Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

They were so angry that they decided to have a battle. So terrible was their anger that they would not wait, but declared that the fight must be fought now, immediately, on this very spot. Fox blamed what he considered to be the crime on Badger. Badger in turn was all for placing the blame on Cougar.

Jackrabbit hopped in agitation, calling for Mole and for Mouse, and for Deer and Bear to fetch their sharpest arrows and their heaviest war clubs.

By the time Coyote arrived the sides had already been chosen, the battle lines formed, and the smell of hate and future bloodshed permeated the very air.

He, Coyote, listened to all the threats and promises of broken bodies to be.  He walked out and stood between the enemies, declaring very solemnly, and in a very soft voice:

“No, I cannot allow this great fight to happen just yet. There has been no battle-preparation dance. There has been no pipe of cleansing. No, the Creation does not wish this battle to take place just yet.”

And some say it was Bear, but, strangely, no one actually remembers just who it was. Bear denied the accusation, but someone ran from one of the lines and struck Coyote dead!

And Coyote fell and indeed lay there, very dead. And the cry for immediate battle was resumed, and the menacing cries for blood again filled the air when, from the opposite end of the battle lines, Coyote again stepped out, dancing and brandishing a huge club.

He ran to his dead self and struck a tremendous blow upon the body, then turned to face the creatures, shouting: “Who killed this person? Who struck him down before I did? Was that person purified? Did he sweat himself and think of the children? Did he dance to assure that the life cycle continues?”

“Enough talking!” someone shouted and ran to Coyote and struck him dead.

And again, much later, no one remembered who or what struck the blow which killed coyote for the second time.
Then, from the left-hand side of center, Coyote ran out swinging a great club and struck at his fallen selves until all that remained were two masses of fur and blood and broken bones and twisted sinew.

Then Coyote danced the dance of victory over his own fallen selves, pledging their death to his own great anger. Oh, he danced, he really danced.

“Now then,” said Porcupine, “how is it that this one dances the victory-in-battle dance, when it was not himself who killed himselves? Is it within reason for him to claim this doubtful victory?”

“If I did not kill these two, then who did kill them?” demanded Coyote. “Let him step forward to claim these deaths, that I may kill him, too, in revenge.”

When no one stepped forward, Coyote declared, motioning to his dead selves, “Then obviously, these kills are mine!”

“It seems to me —” began Elk, who was interrupted by Skunk, who also began, “It’s quite obvious to me that —” “Now hold on a moment,” said Badger. And Coyote wheeled on Badger, shouting, “Hah! Don’t you know that you can’t hold on to a moment, let alone a minute?”

And so they argued, all the animal creatures, about the finer points of who might or might not claim a kill.
And the women of these great warriors, at the urging of Coyote, prepared a great feast, so that these mighty warrior-debaters might continue on full stomachs.

And soon, the recent anger was set aside for the more important battle of words leading to reason.

And by this time, everyone having forgotten all about Coyote, he, Coyote, took his fallen selves by their tails and dragged them away uphill.

Then he took a good hot sweat bath and then sang a song of renewal known only to himself, and soon his other selves revived. “Now,” said one of them, “that’s what I’d call making your point the hard way. You know, it really hurt when you killed me.”

“Yes,” said the other self, standing up and stretching, “the next time this happens, don’t forget it’ll be your turn to be killed.”

“Hey, maybe this won’t ever happen again, huh?”

“Oh, it will happen again,” Coyote said. “Yes, it always seems to happen again.”

Then he merged into himselves and walked away, far away.

– From Elderberry Flute Song: Contemporary Coyote Tales (White Pine Press, 2000). Reprinted with permission of White Pine Press.

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