Jay Meehan: Coyote waits
“Ah, but they’ve never seen the Northern Lights/They’ve never seen a hawk on the wing
They’ve never spent spring on the Great Divide/They’ve never heard ol’ camp cookie sing”
~ Michael Burton
His given name was something like Rance or Vance or Chance. I only heard it spoken once and his mutter was as pronounced as my own. It turned out not to matter much, however, since the elders and younger tribal-folk manning the Trading Post counters in Teec Nos Pos all referred to him as Coyote.
It was the mid-’90s and I was about a quarter-way through what turned out to be a rather elongated solo truck-camping mosey in red rock country. By the time I’d crossed the Arizona line from New Mexico, I’d already put Shiprock, Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, Lake Powell, and an up-and-over of the northern Henry Mountains in my rear-view mirror.
To flesh out the “Coyote” character a bit more, imagine, if you will, a young, slightly more brash, Gabby Hayes. The physical comedy of the role seemed completely intact to the point where, if I weren’t mistaken, he would now and then throw in an improvised Walter Brennan riff or two.
When I entered, Coyote was going off on the Santa Clara pottery technique of Maria Montoya Martinez, her of the San Ildefonso Pueblo just north of Santa Fe. As one with a growing interest in Maria’s iconic work, I hung around within earshot, which, with Coyote’s resonating pipes, wasn’t all that difficult.
Some shape-shifting from Maria to Everett Ruess proved as seamless as you’d expect and it wasn’t long before we had found a crease in the Big Rez geology in which to ever-so-furtively slug down a few cold ones and bond a bit.
Although Coyote had an offshoot of Butler Wash in his plans and my own crosshairs were occupied with a campsite near Navajo Nation Tribal Park, we convoyed up to Four Corners National Monument and spent the next few hours smoking the peace pipe and musing on what we both considered a sacred landscape.
“They’re coming alright! Pretty soon they’re going to have this whole place looking like that gawd-awful exposed strip-mine down on Black Mesa.” I got to love it whenever he talked like that. Coyote had a way of constantly re-contorting his face in such a manner that audio punctuation in the normal sense became unnecessary.
You could just tell that his copy of Cactus Ed’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” had not only become more dog-eared than most but also probably smelled of Karo Syrup that had spilled from a surreptitious assault on a Caterpillar D-9 tractor somewhere in the deep strata of the Mesozoic.
Lately, I’ve been wondering how well ol’ Coyote, whom I haven’t seen or heard from since that trip, has assimilated the Trump mindset. Somehow I think of him hunkered down between the Bears Ears buttes with hand-hewn catapults loaded with a stew of wildlife “scat” and poised for Interior Secretary Zinke’s impending National Monument shrinkage.
I always half-expected to run into him at an “Earth First!” fundraiser or the like back then but unless he had gotten into some self-abuse with a razor, the particular Gabby Hayes visage I searched for proved elusive.
I did get an unsigned postcard once from Flagstaff that waxed radical about the land-use politics of the day and, admittedly, I had my suspicions. But other than that, diddly-squat! No doubt, he’s out there somewhere nosin’ around for Everett Ruess’s journal or Maria Montoya Martinez’s pottery wheel or an idling D-9 Cat.
The trigger for Coyote to re-enter my memory lobes this time around was the lyrical singing voice of Buffalo Joe Jeffs as he, with eyes closed and head tilted back, reached the chorus of “Night Rider’s Lament” up at “The Notch” saloon last weekend.
Buffalo’s voice has always had a way of mentally transporting me to some gorgeous and lawless land west of the Pecos. This night was no different. There I sat under a full moon as Coyote howled and our campfire danced and ol’ camp cookie joined in. Where would I be without music?
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