Trumping the candle

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 27, 2015

We have just lit a candle. An expensive, beautiful smelling, long-burning candle, the scent of which is neroli, I believe, (citrus aurantium — the flower of the bitter orange — a heady, citrusy, flowery scent still prized, as it was in ancient Egypt, for its calming, tranquilizing and mood-elevating effects). It is widely used in the perfume industry, and suspected to be one of the secret ingredients in the recipe for Coca-Cola.

We have not lit this candle as vigil or to make the house redolent of some evocative, mysterious, unnamable thing that leads one by the nose to blissful realms. It has not been lit to mark the presence of guests or the dinner hour or even as a late night treat for watching flame shadows flicker against a wall. In fact, we’re not even at home. We’re at work.

We’ve lit a candle quickly, with a specific purpose in mind and are having a good laugh about it now. This candle and matches have been dispatched to dispel bad energy, to clear the air, to burn away any residual negativity and to begin a new moment. Because what we’ve just had in our midst is an unfortunate person who does not have much control at all over her thoughts or her mouth and whose go-to expression is one of sourness, negativity and fault-finding. Meanwhile, in reality and right outside the door, soft fat snowflakes are falling all around, dotting peoples’ noses and eyelashes and accumulating in frosting-like layers, blanketing the town in a quiet and beautiful peace.

We are laughing for a couple of reasons. Because of the quick first aid we’ve applied to our space, the great and perfunctory speed of the sequence at which we’ve allowed a negative person to exit through a door and gone to fetch a good candle. We’re laughing because of the visible drama of marking the moment instead of internalizing it, which would involve taking on someone else’s miserable day, and taking it personally, a switch-up that is truly liberating.

And we’re also laughing because we’ve all been there before, in that discontented place, marching around like Pigpen from “Peanuts,” neck deep in a cloud of angry or resentful or fearful or lonely pheromones — inattentive to the world around us, thoroughly smitten by our own up-and-and-down-and-all-around stories, unaware or uncaring of their undeniable effects on other people.

The candle smells really good. In contrast to crisp, fresh mountain air, which is intoxicating and soul-reviving in its own way, the warmth and sweetness of the candle calms, helps us pause, accompanies us. Now, we are able to relax. Reboot. Let go of someone’s sharp, unwitting commentary.

Candles, which have been around for thousands of years, from the tiniest birthday candles to the tallest pillars, never disappoint. From insect wax and tallow, to oils, petroleums and more current permutations, we have lit our way through time, consoling and marking the moments as small flames burn bright. Now more than ever — in the advent of blue-screen glow and fluorescent light — we can benefit from the purity and light of fire, even in its most diminutive format.

Very shortly after we’ve applied micro-fire and scent to our space, another person walks through the door, this time a well-known personality with a couple of teenaged children and a husband in tow. They are an up group, a group whose vibe, charged with laughter and good cheer, with positivity and a sense of fun all around, changes everything and all at once.

We can feel it permeate not just the space but also our bones, our brains. It’s sweet and infectious and transformative. The children are polite. There is no sense of privilege or entitlement or urgency — none of that; and once they leave with their bags, the air in the shop expands, charged with good sparks, with pleasure, gratitude and generosity. It is now the prevailing climate, the power of which has trumped the candle by a long shot.

And we are the beneficiaries. It leaves us with a moment of real gratitude for the goodness of people who behave well. Who spread lightness of heart and joy. It gives us a moment to reflect on all of those who have told us (from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Norman Vincent Peale to Louise

Hay, Pema Chodron and many others) how important it is to tend to our emotional health, to take responsibility, to

examine the quality of our thoughts and emotions and to take care as we birth them in every moment.

What we learn, once again, this time from the cute candle-trumper family, is that good behavior is its own reward. It feels good and it makes others feel good. And what more could we possibly ask for as we attempt to make the very most of our limited time here on planet Earth?



Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 23, 2014

A little boy about five years old peers back from row 30 and looks at me. He’s cute. Big brown eyes, curly black hair, communicating with his expression since he doesn’t have English at his disposal. I smile at him, and he shyly holds my gaze. No trace of a brat. Occasionally I hear the low voice of the mother but I can’t make out the language.

I have row 31 all to myself on this flight from New York and have been reading and staring out the window a lot, thinking about One World Trade Center, 1776 feet, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and now open. Window washers have just had a close call on floor 68. Our entire town could easily fit in one of these vertical needles. How does this teeming, grinding, vibrating city do it?

Halfway through the flight, the mother of the boy, a beauty, taps me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, can I sit here?” Despite an accent, she speaks without faltering.

Sure, I say, and she immediately curls up in the seat, knees up, and conks out like a light. I actually crawl over her to get to the bathroom at some point, and note she’s dressed like half the rest of the people on the plane — jeans, hoodie, sneakers, leather shoulder bag, leather watch. By the time I return, she is awake.

She has three boys, in fact, and a husband (and a brother-in-law farther forward). When she takes the three year old into her arms, I motion for her to use the middle seat for him, and once he falls asleep she looks at me, “We are all so tired,” she says, a little sheepishly.

“Where are you coming from?” I ask.

“Turkey,” she says. “We were two years there. Before that, Iraq. Now we have been sleeping in the airports for two days.” So, they are all kinds of unfathomable layers of tired.

She was at university, she says, when she had her first child. The boys are now three, four and five, “like steps. Not one child, not even two, but three!” She says this both exasperated and captivated, as if now, tired with travel and the further unraveling of her story, the magnitude of this brood has finally exploded. The two older boys are lying like sardines in row 30. The husband has found himself an empty seat across the aisle.

I ask if she speaks Turkish, too. “Not perfect, but well.” She smiles and says she likes languages, that they are good for — she points to her brain. Now, she says, they are on their way to Portland. Where they have friends. It soon becomes clear this is not a simple visit but a permanent one.

I tell her Portland is a great city — and the water is nice. Her eyes light up. “Water?” she says. She has no idea that Portland is on the coast. She is looking forward to cool weather, she says, loves the cold, Iraq is so hot. She tells me she is worried about getting a job and wonders out loud if it will be okay. I tell her my mother was an immigrant and she thinks about this, studying me, and then tells me I look American. I tell her she looks American, too — that anybody can look American here in America. She smiles at this.

“We are starting again,” she says. “We are from Iraq — we are not bad people,” she pauses. “We have dreams.” The word dreams resonates and I feel the miles she has walked and the lives she is carrying on her back. “You’ll be fine,” I say.

“You think?”

I nod. “Yes,” I say. “Be strong!” It is not something I have ever really said to anyone but they already know what strong means, I’m just adding a little more kindling to her fire.

Once we’ve disembarked, I note that the two men have paperwork in plastic sleeves strung around their necks on lanyards, paperwork that says, we are fresh, we are legal, we are vulnerable and we will take your help if you give it. I steal one last look as they all stand there studying the departures, one zoom-click closer to a fresh and unimaginable life.

This is still America. People are still arriving, homeless and tempest-tossed, as the poem says. Their huddled mass may be family-sized but they are tired. They have dreams. They are pilgrims on missions to lay rest to their past unrest, to start all over again with hope and determination.

What a beautiful thing to remember as we prepare to break bread, slice turkey, and eat pie together, 393 years after the original thanks-giving feast.


Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 17, 2013

It is nearly midnight and you have just arrived in New York City. It’s your first day of vacation, and your first vacation in a long time. The approach, right over the city, is unbelievable — lights for miles in the crystalline black of night, Manhattan Island like an ornate jewel, pulsating, scintillating, set apart.

In the silence of the taxi, you scream quietly through streets, over the Robert F. Kennedy bridge and then down through East Harlem toward your friends’ apartment.

You haul your stuff up and settle in the guest room, the one next to the bathroom that has better water pressure than any hotel you’ve ever been to. Which is one reason you left New York all those years ago, because of the carbon-footprint mindbender of fantastic water pressure three floors up in a city of 10 million.

Though you’re tempted take a hot shower, right then, instead, you reach for your carry-on and unzip it, given that the toiletries are right there on top.
When you flip it open, however, you don’t see your cleanser. Or toothpaste, or little pills. Or the Ziploc holding them — or anything else. Instead of your clothes is a pile of brochures sitting loosely on a stack of men’s socks. White socks you’ve never seen before. And shirts. Someone’s shirts. That you don’t recognize.

You drop the flap and freeze. What is happening here? Who are you? All of a sudden your hands aren’t your own. You feel like you’re in a movie, a dark comedy written by people who hate you.

It occurs to you then, as you launch yourself into the bathroom like a missile, that it is your companion who has taken the wrong bag down from the overhead compartment on the plane! You tell him he’s made a terrible mistake, terrible! Spitting out his own perfectly packed, tracked and traveled-with toothpaste, he tells you the mistake was probably made in Denver at the gate check cart. Because there was only one bag to take from the overhead, which is the one he took.

Where is your silver carry-on, then, the one purchased specifically not to look like the hundreds of plain black ones? Now, of course, it’s obvious: This silver thing is not yours at all. It’s scuffed. There is a tag with a phone number on it (708!), which you call and text to no avail. Maybe this non-existent, faceless man has gone off without any bag, had a heart attack and died. Where does that put your bag, though, a bag without identification of any kind?

Numbly, you fill in the required online form, which is pointless unless you have checked your bag (in the future, you never even hear back). And then you start to think about everything in that bag, the only bag you have ever really been proud of packing, since you are a worthless packer, the kind of packer who, despite lists, panics at the end and either packs too little or too much, and then throws stuff in indiscriminately. This time, you have spent an entire week editing the bag for New York and for 10 days abroad. All the gifts for the relatives (12) have painstakingly been packed as well. There is plenty of underwear. The right ratio of shirts to sweaters, jeans to other pants. You have even packed a safety pin.

The next day, fully discombobulated, you find yourself buying pants and underwear, and even though you love this particular store, you cannot think straight. Can you travel to France with two pairs of pants and a shirt? Arrive with no gifts? Your companion leads you around like a person trailing an IV. You might as well be wearing a backless hospital gown because that is how it feels.

While in the dressing room, a call comes in. Finally: white-socks. His phone has died but now he’s received your message and, boy, this is a catastrophe because he is about to go to a conference without his brochures. He quickly tells you that you’ve obviously picked up his bag first since he was sitting in the back of the plane. Huh? Utterly unnerved, you take responsibility. And two days and $360 later, you are reunited with your bag and he, presumably, with his.

You force yourself to forget the money and proceed to have a fantastic trip. You narrowly miss running out of gas (see six rainbows that day, in fact). You narrowly miss having your wallet pinched in the Paris metro (you feel his hand on it and see him flee). You narrowly miss a major flight-canceling storm in Europe (you get driving rain and flapping shutters in Paris).

Somehow in the great pachinko machine of cause and effect, it all evens out. Which is reassuring. But that doesn’t change the one take-away from this:

Tag the bag, sister. Tag the freaking bag next time.

Rancherman (™) (Get the action figure)

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 18, 2013

People have their superheros. Their muses and icons and gurus and gods, those they look up to and wish they were more like. They have their Merlins and Morgaines and Wonder Womans and Joseph Campbells, their Yoganandas and Baghwans, their personal trainers and life coaches, their grandmas and great aunts, the ones who have given them the goods on life. They have their peeps, their teddy bears. Their talismans. Their pacifiers. They have them in order to get up in the morning, to get through the day, or the dark, or a rough patch.

Me? I have Rancherman, my personal muse and superhero. I believe I mentioned him last time — but only in passing. Now, I can elaborate.

Rancherman, though a legitimate superhero, strays from the profile. He doesn’t really have it in him to go big; why would he? With Rancherman, there is no dark backstory or cape or secret identity — mainly because of his ranching background. His mother lived to be 97. His father grew up on a horse.

Because of these simple and humble roots, the work of Rancherman is quotidian, expressing itself on a sort of toast-and-coffee level. His moral ethic and mission is inserted gently into an ordinary day, like a slender bookmark on page 229 of The Poetry of Robert Frost. The work he does is basic and foundational — without newspaper coverage or fanfare or potential movie rights.

For instance: say it’s a rainy day in August and the first cool twinges of fall are crimping one’s heart a bit. Ow. You clutch, feeling something indescribably melancholy. The clouds, getting darker and darker and rolling in from who knows where, are an intense, heavy-stomached, stormy, sea-sky blue sort of deep gray meant to overwhelm one. You feel yourself slipping into that faraway land of vague, boat-bobbing longing.

While a part of you is busy wondering what that color really should be named, and also how a color can be so connected to one’s heart, the rest of you just simply wants to wallow. There is no doubt: as the rain comes crashing down amid lightning and thunder, you want to wallow, to wrap yourself in wool and stare out a window, a window whose transparent face has sweet tears of rain streaming down it. You want to listen to Rachmaninoff and think about the high drama of more important people’s lives. About far off places where the stakes are high.

This is right about the time Rancherman should be hailed, just before getting trapped in that parallel universe of greener grass just on the other side of the fence. This is when you call upon him, saying W.W.R.D. What Would Rancherman Do?

Well, Rancherman doesn’t know how to wallow in anything. It’s never been a possibility for him, and neither have a lot of other confusing emotions. Rancherman arrives on the wings of common sense, wearing faded jeans and an ironed shirt, usually something in blue, possibly checkered. He carries a handkerchief in his pocket. His hands are calloused but his heart is soft, superhumanly soft perhaps. He comes in humming a tune — without a hint of fight-or-flight response in his body. This, come to think of it, is also superhuman.

Rancherman doesn’t see bittersweet gloom in the August sky and doesn’t get all sad, either. He looks out at his cattle, his horses, as the rains pelt them, and takes a moment to pause. Yes, that he will do. For the thousandth time, he wonders what the animals think about as the water comes down. If they notice the rain in their eyes like he might. Then before thinking too much more, he puts on his boots and goes out to check on things.

This is the essence of Rancherman. This, I suppose, is his real secret weapon, his true superhuman trait, this constant checking. Checking on his cattle, on his horses, his ditch. Then checking on his closest neighbor whose truck hasn’t been starting lately. Checking on her trees, the ones in dire need of pruning.

While he checks on things, Rancherman remains quietly optimistic for good outcomes. He is careful and spare with words. He keeps his feet dry and his collar up, but doesn’t hunch over as he walks. He’s my man. Solid. Steadfast. Present. He sleeps well.

And he’s the one I call upon when the skies get dark. Rancherman. Then when his voice comes, it’s soft and gentle, almost sensuous. “Easy girl,” he says, taking off his leather gloves. “Don’t get all balled up. Pay attention to right now, the way the light’s coming in. See it? And then keep checking on things. Always keep checking.”

Top Dog, Badger, Bluebird and the sneeze

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 7, 2013

Once upon a time in July, in a valley nearly identical to this one, Prairie Top Dog sat balanced on his hind legs, spine straight, ears pricked up, darting eyes surveying things — notably the impressive number of dome and rim craters he and his fellow dogs had recently dug and the innumerable miles of tunnels and burrows they called Home, with a capital H, as it were the world’s center.

Top Dog felt pride. Pride is not a deadly sin for Gunnison prairie dogs since they are well known for it and refuse to see themselves as doomed — or even disqualified from great things — because of something so venial. So everyday. So often felt.

It was midsummer, and the mounds were dry and the dust was high under an uncompromisingly blue Colorado sky. All the prairie dog shadows were hard-lined, like light-sucking negative-space cutouts against the rawhide brown of the dirt. It was absolute perfection to Top Dog — just the way summer should be. All of it shimmering in waves of blistering heat. Seeds and weeds spilling out everywhere, high and low. A slice of time filled with the electric buzzing of crickets and fickle gusts of hot wind, and yet: utterly still. Yes, he did feel as though he — and, by extension, all the dogs — were at the center of it all.

Smitten by this feeling as he sat perched atop the highest of their dome craters, he breathed in deeply, scanning the colony, chest puffed up even more with what we will call not-quite-but-almost smug satisfaction. Prone to allergies this time of year, however, and having inhaled so profoundly, he felt a sudden sneeze come out of left field, his nose twitching with the tickle of cottonwood fluff.

As is true with many an animal prone to sneezing, he was compelled, involuntarily, to close his eyes in the exact moment of sternutation, missing for a split second what was going on around him. (Which prairie dogs are not likely to admit is possible.)

And in the time it took to close his eyes and sneeze, Top Dog missed a couple of things. He missed some residual dandelion stalks gifting their helicoptering germs to the updraft right behind him. He missed half a dozen ants right next to his left paw succeed — finally — in the picking up of some tiny dead thing they were hauling toward the anthill for dinner.

He missed a hummingbird moth drone by like a small plane, bee-lining for the luscious garden flowers half a mile away in the village. He had never seen a hummingbird moth before. Certainly, had he seen it, he would have called out a warning to all the other dogs, because who knew what messages, intruders or foreign compounds some low flying thing might bring in. It was less than a foot from his head! He was oblivious.

The two other things Top Dog missed were a bit more critical, actually. One was the urgent call of Bluebird on a nearby post, an adolescent who had been watching Top Dog and who had seen what the rodent had missed because of the deafening sound of his own convulsive expulsion of air. Teenaged Bluebird — dressed in saturated plumage even brighter than the sky above — was in training, intent on doing good, intent on doing the work of grown bluebirds, which is to follow things, either by wing or eye, and then to bring tidings, either glad or otherwise, depending.

But because Top Dog could not hear or see Bluebird, who had begun to flap her wings hard in warning, he did not see or hear American Badger (the fiercest of the badger species) come blazing out of his own rodent doorway, wiggling his muscular flesh over to Top Dog with so much power and predation, there seemed to be no hope for the clueless dog whose puffed up chest had caused the sneeze that had closed the eyes that might have otherwise seen Badger.

Bluebird, with ample gray matter at her disposal, instantly calculated that she would have to change strategies if any good deed was to be claimed on her scorecard and dive-bombed Badger’s ear, whispering a little something (we don’t know what) that momentarily caused him to falter. Thus thrown off, Badger was momentarily foiled and only able grab the pouf of prairie dog’s luscious but rather dry-tasting tail.

Today, all that remains of the prairie dog tail is a stub a few inches long, an embarrassment, especially when compared to the beaver’s, the bunny’s, the marmot’s. This little vestige serves as a daily reminder to Prairie Dog that pride, though delicious, may eventually bite one in the b_tt.

Hooked on Mnemonics

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, June 23, 2013

Her name is Gloria.

But I’m so preoccupied with the freckle above her lip, I only grasp her name for a half second, the length of real-time it takes three syllables to get lost in the serpentine chutes of my ear canals instead of arriving at the consecrated memory centers of my brain where they ought to be latching on like barnacles. I’d even settle for a spaghetti-latching-onto-a-ceiling sort of feeling, frankly, in the moniker department.

I know I should remember her name: I’ve shaken her hand and asked her where she’s from and why she’s visiting and I’ve met her soft and shaggy sweetheart of a dog, Velvet. How hard is it to remember someone’s name, for Pete’s sake? Glore-ee-uh. She looks like a Gloria, sounds like a Gloria. She stands there rooted in all her Gloria-ness, in the name she’s presumably had since birth. Her given name. She’s memorable in every way, because she has as many details per square inch as anybody else does. She is unequivocally memorable, in fact: it’s my memory, my ceiling of memory — that is not giving purchase to the spaghetti byte of information. Bummer.

“Memory,” I am about to say the memory affirmation as I stare in the mirror. “By the grace of god, grant me access to you.” A sigh escapes my lips but I trudge on. “Everything I see is being recorded somewhere in the mystery of my gray matter. All the details are mine to access. For the higher good.” And the higher good includes remembering people’s names, please god.

Unfortunately, the next encounter with whatever her name is is a travesty of recall. “Hi Velvet,” I say ridiculously to the dog, as if it were as familiar to me as the name of a favorite uncle. No problem there. Because evidently I can remember dog names! Dog names are not a problem. As for hers — not even letters are coming to me, no clues, no feeling that it might be a round name like Nora or a or a slender one like Jill. No b-b-b-b at the front of my lips or t-t-t.

I do recall she’s from Alexandria, Va. And I recognize the freckle and even remember having thought to myself on the last go-round that the freckle would be at seven o’clock if her face were an analog watch. I remember thinking she had the kind of face that would look good framed in chic and mannish collars, like Katherine Hepburn’s, and then I even remember wondering why waists were so much smaller in the ‘40s. And why life seemed so much more straightforward, happy, and good back then; and for an iota of time I’m sad. Really sad.

At this point, fully extended in a chaise-lounge moment of mental searching and drifting and avoidance, I catch myself, redden, fold up the metaphor chair, and then say offhandedly, as if hers were the only name I’d ever managed to forget: What was your name again??? And then — probably because I’ve just reached my limit of blanking on names — I do what I’ve categorically resisted my whole life, which is what they, the pep talk people, have told us to do all along.
I grasp for a mnemonic device — anything, something, the first thing that comes to mind; and low and behold, it’s a morning glory.

Gloria: she’s a pink morning glory — with a single freckle — spiraling her vine-y way towards her last name, which she tells me now is Campbell. A morning glory wending its time-lapse way toward a summer camp bell being rung for a dinner of chili and corn bread and green beans and ice cream sandwiches under a rising moon. I love the sound of camp bells, even though I’ve never been to summer camp. Even now I love the idea of summer camp. What a beautiful thought. Gloria. Campbell. A tough little delicate flower with a freckle — in the middle of the Adirondacks. It works. It’s a cinch!

The next time, and the time after that her name is rock solid, it’s not going anywhere. Seems like it might work forever, that I’ll never forget this woman, ever again. How is this possible? I couldn’t remember her name and now I’ll never forget it.

It opens up a gigantic world of possibility for me, a world of people who are flowers with faces like clocks, people who are doing any variety of silly things, just as their names imply. Over the next week, I test out my theory and sure enough every name is indelibly barnacled on the pier of memory. I guess my only question now is this: What if I need to forget them?

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.”