Coyote & the Shadow
……long, long time ago there lived ol’ man Coyote and his wife – they were perfectly happy until, one day, Coyote’s wife became ill and died. Coyote wept and wept and wept, he was besides himself with grief. And it seemed like, in Coyotes world at that time, the whole world was awash with chaos!
Now, Death had been circling around and, seeing how it was with Coyote, Death set his spirit down beside the ol’man and said – ‘its alright Coyote, I can take you to the place that your wife’s gone to, but, there are rules…..’. Coyote was somewhat consoled by this proposition and said, ‘oh man, I will do anything….’, so Death’s spirit said back, ‘well, you must do everything that I tell you, no matter what, right down to the last whisker – godit?!’ and ol’man Coyote was beside himself with longing, so he said, ‘yeh, man, anything, just say it and I’ll do it……’
…….So, that was it and off they set and, and as they were going along, the death spirit made sure Coyote had got it – ‘….everything, mind…’ said Death to Coyote, and ol’Coyote, dragging his tongue in the dirt with grief said ‘….yeh, yeh, just say what you want me to do and I’ll do it’. But, the trouble was, Coyote himself was not sure just what he was following right then, as all he could see was a shadow, but, Coyote longed to be with his wife again and so he followed along behind the shadow and out into the prairie they went……
…the path was long with many strange sights, taking them up the rise of the plain and down the rise of the plain and up again – and, on they went, until Death pointed ahead and said ‘hey, you see there Coyote, hundreds of horses – looks like a big round-up down there’. Squinting his eyes and looking where Death was pointing Coyote said, ‘oh yeh, hundreds of ‘em…’, but, he could see none, ‘…..you’re right, a big round-up!’ So, this is how it was as they were coming nearer to the land of the dead…..and on they went……
….until, Death said, ‘hey, look Coyote, great bunches of serviceberries hanging there…..’, and ol Coyote squinting up his eyes said, ‘oh yeh….’, but, his belly was telling him what his eyes could not, and the spirit, knowing Coyote could see nothing, said, ‘now, lets eat – when you see me reach up, you reach up too, and when I pull down the branch, you pull down the branch…’, and Coyote said, ‘yes, yes, I will do it….’. So, Death reached up, pulled down the branch and, even tho Coyote could not see the berries going into the spirit’s mouth, Coyote did just the same and they both sat there eating……ol’man Coyote watched that spirit’s every move and imitated it. ‘Uhhuh, these are real good serviceberries’ said the spirit – ‘Yeh man,’ said Coyote, ‘good job we found ‘em’,. And thats how it was when they were nearly at the land of the dead, and, when when they’d had their fill, off they set again……
….until, the spirit stopped again and said, ‘Well, we’re about there – look here, theres a great lodge here, and your wife is sitting somewhere in there, but, its so very very long I’d better go in ahead and ask after her’. So, Coyote waited, and eventually Death came back and said, ‘ ok…..they told me where your wife is’, and ol’man Coyote listened intently to everything Death told him. ‘Just here is a door through which we’ll enter the lodge, so, do everything as I tell you, exactly as you see me do it, godit?’ – ‘Uhhuh….’ said Coyote, and so, Death said, ‘I will lift up the door flap, bend down low, and enter…..then, you do exactly the same…’ and so Death entered and Coyote followed him, doing exactly the same things as the Death spirit….
Now, it happened that ol’man Coyote’s wife was sitting right there, near to the entrance, so, the spirit said to Coyote, ‘sit right here, next to your wife’, and they both sat right there. Then the spirit added, ‘your wife will now go and prepare food for us….’, and all this while Coyote could see nothing, except that he was sitting right there in the open prairie with nothing in sight, and yet, he could feel the presence of the shadow next to him…..
So Coyote’s wife prepared the food and Death said, ‘now, lets eat…’, and the shadow reached down and brought hand to mouth and ate. Ol’man Coyote could see only prairie dust, but, there they sat and ate…..Coyote imitated everything, just as his companion had said……until, after a while it seemed Coyote’s wife had put away the food and Death said, ‘you stay put here, I’ve got some people to see’, and out went the spirit……..
Soon enough the spirit returned, saying, ‘things here are different from the way things are in the land of the living. When the dusk comes down here the dawn has come up in your land and when it dawns for us the darkness is growing for you’. So, by this time it had grown dark, and Coyote could hear voices whispering, talking in faint half-tones, all around him. And darkness set in, real dark. Well, oh boy, Coyote saw many fires in a long house, and there they all were, in a very very large lodge where many fires were burning. And, he saw all the various people, looking like shadow forms, but, he could recognise some of them. And, he saw that his wife was sitting by his side…….
You can imagine, but, ol’man Coyote was overjoyed! And, he joyfully greeted many of his old friends who he could see there too! That ol’man Coyote, how happy he was!! Up he lept and up and down the ailse between the fires he marched, going from side to side, stopping to talk with people. All through the night he did this. And, he could see the door through which he and death had entered too…..
….until, at last, the dawn started coming up, and death came to Coyote and said, ‘well, our darkness is falling here, and pretty soon you will not see us, but, you must stay right here. Do not go anywhere, at all. Just stay right here and in the evening you’ll see all the people here again, godit?!’ – so, Coyote said, ‘oh, yes, friend, why would I possibly want to go……’
…so, up came the dawn and Coyote found himself sitting in the midst of the prairie. And he spent the whole day there. Well, phewee! It was hot, and he was dying from the heat, parched and dry, thirsting from the heat all day long. And yet, ol’man Coyote stayed there several days, suffering in the day, but, when the night came, making merry in the great lodge with his wife and friends……
Coyote lost track of the days, but, one day the spirit of Death came up to him and said, ‘tomorrow you will go home, Coyote. And, you will take your wife with you…..’ – ‘oh friend, thats wonderful’ said Coyote, ‘…but, I’m having such a good time here with my wife and all my old friends, I’d like to stay here….’ – ‘uhhuh’, said Death, ‘but, tomorrow is the day you must return and so do as I tell you, remember, and don’t do anything foolish , nothing foolish at all, godit?!’ Ol’man Coyote was shuffling his feet when he said ‘Ok’, so Death went on…’don’t yield to any urges or queer notions now, follow exactly what I tell you.”
Coyote listened as the Death spirit told him…….’there are five mountains, and you will travel for five days. Your wife will be with you, but, you must never ever touch her. At all. No yielding to strange impulses now – talk to her, yes, but never touch her. Only after you have crossed and descended from the fifth mountain may you do whatever you like……’ – and, ol’man Coyote took it all in and said ‘yes, friend’.
So, when the dawn came up again, ol’man Coyote and his wife set off, left that place……
At first it seemed that he was travelling alone, yet, he was dimly aware of his wife’s presence walking along there behind him. And, after the first mountain came up and they had crossed it, Coyote could feel her presence some more – she was definitely there, if only a shadow. On they went, and on crossing the second mountain, they set camp, as they did each night at the foot of each mountain. Coyote would build a little conical lodge with a fire at its center and there they would sit, he on one side of the fire, she on the other. And, each day her form appeared clearer and clearer.
Well, the Death spirit was counting the days since Coyote and his wife had left the land of the dead and, figuring the distance they had travelled, said ‘I hope that ol’ Coyote does everything right, as I told him, and takes his wife through to the world beyond’.
So it was that Coyote and his wife were spending their last night, their fourth in the little conical lodge, and on the morrow she would again assume the character of a living person. Being as it was the last night they were camping Coyote could see his wife very clearly now, as if she were a real person sitting opposite him. He could see her face and body very clearly now, but, he only looked and dared not touch her.
But, suddenly a joyous impulse seized Coyote; the joy of having his wife back again overwhelmed him. He jumped to his feet and rushed over to embrace her! His wife cried out, ‘Stop! Stop! Coyote! Do not touch me! Stop!’ – her warning had no effect. Coyote rushed over to his wife and just as he touched her body, she vanished. She disappeared – returned to the land of the dead, the shadowland.
When the Death spirit learned of Coyote’s folly he became deeply angry. ‘You inveterate doer of this kind of thing!’, Death said, for he knew Coyote all too well, ‘I told you to do everything I told you, not to do anything foolish. You Coyote, were about to establish the practice of returning from death. Only a short time away the human race is coming, but you have spoiled everything and established for them death as it is…….’
Now Coyote wept and wept…..and eventually decided, ‘Tomorrow I shall return to see them again’, and, the following morning he started back for the land of the dead. As he went along he began to recognise the places where he and his spirit friend had passed before. He found the place where the spirit had seen the great round-up of horses and began to do all the things that they had done on their journey to the shadowland. ‘Oh, look at the horses; it looks like a great round-up’ he said…..and, on he went until, he came to the place where the spirit had pointed out all the serviceberries – ‘Oh, such serviceberries, lets pick and eat some of them’, he said……and he went through all the motions of picking and eating berries.
On he went, and, finally, Coyote came to the place where the great long lodge had stood. He said to himself, ‘Now, when I hold up the doorflap and enter, you must do the same’. In fact, he remembered all the little things his friend the Death spirit had said and done. So, when he saw the spot where he had sat before, he went and sat there, and as he sat down said, ‘Now, your wife has brought us food. Let us eat.’ And, he went through the motions of eating again….
….eventually darkness fell, and the full moon rose – Coyote listened for voices, and he looked around for the fires and everything else, but, nothing appreared. Ol’ Coyote sat there in the middle of the prairie, in the dark. He sat there all night, but, the lodge did not appear again, nor did the spirit ever return to him………and so it was with death, when humans came to the world.