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Late in August,
just as the days were approaching their shortest length, the last group of visitors
moved past the coyote exhibit at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
"The Museum closes
in five minutes," a docent (trained volunteer) told the visitors.
"Look at what the
sign says," a tall, thin-legged man told his friends. "Darn coyotes are scavengers.
Says they eat rabbits, mice, even cactus. Cows, too, my brother tells me."
Juanita the Coyote
was pacing her area, head drooping and tongue hanging out at the fading late
"That coyote sure
is scrawny. His coat looks like it could use a trip to the dry cleaners," a
female visitor said.
"It is a female
coyote, ma'am," the docent corrected.
"Hey, you scruffy,
mangy, overgrown dog!" the thin-legged man yelled.
her pacing and sat on the ground facing the visitors. She held her head high
and let out a long, menacing howl.
The three straggling
visitors jumped back. Juanita ended her howl, turned abruptly, and strode off
to her den.
"That's the five
o'clock whistle, folks," the patient docent said. "Please, let's move toward
the exit so our animals can have their evening meal in peace."
A full moon was
rising into the night sky as Juanita lay in a corner of her den catering to
her brood of pups. Walter, her husband, dosed in the far corner, resting up
for his own concert of howls that he would give once the moon had risen to its
Several of the
pups finished their meal and licked each other's noses and mouths.
the runt of the litter but the most outspoken, said in the loudest voice she
could manage, "Mother, please tell us one of your tales about running free in
"I will, Stephanie,
but only if you lower your voice. Your father is sleeping."
Stephanie said in a whisper.
"I want a story,
too," Guillermo said. "If Stephanie gets one, I want one, too," he sulked.
bide your time. I usually recite only one bedtime story each night. In honor
of the full moon which coyotes love so much, I will tell a Stephanie tale and
a Guillermo tale this evening."
All six pups quickly
gathered around their mother in a semi-circle.
The Tale of What Juanita Ate in the Wild
"Here at the Museum,"
Juanita began, "the keepers feed us and we don't have to worry about hunting
for rats or beetles or an occasional wounded bird.
Out there in the
wild, things are very different. A coyote is only as strong as her next meal,
particularly when she has hungry pups to feed."
"What did you eat
out there beyond the fences, mother?" Stephanie asked impatiently.
Juanita held the
tip of her paw to her mouth, signaling silence. She did not like interruptions
when she was telling her tales, except when the interruption was invited. She
waited a full minute until all six of her children were paying attention.
"Out there we chased
down the human's cows one night and their sheep the next," she said and showed
her flashing coyote teeth.
Coyote uttered in amazement.
we don't chase cows and sheep. Coyotes rarely attack the human's animals, though
the humans blame us nearly every time one of their animals is mutilated. Humans
rarely blame the wolves or the mountain lions or their neighbors' dogs."
"Like what Victor
the mountain lion did to the deer," Alfred said, remembering the story which
his mother had told him about the puma's attack back in the summer.
My diet was mostly made up of small wild animals which I encountered during
my hunts. Field mice in the spring. An unwary rabbit in early summer. Grasshoppers
in late summer were always plentiful. The fall and winter presented the hardest
times because cold weather in the mountains keeps many wild animals and insects
Still, I managed
to feed on wild berries. The early fall was the best because the birds would
come and gorge on overripe berries, then fall to the ground and stagger around
because the berries made them dizzy. Oh, the birds I have eaten: blue jays and
pine jays; tanagers and warblers; purple martins and finches. My favorite has
always been the white-winged dove. They were plump and juicy and delightful
to a coyote's taste buds."
"Did you ever kill
one of the human's animals, mother?" Benita asked meekly.
"Only once, Benita.
During one harsh winter, ice and snow covered the mountain meadows and trees.
I had eaten only nuts and bits of dried cactus which I had stored in my den.
I was starving. I headed for lower ground where I knew the humans lived in greater
numbers. One moonlit night I snuck into a hen house and stole two chickens.
The whole hen house was in an uproar. I knew the humans would come and investigate.
So, I ran as fast as a coyote can with two chickens in its mouth."
"What did the humans
do?" Benita asked.
"A man pointed
a long rod in my direction. I heard a small clap of thunder and something whizzed
by my head."
"That would be
a rifle like the keepers sometimes carry," Tomas, the most observant coyote
"Yes, I believe
it was a rifle, Tomas. In any event, I dropped one of the chickens during my
escape, but I carried the other to a safe distance before having dinner."
herself slightly and continued. "I have eaten other human food which they have
discarded along roads or hiking paths: potato chips, hamburger rolls, bits of
something called hot dogs, for example. These foods are okay, but I really prefer
my food uncooked."
"I tasted a piece
of crunchy orange corn which a human tossed in our exhibit last week," Stephanie
said. "It tasted yukky. I like the food the keepers give us."
In the far corner
of the den, Walter let out a hearty coyote yawn.
"Children, I think
your father wants to go out and get ready to howl at the full moon," Juanita
"Can we go, too?"
the coyote pups said in unison.
"Only grown coyotes
can howl at the harvest moon," Walter instructed as he passed his children,
bending down and licking each one, in turn, with the tip of his tongue. "You
children can listen to the second tale your mother promised while I serenade
in the distance." And, with that, Walter pranced outside into the light of the
The Tale about How Juanita Came to the Desert Museum
Benjamin, the shyest
of the six coyote children, at last spoke up. "I know it is Guillermo's turn
for a second tale, but I'd like to hear once more the story about how you came
to the Museum, mother. However, only if Guillermo agrees?" Benjamin said, lowering
his head and afraid to look Guillermo in the face.
"Okay, okay," Guillermo
said, just a little irritated. "Tell the story that will make poor little Benjamin
happy. Maybe then he won't sulk and feel sorry for himself."
"Each of us has
different personalities," Juanita said gently. "The humans think we are all
the same because, to them, all coyotes look and act the same. Little do they
know how different we can be, and that's what the second tale is all about."
With that prologue, Juanita began her tale.
"Once upon a time,
many moons ago, when I was very young and inexperienced I had my only other
litter of pups. My husband at that time was a surly older coyote named Nicholas.
Unlike your father, Walter, Nicholas was not a kind parent. He growled at our
children constantly and forced me to do all the hunting while he lounged away
in the den and did nothing. One day, because I had not returned with enough
food to suit him, Nicholas bit me on the ear and began picking up my pups and
started shaking them. I was fearful that he was actually going to eat them.
That very night when he was sound asleep the children and I left quickly and
followed a stream so it would hide our scent."
"What did you do
then, mother?" Benjamin asked, quivering with fear even though he was safe and
was only listening to a story.
"We traveled for
three days and nights without stopping, except to rest briefly and eat a few
water beetles," Juanita continued. "Travel by day can be very dangerous for
a mother coyote and her siblings. We have our enemies, as I've told you. Mountain
lions, like Victor, or a wandering bear or a large bobcat would consider small
coyotes to be a hearty meal. But, thanks to the Great Coyote God in the sky
who lives behind the moon, we all reached a remote area under the stream's bank.
There was a den close by."
"That's when you
met Mario, the widowed coyote," Benjamin inserted because he knew the story
"Yes. Mario showed
us his den and told us the tale of his dead wife, Sarah. Sarah had been killed
by a hunter who used one of those flaming tubes."
"Thank you, Tomas.
Yes, a rifle. Anyway, Mario was everything Nicholas was not. He was kind and
patient. He hunted with me and later trained my children to hunt, too. But Mario
was an old coyote and, as will happen to all of us, one moonlit night he told
me, 'Juanita, dearest, I am very tired. I am going out into the thicket and
lie down and rest.'"
"That's the animal
way of saying, 'I am going to die'," Benjamin said.
"That is the usual
way, children. All of us eventually get called to the coyote heaven of stars
from whence we came," Juanita said gently.
"Skip to the part
about how you came here, mother," Guillermo said impatiently.
Juanita did not
appreciate this interruption. However, she only sighed and said, "It is getting
quite late, and I am beginning to get tired," Juanita said with a yawn.
not going to die, are you?" Benjamin howled in alarm.
Life here at the Museum is much easier on a coyote, and I expect to live to
see more passing moons."
All six coyote
children sighed and snuggled in closer to their mother.
"As I was saying,
once my children were raised and out on their own and I had endured the winter
of ice and snow, I decided to take what the humans call 'early retirement.'
From the top of a hill just west of here, I saw one moonlit night that there
was a coyote exhibit. I spied Walter pacing back and forth and knew that he
was lonely. I thought to myself, 'Juanita, how can you join him? You cannot
just trot up to the admissions window and ask for a ticket.' So, I thought and
I thought and I thought. The answer was right before my very eyes, but it took
me a long time to see it. The next moonlit night I crept to the cyclone fence
near where the keepers store their work clothes. I sat, pointed my nose toward
the sky, and began to howl. I prayed that the humans would know how to capture
me. I prayed and prayed they would not shoot me with one of their rifles."
"That is when you
had some great coyote luck," Stephanie said, unable to restrain herself. "The
keeper on duty that night was Martin Lopez, the very keeper of our exhibit."
you wish to finish my tale, or shall I?" Juanita asked, waiting for an answer.
"I'm sorry, mother."
Stephanie bowed her head. "Please continue."
"Well, I will continue,
but just with the conclusion to the tale. Mr. Lopez is a Tohono O'odham Indian
and knows more about coyotes than any human being I have ever encountered. He
let himself outside the gate and approached me slowly and with soothing words.
He slipped a leash around my neck, and I let him lead me inside to an area I
later learned was called the animal quarantine. For a month, I was given various
shots and many medical tests. At long last, I was taken to Walter and properly
introduced. We courted and fell in love. It took a while, but I finally had
my second litter of pups. When you are grown, you will be taken to other places
where you will prosper as I have here."
"We are so glad
you are our mother," Benjamin said.
Benjamin and Alfred,
Stephanie and Guillermo, Benita and Tomas approached quietly and each, in turn,
gave their mother a coyote kiss.
Outside the den,
the howling started as Walter began reciting his own coyote tale to the Coyote
God behind the moon.
Martin Lopez, newly
promoted to foreman of all the keepers, looked down on his coyote clan and smiled.
He knew the tales they were sharing even though he had never heard them from
Juanita's or Walter's mouths.
Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker
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