Month: December 2017

Library Days: On Natural Disasters.

“We’ve gotta hurry, the librarians are going to miss me!” I say to my someone, cramming my To Return Books and my To Renew Books in the same bag. “And I don’t want to miss him!  He leaves by 10:30, usually,” I add with urgency.

My Someone laughs, but he knows I’m not kidding.  In fact, today my Someone is going to escort me in to fact check my ritual.  He’s not disappointed.  My guy is there, in his regular attire, clicking video after video.

I knew you’d be here! I thought.  I smiled at my Someone, pleased with my accuracy.

Consistency makes the heart grow fonder.

It’s Library Season, which usually means logging my calendar full of due dates and renewals, with a stack of books beside by borrowed room’s bed that dwindles slowly as the time for us to hit the road again approaches.  But this winter is different.  I am not only in a borrowed room, but also with a borrowed library card.  The stack of books is still the same, but the town is different.  I am taking Library Season to a new level of stillness, and have been spending every Tuesday morning here, in a small central California town’s library.  I sit at the same table in the same chair at the same time each week.

I’m not the only regular, though.  Aside from my friendly local librarians, there’s a man in a green track suit with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack who beats me here every Tuesday.  The first week, from my deliberately chosen chair, I had a full view of his public computer screen.  At first, I went about my business.  Public library time is sacred time, I believe, and everyone has a right to explore in the peace of 1970’s carpet and thick wooden chairs without snoops over your shoulder.

Except that he was murmuring to himself.  And then he was laughing.  I glanced up.  This man was watching natural disasters on Youtube.  Landslides.  Earthquakes.  River floods.  Tsunamis.  Again and again, the man clicked, watched, and then murmured.  Back to landslides, and he laughed.

I froze.  I felt sick.  I made involuntary associations with his skin color and terrorism.  And then, I realized, the only act of terror this man was watching was Mother Nature’s.  God’s.  Climate Change’s (ours).  I felt sick again.  You racist asshole, I murmured to myself.  I went back to writing.  Then, with my presumptions out of the way, my curiosity was pure.  I couldn’t resist.

Why does he only laugh at the landslides?

“I can’t believe you two like reading the same things,” my librarian said.  “I’ve been married for 43 years, and we don’t read anything alike.”

My Someone helped me load up my bag of Renewals.  We delighted in the perceived compliment, agreeably.

“And music,” she continued, “you have the music that you share!  All he listens to is classical, and that’s a no go.  I’m really a rock’n’roll gal, sometimes folk– always stuck in the 60’s.”

“That’s a good place to be stuck,” my Someone and I said in unison.  You can’t make this cute shit up.  We all laughed.

While my new Hold books were being located, I nodded my Someone across the room.  My Natural Disasters Guy was finishing up his free hour on the computer.  I was disappointed to not see actual natural disasters on the screen, but instead a close second of horror movie previews, one after another.

I like your friends, my Someone texted me a few minutes after he left me here.

“I try to exercise every day,” my librarian said.  I stopped my pen to listen.  “He hasn’t exercised except after his heart surgery, but then he stopped.  I just think, well, that’s your problem, then.  I can’t make him do what I do.  We are just different, and now he’s paying for it– or at least he will.”

That’s a toughie, I thought, stretching my legs under the table.  My Someone and I walk every morning together, sometimes in the afternoon, too.  We take hikes and sometimes he’ll do yoga with me when he complains too much about an ache in his neck or shoulder.  I kept listening, feeling smug, feeling better, and feeling disappointed when she finished talking to her friend and went to recategorize the New Books section.

Truthfully, my Someone and I have had a tough couple of weeks.  I’ve been slopping through my grief and self medicating with working too much, while he has been haggardly aware, darting, and stressing to deal with his own and mine.  Only in the last couple days have we settled into some sort of lovebird normalcy.  But even in the worst of it, we’ve walked side-by-side every morning, throwing sticks for our pup and taking note of the progress of fruit rotting into the ground in the orchards.

How fortunate.  How lucky.  How much better I have it.

This is crazy, I realized.

These are my natural disaster videos.  These are my replays.  These are my sensors that sit on alert, craving someone else’s story of a life I don’t want so I can appreciate the one I have.  It’s a fear in the brain, a lift from the drudgery of the usual mountains I am climbing to watch the mountain next to mine shake with an avalanche.  I sit and I watch and I am taken somewhere I’m not.  Then I sit back to see my own mountain.  Still a climb, but at least it’s sturdy.  And I laugh.  Maybe it’s relief or maybe it’s malice.  With something of that scale, so unexpected, I don’t know how to distinguish fear from empathy from joy.  I do know that at any minute, though, my Someone is coming to pick me up again.  He’ll see me looking like a normal person, typing at my own computer with a few new books to take home.  But I’m actually just a guy in a green track suit who sits here every week at the same time in the same chair, hitting replay on a two minute clip of an earthquake in a Central California library.

Howling at the Moon: On Coyote.

Okay.  Okay.  Here we go.

I think God might be a Coyote.

In the middle of the summer, I was reading a book that talked about a Native American tradition in which the earth was created, somewhat inadvertently, by Coyote.  This wasn’t my first time reading myths and legends.  This wasn’t my first time discovering a new religion.  But this was the first time, without being told what is true or not, that the information was presented to me and I sat back, warm and cold at once, and thought–

Oh, my god.  This might be God.

In the days and weeks following, I found myself naturally praying to Coyote.  A small miracle, praying naturally.  Or rather, praying at all.

Coyote was floating along on his raft.  He came across a few ducks and called to them–

“Is there only water here?” he asked.

“As far as we know,” they said.

“We’ve gotta do something about that.  You mind to dip to the bottom and see if you can get me something I can work with?” he said.  Of course, the ducks agreed.

Three duck went down and found nothing.  The fourth came back with a pile of mud in its beak.

“This I can work with,” said Coyote.  “And for your efforts, there will be four trials before success in this new land.  Sound good?”

“Sounds great!”

And then Coyote took the mud and created the world.  Trials and all.

You can dig around the internet or the public library for bits of Coyote’s tale, swishing around in matters of making mates from mud for lonely ducks, or being disobedient to his call from the Great Creator and accidentally making Earth and all that’s in it.  He is the great imitator, the great trickster, the protector of humanity and the curator of life after death.  He is all of the things in between, too.  He is likely both responsible for the unexpected house guest you didn’t want and the moment you were glad to have company that same night when you were tossed a bit of bad news by way of a telephone call.

But at the heart of it all, Coyote is in love.  He is in love with you and me, he is in love with the world working itself out, and he is in love with interjecting to make it both harder and easier to become better.

Coyote sounds a bit like Loki.  And a bit like me.  Because the way he loves is by laughing.  Some of his jokes go too far.  And most of his jokes take a while to get.

Coyote is the favorite of the Great Magician/Creator, even if he almost never acts right.  Maybe the Creator knows this and uses Coyote.  If that’s true, then I think that must mean that Coyote’s joy in causing a ruckus is woven into everything he accidentally creates.  Like people.  When The Creator stuffed humans into a bag to be dropped at the far corner of the earth, he asked Coyote to take the bag to its destination.

“But whatever you do,” he instructed Coyote, “do NOT open the bag until you get there.”

“What’s in the bag?” Coyote asked.

“It doesn’t matter what’s in the bag, don’t open the bag.”

“But, what’s in the bag?”



Coyote opened the bag.  He barely made it beyond the first hill.  People went everywhere.  He couldn’t get them back in again– it was too late.  And now here we are, not confined to the cliff of time, but scattered in this wild, watery world.  Misfits and escapees, every one of us, thanks to Coyote.

The Creator didn’t seem to mind.  He delights in us with the help of Coyote by his side.  Coyote, our intercessor, reminds the Creator that we are wonderful, lovable creatures.

What I know to be true of Coyote, as best as I can gather it:

  1. that the world was created by accident, imperfectly, and that every day we are alive, we are making it better.  This is in direct contrast to the idea that we ruined a perfect world and are every day trying to dolefully get back what we lost.
  2. that perhaps we were not made in Coyote’s image, but as a friend of his image– and we, in turn, make friends of his image (or, man’s best friend [does this further explain the extreme reaction of humans to cats?  To worship or to hate?  I digress…]).
  3. that the funniest solution is the chosen solution, should you be brave enough to laugh and let Coyote laugh with you.
  4. That to pray to Coyote is not to first say, “I am not worthy/I am sorry,” but rather… “Guess what just happened!” usually followed by, “How do you think we are going to get out of this one?”  Coyote already knows we are worthy.  That’s why he created us as friends.

I was a fool for him, a regular Jesus Freak of Coyote’s world.  I hesitated at first, but then I found myself leaking my newfound Coyote to my friend Bryan on his lunch break.  My Pad Thai got cold with the love of sharing the Good News–

“And, did you know, that we are not slovenly assholes who messed up a perfect world?  Did you know that we are actually loved?  Did you know that there is hope because there is still a joke to be told?”

I knew it sounded crazy as I was saying it.  I knew that I was reverting back to my days of carrying my thickest Bible around the halls of high school in case someone asked me to defend what I believe.

Except, that it wasn’t like that at all.  I wasn’t on the losing side of a God to make amends with through his dead son (be grateful, you hellbound sinner!) while simultaneously on the losing side of a world I should hate (in it but not of it, of course).  I was on the winning side of a tricky dog who loves without bounds and makes change without stipulations and who was inviting everyone (even me) to come alongside.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Oh boy,” said Bryan, “I do like this Coyote of yours.”

He may have been my first willing convert.

“Heya, Coyote!” the ducks called.

Coyote was on his regular trek through earth, fighting off monsters that we can’t combat on our own, accidentally killing someone from a joke gone too far, and fascinating himself with the movements of creation, imitating as he went.

“Yeah-ho!” he called back.

“We’ve been thinking,” the ducks said, “and talking to the rest of the gang, and it seems like we are feeling like there’s still something missing.  Any chance we could have something else?”

“Oh, this will be fun,” said Coyote, “Whatever you want!”

“Gentleman ducks,” said the ducks.

“Makes sense,” said Coyote, twirling his paws.

“And dancing,” said the humans sunning themselves on the rocks.

“I’ll do you one better,” said Coyote, “let’s make music.”

For the rest of the day, the ducks and lady ducks, the humans, Coyote, and the rest of living creation danced to the sound of music.  Even the plants swayed.

Since our trip to the west this year, Coyote has been everywhere, howling from Pennsylvania to lurking in daylight by our South Dakota campsite to yipping and barking in the California night.  I have been unable to escape him.  The reminder is welcome.

I’ve good naturedly scolded Coyote for his tricks to get the hecklers out of a room.  I’ve yelled at him while my dog laid in my arms, limp with death.  And by the end, he keeps emerging with a joke, with a laugh.  And never a joke at my expense.  It’s the elevated laugh of a creature who always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres, who always knows, these things work out if we let them.  Coyote doesn’t fail.  He just has a few hiccups first.  Often four.

While the loss of my own living Spirit Animal roils through me, I keep a small figure of a pink stone Coyote in my pocket.  Maybe it’s my rosary. Maybe it’s my idol.  But the palm sized consolation presses somewhere in the hopeful part of my heart, the part that says he was there waiting for my dog-gone the moment she left me.  Somehow, he’s the only one I’d trust with her.

I sent my friend Bryan a little Coyote of his own.  He doesn’t need it to know we are connected, but it’s nice to know these little Coyote figures are casting a laugh in the distance, connecting their howls miles apart.  Quietly, of course.  Coyote has a way of sneaking in the silence to make it less lonely.

Coyote watched the hawks flying from their trees, swooping to catch the mice below.  He was so taken by the freedom of the wingspan, the sound of their feathers cutting the air, that he climbed an oak up to the highest limb.

Then, Coyote jumped.  Flying was not what he thought it would feel like.  In fact, it felt more like dying.

Coyote lay on the ground, flat with gravity and breathed his last breath.  The birds, seeing Coyote dead on the ground, notified the fox, and they gathered around his body.  They worked their beaks and paw over his body until he sputtered and sat up.

“Come on, Coyote!” the fox said, exasperated.

“I had to try!” said Coyote.

“You always have to try,” said the birds.

“Worth it,” said Coyote.

The fox and the birds like to say they are tired of bringing Coyote back to life every time, but they always leave him with a smile.

“A Coyote who thinks he can fly,” the bluebird shook her head.

“This was easier than the time he drowned for imitating the whales,” said the seagull.

I woke up wide eyed and excited, straight back and peaking out my window blinds.  We were in Nashville, then, and Coyote had been on my mind now for two weeks.

“What are you doing?” my Someone asked.

“I can’t sleep, anymore,” I said.  “I’m too excited to see what Coyote will bring me today.”

My Someone stands with Coyote, but I know he still had a Book of Common Prayer stashed somewhere in the back of his closet.  Coyote doesn’t care, though.  There aren’t any One-Door-and-Only-Ones– there are just those who are laughing and those who are not.  There isn’t even just two sides to the door.  It’s a perpetually revolving door, welcoming anyone to step inside.  You can bring any sacred texts along– anything you can’t part with can come.  In fact, bring all of it.  We have time and time and time again to sort through with a deep curiosity and a smirk.

But then, we are to step outside, eyes wide and mouths open, and send our howls of joy and despair and confusion and delight up to the moon.  The world is a complicated place, where your friends are your enemies and your enemies your partners-in-crime.  When the sun comes up in the morning, we can leave those contradicting matters to nestle in the dark while we see what Coyote has in store for us in the new day.  Because likely, whether you’ve chosen to or not, the revolving door of Coyote has you swooped in.  It’s easier to walk with it and laugh along.