Coyotes in East Tuscaloosa.

A suburban Alabama coyote, the kind that is “here to stay”.

The past few weeks have put me and my spirit animal in close proximity on several occasions. If I confess my affinity for the coyote, I do so with a caveat, namely, that the mythic character of Coyote doesn’t appeal to me. What I love about the coyote is what I also love about the wolf- the relentless habit of howling at the moon, speaking to the night, feeling safe in that silvered light.

Coyote the creature, a wandering loner content to dwell outside the pack, has my respect. But Coyote the myth, the trickster who tries to live outside ethics, who holds himself to no standard apart from his own pleasure, has always struck me as a rather juvenile fantasy, the kind I might have entertained back in the day when I still thought my parents were to blame for the stuff that went wrong in my life. Again, my love for coyote rubs hard against my wariness of Coyote.

But here’s why it matters. Last week, when we were wandering through the Arboretum doing nature journaling, a coyote happily crossed our path. Then he veered into the parking lot. This week, Kenny informed me the coyote population was very high this year- he’s seen several in the unofficial dog park in the past few weeks.

Then, lo and behold, when the king joined us for lunch today, trumpets unfurling blue banners, his first words to me announced the presence of coyote on the street just outside our house. A dirty-blonde, reddish, sneaky coyote fellow walking near our mailbox, crossing the street with that typical bouncing step that makes canine friends look sluggish.

The kids and I missed seeing the coyote (Max worried about how the coyote and the fox that lives behind our home would co-exist), but we managed to identify his tracks. The coyote of Cherokee Hills, a legend begging to be narrated.

As usual, the events of the day determined our learning schedule. All my previous plans whistled through the window and the coyote-inspired ruckus gathered momentum. So I found a few fact sheets and tasked Max with reading them and sharing their contents with the girls. The little proffesor loves the opportunity to profess…

Coyotes in Alabama Fact Sheet (Outdoor Alabama)

The Coyote: Facts and Myths (Alabama Cooperative Extension Service)

Meanwhile, I set about doing my bit of research on Alabama coyotes. It seems that the coyote trapping season in Alabama lasts from mid-November through February. Local coyote friends eat small, furry mammals, many of which are out and about during this time, seeking food to store for the winter.

As I mentioned before, Native American legends have long included a character known as Coyote, whose powers include an ability to blur moral boundaries by playing the trickster. Coyote (the character) cannot ever be trusted.

One of my favorite tales is an old Caddo story, “Coyote Goes Fishing”, in which an elderly Caddo man takes revenge on the ever-deceptive Coyote. It’s unusual because it turns that tables on the ever-wiley Coyote.

I shared it aloud with the little people to see what they thought. Did Coyote get what he deserved? What did the Caddos teach in the telling of this tale? Did you feel sympathy for Coyote? Why or why not?

Then we read “How Coyote Stole Fire”, an alternate telling in the line of Coyote legends. It’s another favorite- a story that should be told by a blazing bonfire with shadows dancing across the faces and nary a star in the night sky. A story in which reveals nuances in Coyote’s character.

While the girls and I discussed the two stories, Max compared them in his journal, focusing on what traits of Coyote each story revealed. If the weather agrees, build a fire outside tonight and share this story with your family. Add a few marshmallows for the squirmiest little ones… I garner it will spark something memorable.