A pack of hungry coyotes visited the orchard. I didn’t know until the next morning when I saw clumps of reddish brown scat — big and fat and filled with seeds and fur and rotten apples — a rich scat bursting with life. Deep holes dotted the rows. The coyotes had smelled the burrowed voles and dug to catch and eat them. I could see their tracks. My neighbor, Ed, asked if I had heard the coyotes. He said they were yipping most of the night. I said regretfully, “No. When temperatures are in the single digits we sleep with the windows closed.”
When I saw Ed the next day he said that he had seen a lone coyote leaping and twirling among the trees. He imagined she was trying to impress his border collie, Sneakers, and invite him for a tryst. Ed brought Sneakers inside the house — there’s a difference between wild and domestic creatures.
A tracker told me that the way to tell the difference between dog and coyote prints is that the coyote’s are straight, economical, and efficient while the dog’s weave back and forth, wandering here and there, as if continuously distracted. Coyote tracks are more like the long lines of an artist who is confident about her drawing. She is determined to get it right. In fact, before making a brush painting, an artist will often gather mind and body into one great ball of concentration. The release is a very decisive yet spontaneous brushstroke.
This brush painting by Nantenbo (1839-1925), a Japanese Zen teacher, is of his teaching stick. Whack! The thick black line is in your face. When I first saw the painting I felt the sting of the stick across my back. Looking at the Nantenbo calligraphy now, I think of the coyotes. That’s how hungry one has to be for food — physical as well as spiritual. Like the coyote, one has to be willing to dig deep, to prowl the darkness of lonely nights; to dig and come up empty and not give up.
Then I wondered about the delicate tassels tied around the stick. Perhaps we need to hold this powerful stick of keen determination lightly. Like that lone coyote dancing among the trees, we need light-heartedness and joy along with disciplined work. The coyote finds balance, and so can we.