November 9, 2014
185 Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
Late this afternoon, but well before darkness fell, Coyote howled, and the packs’ ensuing laughter echoed across the canyon. I had to laugh along; Coyote is one of my favorite neighbors regardless of his poor reputation. In spite of their furtive nature this pack has been emboldened by their perceived safety and they go unharrased except for the occasional gunshot. The herd of horses which graze the pasture they inhabit offers them a sound buffer also, they make for difficult targets because of them. I think they take pleasure in harassing the dogs also as they have proven themselves to be the superior canine and even if their howls are answered by fierce barks there is little other response.
Coyote, the Heyehokah of Native American lore, the ancient trickster. He has long been reveled by mankind as the symbolic rascal, the sneaky and unethical presence who takes and gives as he pleases and reeks havoc at every opportunity. It is he who will come as a pack and kill an entire herd of sheep and leave the spoils behind for the sheer joy of killing. It is he who will follow the cow herd and murder the young calf who was so carefully instructed to be still and quiet. It is he who will run the fresh young colts through the fence for the same pleasure of simply being able to do so. He is despised for all the same reasons. I sympathize fully, and will join in the hunt as quickly as anyone, but I still love him also.
It is his call, his announcement of his presence, which assures me that nature is still well and strong. Coyote is the substitute for the wolf, who sadly and in my humble opinion, no longer belongs anywhere near either man or beast. Not that I do not get a thrill from hearing the long deep song that only the lobo can let loose but it chills me also. I too wander these hills as do cattle and horse, and the lobo is fiercer than Coyote. So is the lion who has yet to be hunted to extinction but is in short supply, he too is a threat to all of us.
Coyote on the other hand, while also being a danger to livestock and domestic pets, is a lesser threat, and a more devoted survivor. For just this very reason it seems less adverse for him to be hunted and still remain a constant presence in our lives. He thrives even on the edge of the major cities and he lives in New York as well as New Mexico. In his absence, in places where he has been hunted out of existence, the rabbits are as bad as grasshoppers. If you don’t believe me drive through Wamsutter, Wyoming where the roads are covered as deeply in rabbit carcasses as there are grasshoppers in Roswell, New Mexico. I think even the sheep herders in Wyoming might welcome Coyote back, unless they like to eat jack rabbits.
Coyote also offers avid sportsman a lively adversary and I have heard that the fox has become so scarce that Coyote is the new target of these hunters. The trouble with Coyote though is that he holds not set pattern and outruns the horses so there is no bounty or final reward as there was with the fox. Shame on the hunters for living within fences and boundaries, coyote recognizes none of these. In Oklahoma they use helicopters to hunt the rascals but the power lines get in the way. In New Mexico they use traps and poison but he still thrives, even if they thin the ranks also. In the end Coyote still wins as it is the smarter individuals who survive. Books have been written about these superior individuals who will trip traps and leave their mark behind to make sure the trapper knows he has been outsmarted by his prey, leading him to try all the harder to succeed. I have had pack rats do the same and leave me thorny sections of cactus in lieu of flowers when I set out to reduce their numbers. And we think animals are stupid!
Coyote made me laugh today, as he always does. The Native People know him for who he is and we Anglos should be mindful of that. We have this false perception that nature should bend to our every whim but the Natives know better. Even as we thin the packs of the coyotes and leave the superior individuals to pass on their blood lines so Coyote thins the herds of other animals and does the same. He controls the lesser varmints also and keeps them from overrunning us, all as nature intended. He also brings laughter to us who hold ourselves closer to the earth than others, a much needed respite in a world which has come to take itself too seriously. If Coyote should ever disappear we should all take heed, we will be in deep trouble then. He may well be the canary in the goldmine, a symbol of the presence of things we all need to survive, and the last to go if we cannot. Ahh wooh! Hah, hah, hah!
A Ranchers Wife
I had two dreams when I was a teenage girl in upstate New York. I was either going to retreat to the wilderness in company of some grandiose mountain man or I would be a ranchers wife, living in some other remote place and tending to livestock. Both visions saw me far from the domesticity of suburban life. The romantic notion of some strong burly companion remains with me to this day though he has come and gone with the years and several failed partnerships. In the midst of my fifth decade the optimism remains that he may yet appear as a functional person but the very nature of the man I would choose leaves it for fate to decide as he would so rarely come to town! Instead I have done what I could to work towards a similar existence with as many stumbling blocks along the way.
If one holds to the principle of three is a charm then I have perhaps exhausted the possibilities? There have been three such men in my life, one who I married and had two sons with and another with whom I shared many years of my life with, together and at a distance. The third took me to the prairies of Oklahoma where I stayed for two years in spite of our failures. Later I came as close as I have ever been to realizing that dream, though I ventured far into the wilderness by myself. It was there that the close proximity of the sort of man I had dreamed of proved to be almost enough and even now, four years later, I think to return to that place, even if I would go alone. Perhaps the romantic notion has worn thin but the purity of the existence has not and it never will. I found the ‘Big Love’ I had dreamed of in a place and a people rather than as a single individual and the memory remains to be savored at any given moment.
I woke early this morning and fed horses before I went to work. The air was brisk and the frost still clung to the grass even as the sun sought to thaw the frozen mud. The tips of my fingers ached from the cold and my ears burned with the chilled breeze but I donned neither gloves nor hood and instead savored the bite of the cold morning freshness. The horses nickered to me as I drove through the pastures and eagerly waited for their feed, following me a bit too closely as I filled their tubs with grain and scattered their hay. I laughed at their antics and growled when they crowded me while thrilling at my sense of their actions, I can think as they do after all the years of their company. My own horse even met me at the gate and I took a moment to allow him to greet me as he wrapped his head and neck across my own and hugged me tenderly. His friendship seems truer than any human I can consider at the moment and the love is unconditional, he is truly a kind spirit and a loyal friend.
I lingered longer than I had to at my morning chores before I reluctantly departed for work. I paused to watch the ravens sail through the sky and listened closely to the sounds of the waking day, the deep caw and the melodic songs of the birds overhead. I stood still in the dawn as a hawk made his slow turns in the sky in search of his breakfast. I watched the sun as it broke over the mountaintops and marveled at the reflection of its brilliance in the edges of the soft clouds above me. I looked to the higher peaks of the nearby hills where the dusting of snow lay softly on the ground and then studied the still green grass at my feet. For a moment I even considered taking off from work but thought better of that and instead vowed to hold the moment close and to carry it with me through the day.
What I took along was the affirmation of the simple joy of life itself and the exuberance of the creatures whose lives are so much simpler than my own. What would I give to gallop headlong across the pasture for the sheer joy of the effort? How wonderful it would be to sail softly on the thermals of the warming morning air and to dive effortlessly though the sky. I can have all of this and more by the simple proximity of the creatures whose lives revolve around the same. By mingling in their company I can remove myself from all but the pure joy of life itself. In that sense I live the same life I have always dreamed of, I just want so much more of that!
The longer I live the more crucial it becomes that I recognize and honor the beauty which surrounds me. I saw this as a young girl, living on the edge of both city and wilderness. I vowed to keep that promise to myself, to hold close the dream and pursue it at any cost. On occasion I have forgotten how close I am to that goal, until I step back out into the beauty of the day. I am living on the edge of a wilderness and I spend at least part of my time on a ranch, as I did this morning. I have a calm and steady horse who welcomes my company and I ride him when I can. Sometime soon I will wander further and return myself to the life I have sought after since my youth. Perhaps that grandiose man does exist somewhere and I have yet to give up on him, but more importantly I have remained true to myself. In his absence I have also found that ‘Big Love’ that only the wilderness and solitude can offer us, and perhaps he has done the same!
Stones: For Ashley
I have a stone which I wear around my neck more often than not. It is a precious stone in so many senses of the word, a piece of quartz I found lying in the dirt of the Christmas Canyon Road, perfectly formed and begging for me to keep it, which I did. It wasn’t simply the oval shape of the piece, which of itself was so appealing, but also the pink hue of the crystalline center which outlined the curve of the contrasting textures. I studied it closely and then slipped it into my left pocket in company with my other keepsakes which harbor both energy and comfort for a soul such as I. Later I entrusted it to my friend Leroy to border it with silver so I could wear it around my neck where it sits today.
There are other stones here, rearing hundreds of feet above the desert floor. We walked a deep canyon yesterday somewhere between Rattlesnake Springs and Slaughter Cave, forbidding names for such a spectacular landscape. We were just miles from the entrance of the Carlsbad Caverns in a place where the same sort of geography rose above the ground’s surface rather than meandering subsurface. Here the ragged rocks and hollows rose towards the sun, wings of rock and sheltered courtyards in the shadows of the palisades. The rounded stones of the waterways made walking a challenge and we only looked up to observe the beauty above us, our attention otherwise focused on the placement of our feet.
In spite of the beauty it was the silence and isolation which was most taking. I have been entertaining hermitage of late and the peacefulness of the wilderness there reinforced the desire for the same. As dangerous as such arid retreats may appear it is the absence of any threat other than survival itself, and the avoidance of thorn or stinger, which is such a welcome relief for me. The danger of distraction is far more formidable than the possibility of dying from some elemental threat and I would rather shrivel in the sun than to crumble under pressure. The though becomes ludicrous when I venture into the remote reaches of nature’s cathedral. The persistent threat of the wasps, warmed by the winter sun, is far more tolerable than the worries I have left behind at the office. Besides, it was my daughter-in-law who was wearing yellow and I was basically unthreatened, aside from the thorns on the brush we wandered through.
Stones have always brought a comfort to me, as if nature offers up solace at every turn as I wander through her kingdom. The moment I retreat to the silence of desert, plain or forest, I escape all the worldly concerns which haunt me otherwise. It has been that way from my childhood, when I would slip away into the tall grasses off the edge of our yard and find the safety of their shelter. The only raised voices one hears in nature are the songs of the birds or the call of one creature to another, the whinny of a horse or the soft low of a cow. Anger is absent, only defense or competition bring a heightened response and the calm countenance of a balanced existence is the norm. Only storms and fire bring disruption and the challenge of drought or chill is the natural sorting out of the strong and the weak, challenges for which I am more suited for than any other. It is a place where only flame or flood will alter the landscape, which then settles back to the norm as quickly as it changed. When I go to such places I will sometimes fill my pockets or pack with stones to keep this balance close to me, to remind me with their weight of what is best.
I am not yet ready for a hermitage but I seek it out all the same. The luxury of my life is the ability to move freely between the two realms with no forced effort to remain there. The solitude poses no threat to me and the one challenge which remains is the opportunity to make it more of a constant, I don’t want to have to return until I am ready to. Necessity of the conventional sort is the one thing I have yet to diminish but even that is finite. My ability to share the treasures of the wilderness is like the stones I carry in my pocket, a reminder and a source of comfort which remains a constant in itself. My retreat to the wilderness holds the solution and forms a bridge between the two realms, an exit to solitude which avails itself to me even as I share it with everyone else. I wear a stone on a chain so I may never forget that, the rest are in my pocket.