It starts like this: Nonna and I were walking the baby to a different playground from our usual, when we spotted a statue I’d seen before but never investigated. I went in for a closer look.
I thought it might be Balto, a hero dog who already has one stony likeness in Central Park. But it isn’t he, isn’t a husky at all. At least, not entirely.
It’s a coyote, or perhaps a “coywolf,” erected to commemorate the first sighting of this canid in New York City since the 1940s.
The 1995 appearance of a coyote jogging across a Bronx highway made major news here, and over the past 24 years these coy creatures have crossed bridges and followed roads into numerous corners of Queens and the Bronx.
In reading the plaque I learned something my once-upon-a-time Western mind might have intuited: that the coyote’s return here was not an entirely happy or unhappy piece of news. Coyotes (often called “coywolves,” as New York City specimens tend to have quite a bit wolf and/or domestic dog bred in) are believed to have returned (or evolved) here because wolves have been extirpated from this part of the country.
Check out this story reported by The Economist in 2015, a banner year for coyote sightings in New York City: At the turn of the 20th century there were still gray wolves roaming the eastern US, but they were threatened by both habitat reduction and human hunting. As an evolutionary defense—or for their own perfect reasons—the remaining wolves began to interbreed with both western and eastern coyotes, as well as with domestic dogs. A century later, their progeny, eastern “coywolves,” have evolved to be heavier and larger than coyotes, proficient at hunting in both forested areas (like wolves) and open spaces (like coyotes) with—get this—hybridized howls. The reporter in The Economist says a coywolf’s howl starts low and holy, like a wolf’s, and ends with a good ol’ coyote yipping.
I wouldn’t know. I’ve yet to see a coyote or coywolf here, though they’re believed to be living right in my backyard—Van Cortlandt Park. But I remember yotees from my Yellowstone days, and from plenty of other trounces in the West, trotting beside the road in all seasons, howling me to sleep in many a dorm room or campsite.
Live in the West, love wilderness, study Environmental Humanities, situate yourself in indigenous circles, and you will hear often about the power, energy, craftiness and wisdom of this creature. A quick glance online reveals the following stories, and so many others: Coyote and the Expanding Meat, Coyote and the Two Running Rocks, Coyote Comes to Life Four Times. Coyote and the Pitch Baby, Coyote Dances, Coyote and Beetle, Coyote and the Hen.
Here’s what Gary Buffalo Horn Man and Sherry Firedancer say about Coyote in Dancing Otters and Clever Coyotes: Using Animal Energies the Native American Way.
COYOTE’S MESSAGE: Pay close attention to a lesson.
COYOTE’S LESSON: Don’t try to avoid paying close attention to a lesson.
In some legends Coyote is portrayed as a trickster, meaning that he likes to put obstacles in our way as we walk along our sacred paths. As such, he is often viewed with hostility or fear. Other stories acknowledge that Coyote is here to teach us about ourselves, like a spiritual mirror. … The fact is that often the lessons we most need to learn are the hardest ones and we try to avoid them—this is what makes Coyote’s persistence so annoying.
Creator gives everyone a purpose for being on the Earth and wants our spiritual growth in actualizing it to be as gentle as possible. If we’re not sure of our purpose or forget it, Creator sends us messages, speaking softly to us—a whisper here, a coincidence there, or perhaps a visit from an animal relative. If we are living in the moment, have an open heart, and are paying attention to the world around us, we can receive these communications. But many times we are distracted and don’t get the message; or we hear, but push the message from our minds because it is something we don’t want to deal with, a lesson we don’t want to learn. If one spends too much time trying to ignore the teaching, then a more direct intervention from Spirit may be necessary. Often it is Coyote who is sent as the emissary to remind us that while our well-being is of concern to Creator, our unfolding into who we are meant to be is the real purpose of our Earthwalk.
… It’s a safe bet that if you don’t take time now to examine those things in your life that are being Coyoted a little, soon enough they will get Coyoted a lot.”
I see this statue, this wily lady-dog, and I am jolted out of my latest stubborn city-funk. Nudges like this remind me that wildness endures—that no amount of urbanity, of all-too-human-ness, can keep Coyote from bounding in. We chased out the wolf and built over his forests; he sought solace and more in his trickster cousin, and thrived. Something in that speaks to me, stirs something that needed stirring.
How universally this trickster (like his pal Raven) uproots, rewires, twists, plays with, stirs the pot and tips it over. How culture-crossing, borough-crossing, species-crossing, consciousness-crossing his impact.
Has coyote spoken to you? What other animal moments, encounters, dreams, interactions have taught you (are teaching you) their lessons?