Saturday, August 16, 2014

Coyote Creates...

In the spirit of Old Man Coyote tales from generations in the past, to those of the present.

Coyote pursued down Mills Avenue, Claremont, California (authors photo)

In a time long before human memory, in fact long before human existence, Old Man Coyote travelled the earth creating life where none existed previously. He laid down vast expanses of grassland across wind-swept open spaces. He planted groves of trees in sheltered hollows. Great forests sprang up along river bottoms and upon mountain slopes; flowers swept across hillsides in great swaths of color. Insects buzzed through the air and prowled along the ground. He placed animals where they were sure to thrive, and scattered tribes of people in all the different lands.

After all this work, and all the time spent at creating, Coyote was exhausted. He never realized just how large the world was. Why simply traversing from one mountain range to the next was a tiring endeavor. As a result, he began to think up ways to make all this traveling about easier for himself, quicker, more comfortable. First he tried what was already close at hand. Through trickery he convinced various of his four-legged creations to let him ride upon their backs. True, this proved to be easier, but the method was only marginally quicker, and far from comfortable. All that bouncing around left his backside sore. In particular he did not fancy falling off those high perches. It was a long way to the ground. 

Next he convinced those self same four-leggeds to pull him around as he sat upon some pieces of wood he tied together. Again, this was easier on his legs and marginally more comfortable. He still bounced around, sometimes even off the contraption completely. The darn things kept falling apart too. No matter how securely tied up the wood was, the beams and planks eventually worked themselves loose. Coyote made these things a little more efficient by adding round discs so they could roll over the ground. It was about this time that his four-legged "helpers" realized they were being played. They rose up in rebellion, gave him a swift kick in the you know where, and sent him on his way. Coyote tucked tail and ran for all he was worth. He would have to stay clear of them for a while.

The shocking betrayal by his own creations set Coyote on a new course, one driven by self-reliance, rather than a dependence on others. He liked the idea of those discs, things he named wheels, and designed a way to bridge two of them placed one behind the other. Sitting on the bridge and pushing off the ground with his feet Coyote was able to propel himself forward. The method was not much quicker than running, but required less energy. If he happened upon a downhill stretch of dirt, boy then he picked up speed. Problem was he couldn't stop - that was a kick. At least it was for those within view of the spectacle, Coyote yelling, screaming, arms flailing, the pads of his feet frantically attempting to gain purchase in the dirt and loose rocks. A few tweaks solved the problem, allowing him to move even quicker as well as stop before running into yet another tree. This new machine gave him confidence, and he allowed himself to ride close to the four-legged's once again, knowing that he could outrun them, out-distance them. They laughed to see him perched on the thing, but he did not care in the least.

Coyote thought he was in the best shape of his ... the best shape since he ... well, the most fit he had been since he walked everywhere. What do you know about that!

But those wheels required effort and Coyote, being naturally lazy, soon turned once again toward his search for greater ease and comfort. It took long hours of concentration, many trips to the drawing patch of sand, trials and many errors, but eventually he figured out a means of mechanical locomotion, the kind requiring him to do little more than sit and stare. Why, he probably expended more energy chasing rabbits in his dreams. He no longer feared those horses either. Truth be known Coyote, on more than one occasion, had put the fear of god himself into their wild-eyed, long faces. Coyote, the Creator never felt more powerful. Finally Mr. C had reached a point where he felt content. All those years spent creating had led to this moment. Pure convenience and laziness.

After a while Coyote climbed up onto a hill and sat in the shade of a giant oak. It had become a favorite pastime, the two shared a sort of kinship after all. This oak tree was one of the very first he planted all those generations in the past, and Coyote felt a certain contentment while sitting there. Though the Oak could not speak, there was a communication between them, none-the-less. He turned his head, glancing back and over his shoulder, at the high mountain peaks which… should... have... been... right... there. During the winter, when Coyote's coat grew thick and warm, those peaks were covered with snow, their tops indistinguishable from the clouds wreathing them. What happened to the mountains? He remembered spending long days gazing at them during the Spring greening. Where did they go? For a moment he considered that those four-leggeds he had taken advantage of earlier, had found a way to get back at him, and he glanced nervously around his hilltop loft. The thought troubled him until his mind became distracted by a distant rumble. He barely recognized the sound at first. It kind of swirled at the edge of his consciousness, creeping closer until he realized the sound was growing more loud and insistent by the minute.

A plume of dust, or smoke maybe, was rushing towards Coyote, though still obscured by distance and an unevenness of the landscape, so that he could not make out the cause. In an instant his mind shot back to the four-leggeds; that had to be it, they were coming for him. Only an entire herd could make that much noise, raise such an ominous plume. Surely they planned to exact some vengeance. Coyote scrambled up into the Oak, thinking to hide himself in the highest of the trees mighty branches.

The trailing column of dust drew nearer, the thundering roar closer. It was just over the brow of the hill now, and Coyote unconsciously trembled. Then, just as his uncontrollable shaking was about to knock him from his hiding place, one of his very own mechanical machines popped into view. It belched black soot into the air which, instantly, and no longer smelt fresh and clean. He was not sure if that was the worst part of it, though, or if it was the noise. He could no longer hear the birds, and for all he knew they had taken flight in terror minutes ago. He could no longer hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the Oak, carried down from the previously existent mountains. He knew there was a breeze because the soot was being dispersed around the hillside obscuring his vision even more. 

Coyote did not like this turn of events. Not in the least. But what happened next shocked him to his core. The doors to the machine swung open and, first one then five, monstrously bloated humans emerged. Coyote had taken to avoiding humans lately (generations to be exact); they scared him more so than any of this other creations, even the horses. He, therefore, was largely unaware of what had been taking place in their communities, and was more than a little curious as well. Coyote stayed hidden where he was, and observed. The humans mostly stayed close the the vehicle, listening to their loud music, eating something and throwing the remains to the ground. Every so often one might wander a few feet away, in a kind of slow waddle, to piss on the ground, then return to the others in laughter. After about one hour and as Coyote noted, with some difficulty, they climbed back into their machine and, in another cloud of dust and soot, returned the way they had come.

Coyote climbed down from his perch, sniffed the air, sniffed the ground in several places, and wondered. Maybe he had been away for too long, maybe it was past time to check in on these people, to see what they had been up to. Coyote had a bad feeling and sighed, sad to be leaving the Oak, sad to think what unknowable change these events might bring to his hilltop. Even so he loped away, down the hillside, crossing streams, descending into and back out of deep canyons, and eventually arriving at an overlook above one of the humans' settlements. Coyote saw movement - more of his machines. Many more of them in fact. They went here and there, back and forth, first this way, then another. There were great wide trails along which they moved; Coyote thought they looked a lot like the colonies of tiny ants that he often watched. He had always considered the ants to be a little bit crazed in their single-mindedness. Maybe, he thought, the same thing had happened to the people. 

Coyote could not see very far from where he was, a grey haze hung in the air and shrouded the settlement. He realized this was the same haze that kept him from seeing his mountains. Even though Coyote could not see the entirety of the peoples' settlement, he thought it must be extensive judging by the great din rising out of the murkiness. He had never heard anything so loud, and constant in its roar. He had heard the thunder of horse herds, he had withstood the terrible beating of bison stampedes, he had survived the ferocity of tempest storms. But they all passed in short time. This noise seemed to continue unabated. What had happened to the humans that they could not hear it, he wondered.

There was only one way to find out, he had to get closer. With trepidation he stole down in the darkness and took refuge in one of his, apparently abandoned, machines. Coyote had a fitful sleep that night, if he slept at all. The noise from the machines was unbearable and kept going through the night. There were some gaps of relative quiet when he almost drifted off, only to be jolted awake by another nearby roar.

The next morning Coyote decided to get an early start to his observations and was walking down one of the trails when a machine rumbled up behind, and scared him half out of his wits. The person inside yell at Coyote to "get out of the way", and called him "moron". Coyote didn't know who "moron" was, but wondered if he had been away for too long so the person had not recognized him as a living thing, let alone as the one and only, Old Man Coyote. From then on he kept to the shadows, watching warily. 

Over the next several days Coyote continued to observe. He quickly noticed that the machines held sway in the settlement of people. Humans seemed to use them everyday, for everything. People seemed to go back and forth between buildings and machines, rarely spending much time outside. The relatively few people he did notice walking like he was, were just as wary as he when they walked along the wide machine trails. He was a little surprised, pleasantly so, to notice that some people still used his earlier two-wheeled machines for getting around. Coyote noted that the people he saw outside most resembled the creations of his memory, while a greater number of those using his rumble-machines were misshapen and didn't seem able to move about very well without assistance. 

Old Man Coyote wondered if this was all his fault. He had only wanted to make life easier but instead, it seemed, he had made it worse. His people seemed in ill health, their community sick, the noise was everywhere, all the time, the air stank, life seemed hectic and rushed. If he sat in one spot for too long, Coyote's shiny coat quickly gathered dust and soot to it; and when he tried to rub it out, the soot made dark streaks of grime. He feared the marks would become permanent, and indeed if you see Coyote today you will see them there still.

After about a week of this Coyote felt overwhelmed and hopeless. All he wanted to do was leave that place. He wanted to run back to his hilltop with his old friend and confidant, the Oak. Whether he could see the mountains again or not, he knew he simply wanted to be away from this place. He had largely left the people to their own devices, giving them certain tools and knowledge, allowing them to develop others on their own, but this, this was not what he had ever envisioned.

One night between the dusk and the dawn, Coyote snuck out of the people village. He was leaving, going home like he wanted, but his spirits were low. They hung low to the ground, like his head and tail, drooping with a great weight. He plodded along slowly with strain. The sun was rising on a new day when he reached the mouth of a canyon through which one of the people trails ran. He knew better than to walk on the trail itself - each of the people he saw over the past week seemed to regard whichever trail they happened to be on at the time as their very own. And so he walked along beside it, and that was okay since it was shadier there anyway. 

He had not travelled far into the canyon when Coyote heard a commotion behind him. He turned to see a group of people riding on the two-wheeled machines. They were talking to one another, laughing, joking; he could not remember people in the four-wheeled machines doing that. He also noticed that they made riding look easy; he remembered long in the past that the more he rode, the easier it became to ride more. Coyote, being the creator that he was, already knew that all life followed a circular pattern. This thought, and the sight of the people riding past him in good spirits gave him hope. He thought that maybe things could work out after all. With that he raised his head, tail and pace, making good time (though not as good as if he had begged a ride from the two-wheeled people) back to the Oak on the hill with whom he had much to discuss and debate.

Minds as diverse as Albert Einstein, HG Wells (Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race), John F. Kennedy (Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike), Bill Nye (Bicycle is a big part of the future. It has to be. There's something wrong with a society that drives a car to workout in a gym), Susan B. Anthony (the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world), and Freddy Mercury (Get on your bike and ride) have recognized the value of Coyote's creation. 

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