A break in the rain. Dark Moon. I stumble from bed—dizzy from unfulfilled dreams—to the blinds. My fingers grope for metal and I drag the window open a crack until a cool breeze touches my face; it is surely like an embrace, this first new encounter with the outdoor air, although I could never call it that, never say this out loud. Shhhh. The air strokes my face, easing the nightmares and sickness away, combing the hair off my forehead and cheeks, just as Mario does when I rest in his arms. Just as my mother did when I was a child, telling me I had a beautiful face why didn't I show it sometimes. I gulp the air. Listen to the wet silence.
Come back, I plead. I need you.
Just for me.
Where are they?
I look outside. A street light shines down on the rain-drenched pavement, like a spot on a stage. I expect to see a coyote every time I look out at this place. Or a coyote man/woman, straight out of one of Charles de Lint's stories. Coyote would lean against the telephone pole, legs crossed, arms folded over his chest, and look up at me, smiling, eyebrows raised as if to good naturedly ask, “What the fuck you doing up there? Can't you see what kind of night it is?”
But no one steps into that light. In the near distance the coyotes howl.
I first saw a coyote sixteen years ago off a dirt road leading up an almost-mountain near Tucson, the world gray with predawn. Two lanky gray coyotes stood on the road together, watching us. They seemed huge, rulers of that smoky realm, not the skulking scavenger tricksters I had heard so much about. We got out of the car. I walked toward the canines. I knew better. Still. I reached my gray arm toward them, even though they were up the road. They stood still.
Or did they whisper to one another?
Who is that? did they ask.
Did they say, Look, she is one of us, finally found her way home.
I reached out.
The rays of the sun touched the mountaintop with pink.
Gray began to slip away.
My husband called to me.
Some reason I stopped.
Returned to the car.
Still the coyotes watched.
While we drove away.
Later we lived in a place where we often heard coyotes howl, especially when the moon was full, or near full. As the moon rose over the gorge cliffs, the vocal applause began—from us and the coyotes; I howled right along with them. One night after a coyote started yipping, a gunshot splintered the evening, creating a perfect before and after moment. Before: coyotes. After: no coyotes.
I don't understand why people hate coyotes, yet many of them do. They hate crows, too, and target practice on both scavengers. Both are accused of all sorts of atrocities—none of which I can remember on this dreamy night.
In waking time, day time, I often walked around town and talked to the crows. At night I whispered for coyote, longing for just a note or two of their wild serenade.
Now I wonder: do my neighbors see that I have coyote blood? Or that I'm part of the Crow Clan? Some kind of edge-dweller. Aren't I?
I rarely dream of coyotes. My nights are filled with snarly raving dogs. Tigers. Lions. Bears. Psychopaths. Deer. Snakes. Frogs. Rivers. Armageddon. I remember only one coyote dream:
I'm walking in the woods. Tiny coyote heads are all over the ground. I pick up the heads and put them in a paper sack. A woman calls out to me, “Why are you in this contaminated place?”
I never figured that dream out. Every place feels contaminated to me.
The air grows cold on my face. A lone coyote sings. I want to fall to sleep to her voice. I go back to bed, grateful for my husband's warmth, and close my eyes. I'm a little nauseated. I give it a moment and things settle.
Truth is I am probably not part of the Coyote or Crow Clans. They are survivors. Thrivers. You cannot ascertain the health of an ecosystem by their presence because they are masterful at adaptation. Presently I have not adapted well. More than one writer/doctor/friend has pointed to me and said, “You're like the canary in the mine, honey.”
Or like the hummingbirds who are easily squashed out of existence by environmental degradation.
Or like the—
The coyote howls.
I imagine stepping outside into the spot made by the street light, my feet bare, dressed in pink. Dawn pink. No sleeves in my rosy dress. I am dancing. Dancing.
My gray bushy tail strokes my legs.
I see two gray coyotes at the sharp edge of darkness created by the street light.
They are watching me.
I reach for them.
The rain begins again.
I saw my sister Crow a few days ago by the library, both of us dressed in black. Me in my black shades nodded hello, she picked at the ground after a glance my way. Wished I was wearing black spiked boots and a black leather jacket to match her cool.
I hesitated as I went by, wanting to stop and extend our interaction. I saw her body tense as she hunched a bit closer to the ground, ready to spring into the air, so I kept moving.
Thoughts of crow filled my head all day. How beautiful they were. Their black feathers so dark, yet iridescent, shimmering with purple or indigo—that color of the night sky soon after the sun has disappeared.
Crow. Making meals out of things we didn't even want to know existed. Mm-good.
Crow. Tenacious. I had stood transfixed more than once watching a crow fly up onto a street light, drop a walnut or hazelnut to the pavement, swoop down, retrieve it, drop it again and again, until finally the weakened shell gave way to the black beak.
In some cultures, crows were considered harbingers of death. In many Native American tales, Crow was a trickster, often said to be able to see the past, present, and future simultaneously. With one clawed foot in this world, the other in the world of the invisibles. Cross-eyed double vision.
A year or so ago, when I was once again trying to decide what to do with my life, how to make my way in the world—do I go? Do I stay? Do I write? Do I start another career?—I took a walk down to the River. Just before I got to the park, I noticed a crow standing in a dry mud puddle. He did not fly away as I neared. I stopped. Still he did not fly. We looked at one another.
Are you all right?
Did he tell me his head hurt? Or he wasn't quite right in the head.
What can I do?
I poured out some of my water for him, then stepped back. He waddled toward it, the way crows do when they walk, like an old cowhand who has seen one too many days in the saddle.
I stayed with the crow for a bit, then decided to go home and get some food for the injured bird. I hurried up the hill, walked the three blocks to home, got some sunflower seed and fresh strawberries from my garden (couldn't get my hands on any road kill), then hurried back down.
The crow was gone.
Good, I thought. That meant he was all right.
I turned around. A man dressed in dusty brown—the sun behind him creating a kind of halo around him—stood just a few feet from me.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I haven't walked in this part of town for a while. What is that Rainy Day Gallery?” He pointed east a ways to the first building near where we were, near where the crow had been. I told him it used to be an art gallery but it was closed now.
He was a strange man, wearing some kind of wrap-around sunglasses, a grungy cap and coat. I wanted him to go away. I realized no one else was around. I backed up a bit.
“You should start a business there,” he said.
I stared at him. I didn't know what to say. He said it again, “You should start a business there. Get an EDC loan.”
Whatever that was.
I glanced over at the wind-worn building. I had asked the Universe for advice—often, in books and movies, the answer came from a colorful but sage stranger. I looked at the man. A car went by, throwing up dust, making the man's halo more Earthy.
I said, “I have a job.”
He snorted, “A job.” He started to walk away. He stopped and looked at me. “I was going to put a diamond store in there. I figured the people could get off the sternwheeler and come right up here.”
He walked away. I started back up the hill before he changed his mind and came back.
A diamond store? How odd.
Shiny things. Crows like shiny things.
I looked back down the hill.
The man hadn't seemed quite right in the head. Just like the crow.
Suddenly I had one of the strangest thoughts I had ever had. And I was certain it was true.
The man and the crow were the same.
I was midway up the hill when I saw my friend Teri and another woman in the midst of a power walk. Teri stopped, red-faced and out of breath, to say hello. She introduced me to her companion, and then I said, “I just had the strangest experience. I saw this crow. I thought it was injured so I went home and got some seed and strawberries. I came back and the crow was gone but a strange man was there. I think the crow shape-changed into the man.”
My friend stared at me. Perhaps my crow story was one I should have kept to myself.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I think the crow was grateful for my help and wanted to help me, give me some advice.”
“Open a place of business at the Rainy Day gallery.”
Teri glanced at her friend and shrugged. “She's a writer.” Then she looked at me. “That's what you get for listening to advice from a crow. Did you give him the strawberries?”
“Oh! I forgot! I should have offered them to the man.”
“You should have,” she said. “Crows like strawberries.”
She rolled her eyes, then the women continued their westerly walk. I went north, up the hill.
Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.
Crows are edge-dwellers. Sometimes I stood on the edge of their edge. Watching. I am one of you. Can't you see? Whenever they came near, I felt as though I had been visited by magic.
Yesterday Mario and I went to Maryhill Museum, outside, to walk the manicured lawns. When we first arrived, we sat in the car and listened to the wind blowing through the locust trees. A male peacock sashayed up to the car, looking for handouts. When we didn't give him any, he laid down beside us, his beautiful eye-of-the-goddess (Juno) feathers laid out behind him like the train of a colorful evening gown.
Then a crow walked over to us. She looked right up at me. Past, present, future.
What do you see?
I blinked, amazed at how close she was, how startlingly black she appeared next to the iridescent blue and green peacock.
I picked up my camera and looked through the viewfinder. The crow filled the square.
Show me your best side.
She tilted her head up and looked at me.
Oh yeah, every side is your good side.
She turned her head. Perfect profile.
I snapped several photos.
Then she showed me her backside as she waddled away.
“She sure seemed interested in you,” Mario said.
I smiled. Maybe word had gotten round. Maybe she recognized me as her Earth-bound relative.
About the Author: Kim Antieau is the author of The Gaia Websters, The Jigsaw Woman and Coyote Cowgirl. "I learned to write by reading fairy tales, myths, and legends," she says, "and by running through the woods behind my home, interacting with the Wild and my imagination. Myths and fairy tales shimmer with a truth and magical reality that is not always readily apparent. I love looking at them —out of the corner of my vision—and listening to their whispers to discover what they really mean. I am a writer, librarian, and a peace and environmental activist. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, writer Mario Milosevic, in a county where it is illegal to harm Bigfoot."
Author's Note: "Coyote Whispers" and "Crow" come from a longer work, Falling: A Memoir in Nature, a series of essays I began in March 2002. Early in the year, I had decided I wanted to hike the Falling Creek trail in Gifford–Pinchot National Forest in Washington State near my home at least once a week during their open season (April 1–December 1). I've been trying to recover from a chronic illness for many years, and I thought of this "walking" as part of my healing. If I could walk this walk — make it to the majestic falls at the end of the trail at least once a week — I would have to get better, or so I hoped. So for eight months, I hiked the trail at least once a week, most weeks two or three times, with my husband Mario Milosevic, by myself, or with a friend. I didn't always make it to the end of the trail, but after each hike, I wrote an essay. It was a difficult year, and walking that trail helped me get through it. At the end of the year, I wasn't cured, but walking — falling into Nature (my own and the Wild) — was a healing practice that I continue to this day.
Copyright © 2003 by Kim Antieau. This is the first appearance of these Journal excerpts; they may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author.
Copyright © 2003 by Kim Antieau.