Coyote, Auntie Fox, and the Camelback

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, June 9, 2013

Once upon a time, in a valley almost identical to this one, there lived a coyote, a resplendent specimen of shiny silver fur and long slender feet. Coyote happened to have an aunt in retail, a small but bossy red fox who liked to nag him about fine tuning his style, which he never felt needed fixing or changing at all.

One summer day, when the dandelions, unanimously in bloom, had all but bewitched him with their sun drenched golden hues, he lay amongst them and let down his guard for a moment. Other than a mid-sized hunger, which he nearly always felt, life was perfect. Maybe he could stop thinking about his stomach long enough to enjoy the breeze wafting in from the hotter climes of the nearby desert. He tilted his nose up and stretched his back legs out, relishing the powdery feel of the dust between his toes.

“Ahhh,” his thoughts formed vaguely – yet deliciously — in the pictographic frontal lobe of his canine brain. “Aimless summer longing feels so good,” would be an approximation of his sentiments. A feeling unique to coyotes, actually.

Right then Auntie Fox appeared — as if out of nowhere (as was her wont) — and stood before him, toying with the strand of pink pearls she wore doubled around her neck. She sold hats, scarves, jewelry, and other matchy-match accoutrements to the varmint population of the box canyon. Coyotes were her hardest sell. Prairie dogs were her easiest, given their love of currency, their proclivity to communicate instantly, and their relentless copycatting of each other.

“You know,” Auntie Fox said in her officious way, “the reason you can’t catch more prairie dogs, is that you’re simply too predictable. Look at you. Lying in a field of flowers like the front of a postcard.”

She sat down as if to mean business, then put on her little round reading glasses, the ones worn strictly for effect. “And what about the way you’re always loping around and looking over your shoulder? And crossing highways diagonally? And howling, chin up, for pity’s sake? A walking cliché! You might as well announce yourself with an air-horn.” She snorted. “If you want to catch more of those juicy little snacks that lie in abundance just beyond your grasp, you need an element of surprise. You need more cleverness.”

She twitched the tip of her white tail. “More fox, less coyote. Or perhaps a different look. You know, I’m selling camouflage ponchos by the truckload these days.” It was a lie, but it had come to her swiftly, brilliantly, as if on the wings of Mercury. “It would behoove you to try one. Maybe with more prairie dogs in your belly and less hunger pestering you, you’d make some progress on that personality of yours. One can actually focus when one is not hungry.”

Coyote, irritated with everything about her, scratched his ribs, though they did not itch in the least. It did feel good to scratch, however, and for a moment he simply stood there, enjoying the sensation of tuning her out. “Why do you care so much?” he finally asked, fully scratched and suddenly dead tired of her meddlesome criticizing and of being compared to anyone at all. “And FYI, I enjoy being the essence of who I am. In fact, I’m trying to be the coyote-est coyote of them all. More myself instead of less.”

The wind, coming up as if on cue, licked his soft silvery fur and his pelt undulated like prairie grass. He felt utterly part and parcel of the landscape. Standing up, his urges consumed him: to lope, to look over his shoulder, to pounce and miss prairie dogs, to cross the field diagonally. In short, everything that made him Coyote, he desperately yearned to do.

Unable to resist being himself, he did look over his shoulder and in the moment spied a prairie dog not more than ten feet away, a creature struggling to get out of what appeared to be a tiny backpack, one equipped with water and a hose to drink it from. There was no question who had sold him the foolish accessory.

Without thinking, Coyote pounced, and effortlessly — because he was hungrier than he would admit — consumed the rodent, leaving only the backpack (perfectly intact) behind.

Auntie Fox, steeling herself against the gloating she felt sure would follow, was surprised to receive only a smile from coyote. “No matter the ruse,” he told her, sucking the shreds of meat from between his teeth, “nature makes me who I am. And I’ll thank you to remember that.”

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