Coyote Watching

At the oddest times I think of the stuffed coyote in the window of Jackson’s General Store in downtown Sylva. We once loved shopping there for gifts for the family until the coyote appeared. In fact, we were about to walk into the store to shop for Christmas gifts when the coyote caught my eye. She was in the same shape as the photo above but stuffed and facing the door watching all who entered, wary. I grabbed DJ’s arm and realized she had seen the coyote too and DJ said in disbelief, “That looks just like Cedar!”

Cedar is our dog that we’ve always believed might have a little coyote, wild dog or fox in her. Skittish even though she’s never been harmed, she’s always been fast with the stealth and agility of a hunter. She and her brother were found at an old house in the woods as puppies. Her brother was adopted too, but never tamed. The only thing good about that stuffed coyote we saw in the store window was that it gave us a chance to look up close at its face and to see our own dog’s nose, eyes and the beautiful peak over her brow that matched Cedar’s golden, red peak. Cedar’s profile and way of moving also match. It’s hard to get a good photo of Cedar because she’s always so restless and quick paced. Cedar has more around her ruff and she’s a little larger than the coyote, but just as lean.

I guess I think of the coyote today because we’ll be going downtown to shop for my birthday. After about six months, the store owners took the coyote out of the display window. It’s tourist season in the mountains now, so maybe they think the locals liked seeing a beautiful wild animal stuffed in the dead of winter, but a tourist wouldn’t think it happy or relaxing.

I thought about protesting the store of course, but I had lost my job right before the stuffed coyote was displayed in the store window. Sylva is a small town and I’m an outsider who still needs a job. Just yesterday another person asked me if I was from around here and did I know E’s dad. Of course I didn’t, yet the woman proceeded to discreetly convey some of the dad’s faults. While the woman did not give specifics to me, it was clear that anyone else who might have lived in town would know the details of her words and it would be more than innuendo. Small town gossip can be deadly and because I’m still new to the town and its inhabitants, her words only proved to me even more to be careful who I talk to and what battles I choose in this small mountain town.

The entire time that coyote was stuck in the store window I wouldn’t park in front of the store and had even thought to go to the other side of the street if I had to walk by the store. Yes, with Coyote watching I know that guilt stalked me, but the larger predator was pain.

I once lived in a wild place in Oklahoma, where the world fell apart and nothing ever went right there. The one thing that was good for me is that in the night I could hear the coyotes calling, singing out for me a pain I could not name or sing for myself. They weren’t calling out in pain but the howling sounded like my soul felt. The people in the area warned me to be careful of the coyotes because if my old dog decided to be friends with the coyotes they would tear him apart.While Jack was one of the dumbest (yet sweetest) dogs I ever had, he was city streetwise and a chicken. He loved being in the woods, but you could tell that somehow he knew to avoid the coyote. My dog, Bear, is part blue heeler and she would listen to the coyotes and if they sounded too close to the house she would take off running and barking a warning that the coyotes needed to back away. Jack would stand beside of me barking his “oh shit” bark cheering Bear on, “You go get ‘em girl! I’ll guard the house.”

Bear’s exercise of patrol never took long and soon Bear would be happily back from guarding the boundary that only she knew. She would check on me and Jack to see that we were safe and then the two of them would run off to play. I always listened after Bear’s patrolling exercise and the coyotes would be quiet the rest of the evening till the next day when they would howl again, but this time a safer distance from the house. When we moved back to NC the only thing I missed from Oklahoma was the sound of the drum from a local pow wow grounds and the sound of the coyote. We had even gotten to hear coyote pups try out their voices one summer, yips calling out happily.

Several Native American cultures believe the coyote to be a trickster god. I appreciated the stories I read of Coyote’s tricks and now that I’ve lived a bit longer, I’ve seen a trickster God in my own life leading me into events, towns and situations that were bad jokes…and yet, I still learned and grew and life gets better even when sometimes life makes no sense. No matter where we go, there seems to be a trickster in our lives. In cities, towns and the wilderness, you can’t capture this trickster who one minute is chasing rabbits, the next shows up in a store window or in your own dog’s face.

Coyote is watching. She is out of the window, but ever in my mind. Coyote is watching. Carver Mountain hides behind the house and she still lives here in this town. I know, because at night I can hear her howl.

“Coyote the Trickster” by Lydia┬┤Prairieghost┬┤ Jacobs

Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore is a fun book

Coyote Watching


Sylva, United States

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Artist's Description

A reflection on the trickster in our lives.

Artwork Comments

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