the day turned to dusk, the man paused and the images slowly disappeared. Coyote sat quietly and watched as the wind changed slightly and the trees in front of him began to sway. The man began to work again and Coyote watched as he drew in black on the evening sky. He drew the moon and black trees, and in the trees he drew the crows, crows as large as stars, sitting and staring at Coyote.
The man continued to change the sky and even though it was dark Coyote could clearly see the crows silently watching him.
The man stopped and laid all his objects on the table. He turned and walked back towards the house. Coyote watched him carefully. Just before he entered the house, he turned toward Coyote, looked directly into his eyes, and smiled brightly. He opened the door and went into the house.
Coyote stood up and looked at the house and he did not move for a very long time.
“Was I lost again?” Coyote thought as he looked back to where the shaman had stood working. He closed his eyes.
“You had forgotten how to look for yourself”, said the ants. “You sought a path to your own heart on the horizon, forgetting that the journey always begins where your face ends. That is where you must always start if you are ever to find what you are looking for.”
“Yes,” Coyote sighed out loud, as he lifted his head and sang his last song, just enough that the wind could carry it before him and he might not lose his way again, though he knew he would. “The horizon looks wonderful from a distance, for there are always more answers then questions.”
“But the road there has no beginning, only a middle, and I should remember that if I can.” He looked at the sky and the ocean and the house, now dark and quiet, and made to leave.
“He was indeed a shaman,” Coyote thought, “And a great shaman at that,” he laughed to himself, “for he made those birds be still.”
With that, Coyote smiled his coyote smile and began to trot back into the world.