I was walking through Tuolumne Grove this past news years day, gazing happily upon an indescribably massive Giant Sequoia, when I noticed a Coyote sauntering past the base of the giant tree. I am fascinated by Coyotes. Several years ago I discovered rather by accident that whistling to a coyote will often pique its curiosity and thus slow its gait, giving me more time to observe and admire the animal. Apparent lovers of song and virtuosic singers themselves, Coyotes seem to me natural born musicians; rambling, expressive, intelligent, social, yet aloof and wary. And so I whistled. As I hoped, it slowed. I whistled again, a variation on my tune. It stopped. I whistled some more. Placing itself just behind a tree so as to become invisible in the diffuse early winter light, it casually laid down. Coyotes seem to do this instinctively – no matter how curious they are, care is always taken to remain invisible yet observant. It was a lovely moment. Then I remembered where I was.
This Coyote was no doubt aware that the Tuolumne Grove is a popular place for tourists like myself, who often accidentally drop tasty snacks from their pockets in moments of reverie. Perhaps there are even some visitors who still find it entertaining to feed wildlife when encountered. As I stood whistling tunes, I also remembered who I was dealing with – Old Man Coyote, the famous trickster – and it dawned upon me who was regaling who. I remembered what the human ego has wrought. We think of ourselves highly as a species, and I am no different. Impressed with my own whistling skills (I am a better whistler than singer, which says little), I believed I was directing the encounter. I could almost hear the universe laughing as this thought dissolved. Comfortably lain with attentive ears perked, the Coyote was playing an utterly convincing role as attentive listener. But it was in fact I who was being regaled. In a masterstroke of cognition and perception, the Coyote both fooled and charmed me, all while giving himself potential access to a novel food source. All he had to do was stop, rest, and be seen. Perhaps this Coyote sensed in me that he had an enthusiastic audience, just as I thought the same of him.
As these thoughts occurred to me and then came together in my mind, I stopped whistling and decided it was time to leave Old Man Coyote be. He remained elegantly lain in a pile of sequoia needles as I turned my back and continued my happy stroll through the grove. I wished I could leave some gift for him in return for being such a gracious teacher, though what gift I did not know. Large undisturbed tracts of land would be a nice start. Perhaps it is true among animals as well that giving is the greatest gift, and that Old Man Coyote was content with the lesson he gave me.