Of the evenings when I’m out on my favorite trail with my dog Nalii and we hear the coyotes start to call. They’ve been speaking to us.
Sometimes their call sounds distant. Sometimes they sound like they are on our tail. Coyotes have come out for their nightly prowl.
At first I feel a moment of fear. We move faster. Nalii looks up at me for assurance.
I have to keep going, because stopping isn’t an option. They are calling. Not to themselves.
They have a message. As their calls continue I become acutely aware of my surroundings. Adjusting to this new soundscape, my fear slowly softens into a place of more comfort. We are out here running together in this vast desert landscape, the coyotes and I.
I am safe.
My consciousness begins to shift, my movement changes. I can feel the pebbles’ grit through the soles of my shoes. The air smells suddenly sweet with Cholla blossoms. The horizon consoles me, endless and wild.
Have I been running half an hour or a minute? My eyes scan side to side. The landscape has begun to shift. Surrounding civilization transforming. Adobe houses begin to look like mud huts. Their corners melting into soft hills. Yuccas bend to look at us, as the high desert sun pounds my shoulders. My limbs, muscles adapt to my surroundings, reorienting. The coyotes have moved parallel.
They speak to us. “Are you listening?”
“Do you have on your coyote skin? You will need it to get through this time. We taught you long ago. Have you forgotten?”
“I have not forgotten.”
“I do need help” I answer. “Humans have traveled far away. They have almost lost sight of you. Some are starting to remember again, but I fear it will be lost as they go back out.”
The coyotes come closer still. Dusty paws. Still running, I can see their shape. They nod their heads.
“Get down” they say. “Down further. Are your fingertips touching the ground? Can you smell the earth?”
“Can you run tonight? Do you know where to look for food?
Do not be afraid. We will remind you.
But, you must promise not to forget. To go and tell your people not to waste time. Their light is getting dim.”
Now running side by side. On four feet. My pace quickens, I look around cautiously. My skin has turned rough. Shoes melted away, toes replaced with leathery pads. I no longer feel pebbles underfoot. The wind brushes my neck. Thorns stick to my hair.
“Do you smell the storm?” They ask. “Learn its scent” they say. “You must not forget.”
“Do not look away. We can only teach you if you do not look away. The answers you are seeking will not find you in your vacancy. Do not be quick to return. For you were only a guest there. Don’t you see, it was only meant to teach you.”
“Stay!” They demand. “Here in your coyote skin. The answers you seek will only find you when you’re on your coyote feet.
Do not seek shelter. It is not time. It will only prolong your suffering. Keep running. It is not dark yet.”
From the hills, ravens circle in the distance. Their silhouettes sharp, unyielding.
The sky turns shades of vermilion and blush. Our shadows lengthen.
Coyote voices become muffled, I look up and they are no longer by my side, but distant. Their last call.
“The home you remember is no longer there. Do not look for its entrance. The door will not appear to you. Look down. Lower still. The burrow, it leads to the tunnel. Here you will find the cool damp earth. It has been waiting for your return. Roots hanging from the ceiling. Do you remember? It has always been here. Waiting to embrace you again.”
I look up and they are gone. I look to my feet, my hands. They are my own. The sound of crickets replace the coyote’s call. The horizon almost gone to night. Darkness hugs us as we near the end of the trail. Panting, coughing up dust and wind. We catch our breath. The air scented with rain. I look to our home and I promise to return again tomorrow. Here in my coyote skin.