Coyote Crosses the Continent is an allegorical story that takes the modern migratory tendency of the coyote (Canis latrans) into the central regions of the Isthmus of Panama as means to explore current social and ecological issues of the country. On his way south, Coyote learns about what is edible, about the different indigenous peoples, the waste caused by cattle farming, gets confused by Bush Dog by everyone he meets and finally comes to rest at its current habitat range, deciding that it would be wise to slow down his journey to properly learn how to survive. And figure out why everyone calls him Bush Dog.
Where does Armadillo Come From?
Or: how Coyote realised that his world was smaller than he thought
Seldom to these parts came a day like this: with heavy, dark clouds that shroud the sun, manifesting cool air of the sort that feeds dreams of foreign wetlands. On a day like this, Coyote – smooth-furred and lightning-sleek Coyote – walked inside the heavens to find prey.
At the very top of a featureless grey cloud, his dark-as-night head did pop through. Up there, at the top of world and dreams, a landscape made from the glare of day Coyote did see; blindingly blue and without anything obstructing the view of the threshold to worlds unimaginable that was the sky above. A moment of peace, a moment of quiet and soon Coyote realised he couldn’t find the bird he was chasing, so he dove down back inside the cloud. With eyes closed, Coyote sat at the very bottom, and pawed the floor six times to make sure that it was a safe spot to stand on and simply enjoy. Coyote enjoyed the sky, oh, yes, he did; the soft clouds, and the whirly clouds and wispy clouds and even the solid clouds — all felt were so nice to walk on. And they always had water to wet his snout with! But because Coyote enjoyed the sky so much, he made sure to never ever fall from it. Coyote had once seen how sneaky Red Fox fell from the sky, and since then Red Fox had never again dared to bound endlessly up in the heavens; it takes only one bad fall for joyous respect for these realms above to be replaced with fear and self-doubt of the kind that the hard ground below really, really likes to get its hand on.
Inside the travelling cloud Coyote waited, see-sawing in the rolling motions. Soon he felt a shift of temperature under his paws and knew he was where he wanted to be. Coyote popped a dark-as-night head through the cloud floor and immediately all sound was drowned by the whoosh-whir of the wind. The landscape of browns and reds moved at incredible speeds, shifting from scrub to rock spires to sand. Something like a smile rippled through Coyote, but Coyote couldn’t smile with a mouth like humans did so, instead, Coyote’s ears stood straight, and danced a curios dance. With a Coyote-smile on its Coyote snout, Coyote let himself be carried downwards by a friendly force unseen. The fall was as long as a stray thought and as soft as freshly bled sap from a tree trunk. Soundlessly, carefully and not lacking any grace whatsoever, Coyote did land on a giant spire of orange rock, leaving wet spots where paws skidded on sun-baked dust before he leapt and bound towards the sky once more. Coyote reached the height of his arch just as his long ears tickled the underbelly of a cirrus cloud, before he began to fall down again with his long tail mist trailing thunderclouds behind him. As Coyote jumped from one spire to the other and travelled the length of landscapes, he made a new sky full of might and rain.
That Coyote-smile rippled through Coyote’s fur and shadow in a way that told all other desert-folk that Coyote was content. So content was Coyote at home, in fact, that for a moment the canine forgot about that big, tasty-looking bird whose chasing had led him into the clouds. From rock to rock Coyote jumped, travelling away from the water-heavy storm clouds at the edge of his country and back into the dry heart of his homeland. The bird forgotten, Coyote wondered where the next meal would come from. But Coyote’s worry was short-lived, for Coyote seldom went hungry; Coyote knew the land well, he did. Coyote jumped farther up into the sky, higher than any other animal had ever done, and landed farther than any other animal he knew had ever done! And still Coyote trusted that, with Coyote-eyes and Coyote-snout, no edible fish or mouse could hide in no river or bush. But more than his nose and his eyes and his ears, Coyote trusted his tongue; for it was his tongue that allowed Coyote to make the hunger of other animals his own hunger. To weave a story was easy, and through that story he made them tell of their secrets – oh it was so easy! Coyote’s most special of knowings, the weaving of words into a trail of paw prints and broken branches anyone could follow. The secret, thinks Coyote as he travels inside the drowning whoosh of wind, is knowing the Way, because knowing the Way allows you to change how the Way is seen. You can make it look so different by making fake paths and trails for others to follow as you wish. Oh, Coyote prided himself on that one, he did; for nothing spoke of being the cleverest of clever ones – or being the best of the better ones – than being able to trick anyone into giving you their food and drink. Coyote knew joy, as he crossed from one end of his range to the other, bounding in the sky with Coyote-tongue lolling in the sky, Coyote-hairs singing as they split the air in tiny halves.
Suddenly Coyote’s ears stood straight and his eyes went really, really wide. With a shift of his weight, Coyote moved to the very edge of his ancestral home – a place dry and dusty, of tall spires and flat plains as far-reaching as the length of a introspective look. Slowly he came to a stop on the crown of a tall rock spire and made himself really quiet so he could spy the flatlands below. There! Down there on the rock-interrupted plains, he could see something he had never before seen. Coyote’s eyes went as wide as the full moon, Coyote’s ears stood straight like the spires of rock he walked on. For the first time in Coyote’s life, he could not give an answer to the question of who grazed down there. And that is very important, for you must understand that Coyote was indeed old – older than lies and old as the days when ice covered the length of Coyote’s range, from the salty endless water at sunset to the long river to at sunrise. Not as old as the Sun, mind; nothing on this world, big, small, living, dead or far away, was older than the Sun, regardless of how many stories Coyote told to contrary. With age came knowledge, and Coyote knew the land; he had to, for how else could he had changed the pace at which tornadoes twisted because their sound was too loud for him to sleep through? How else could he have convinced the long, deep river to the east to change course numerous times? How else would he had taken Fire from the Flies and spread it across the land for all to enjoy? How could he free the Buffalo so they could roam the land? But in all his many, many, many, many years as Coyote, Coyote had never known of Giant Armadillo.
So Coyote came down from the highest of spires and slowly, cautiously approached the new sight. Skulking through the bush and warm desert floor, Coyote quietly shrunk the distance between the two and realised that the odd animal was bigger than he was, much bigger – a giant! It stood there, eating ants from a hole in the ground with a long, long thin tongue as long as Coyote was long. And the shell! Oh, the shell, scaled and rippling in the scorching Sun. Why, that shell looked as tough as Tortoise’s shell, as tough as Buffalo’s horn and as tough as Coyote was clever. In that very moment Coyote wondered, not for the first or even fourth and not ever the last time, what if what was other’s were his? Who would stop Coyote, the cleverest of clever ones, if he also had a shell that was as tough as he was smart – and to Coyote, that was the same as it being the toughest tough thing in the whole of this land he knew, for none were cleverer than Clever Coyote – as he sometimes referred to himself.
Taking half-a-step forward, Coyote’s fur prickled and his long tail of clouds stood up straight.
Suddenly the memories of failure congregated like a vision gifted from a mushroom eaten. There was that time he was roasted over a spit fire for stepping on a twig when he tried to steal food from Eagle. That time that Raven stole all his fish, leaving him starving and drowning. And that other time that Buffalo pierced his gut with his mighty horn. Coyote shook his Coyote-head to banish the bad memories and changed his step. With as much pomp as he could muster, Coyote greeted the giant.
“Ahoy there, friend,” Coyote greeted the stranger with Coyote-ears dancing happily and Coyote-tail wagging amicably.
The stranger sat on its hind legs as she licked some ants crawling on its long, slim snout with a long, slim tongue. His claws were poised for defence but then he noted Coyote’s bodily signs of friendship and relaxed. “Ahoy there… Long Bushdog,” Said the stranger in a voice unfamiliar to Coyote. For a moment Coyote didn’t understand what the stranger with the long claws said, but it was a fleeting moment; for, as we all know, everything and everyone can understand each other, if they have half-a-mind to listen to what they say. And Coyote always had half-a-mind to listen and learn, for how else could you learn every Way there was?
Coyote stopped a respectful distance away. A safe distance away. “What a beautiful shell you have on your back.”
The stranger’s tongue flickered a moment. “It is not a shell, Long Bushdog, it is a shield; of dermal bone and scutes,” Voice was slow and tired, and smelled of distant lands and different ways.
The two stared at each other for a moment.
“What is your name, friend?” Asked Coyote. In the seventh-thirds of a moment that Coyote had to think, he realised that few would give that sort of power without good reason. So, as to lull someone else into security, as was the first step of a good trick, and oh, Coyote was a good trickster, he added: “I am known as Coyote,” with as reluctant a voice as he could muster.
The stranger made the wide-eyed roll of someone who realises they spoke with a misconception. “I am Khirkinchu–” Said the stranger, words gaining energy and becoming a beautiful whistle before stopping suddenly. Giant Armadillo looked down at Coyote and noted the questioning tilt of Coyote’s head. Maybe they used different names in this land, maybe they had many a name to themselves. With barely a pause, the stranger said: “Giant Armadillo. I am Giant Ardamillo. Well met… Coyote.”
Coyote contained a trickster smile, and so his kept their friendly and cautious dance.
“I’ve lived here for all my life and many other lives, Giant Armadillo, and I’ve never met someone like you, with such a magnificent shell—Armour! Magnificent armour. I’ve had everything there is to eat, but I’ve never had you. You’ve come alone to my land, and I would like you to give me an offering of your flesh for a meal, and an offering of your… armour for protection. You see, no one really travels alone, even if they do. I have seen it before, friend – you are the first of many to come, and what will be of them, then, in this new and strange land? It is the Way of this land, that once you are eaten all of yours will be allowed to join the cycles of this land.” Even Coyote, with his years of experience weaving stories, could not keep his Coyote-smile from rippling down his body and make his tail of mist wag happily.
Giant Armadillo wondered about the truth of this. In her many travels, she had heard many such tales of many such rules unique to each land. And yet here stood Giant Armadillo, safe and sound. Not that it had been easy; oh, Khirkinchu had the scars to prove it. Then, could this Long Bushdog really give others safe passage this way? Perhaps, but Khirkinchu didn’t leave the safety of her borrows to be eaten, not at all! She traversed so far away from her range to eat, to see the world, to find better places for her future children, to learn; not to be a meal. So Giant Armadillo looked down at Coyote with the seriousness and patience of those who travel long distances. “Oh, you don’t want my armour or my flesh, Long– Coyote. For one, I eat termites and ants, and my body is burning with their venomous fire,” Armadillo said, licking his own arm and spitting fire to demonstrate. “And my armour is really ugly, truth-telling. All my life, it was called plain and, worst of all, near useless. Where I come from, others have had many a lifetime to become used to the taste of my fiery, venomous flesh and to learn how to scratch my armour. Now, it can barely be scratched before it hurts from how long it has been attacked!”
Coyote’s ears vibrated. “Is that so?”
“Yes indeed. Whence I come from there is more beautiful shells, and even tastier animals to eat. Oh, what is to eat the blue and black and red frog. Oh, what is to eat the snake with the cross on its head. In my land, my shell isn’t even the strongest, nor is it the toughest, nor is it the most beautiful. You, Coyote, need to go to my homeland if you wish to have one of these shells.”
Coyote pondered. He could just kill Giant Armadillo and take her shell and have a meal, but, then, Coyote didn’t really know if that armour was tougher than Buffallo’s horn, or if was stronger than Bear’s arms. What if he ate fire and just gained a very useless armour to weigh him down? That didn’t sound like a good trick. But! But if he went on a trip to this land of many a beautiful shells….maybe then Clever Coyote could become Unstoppable Coyote.
“And where do you come from, Giant Armadillo?” Coyote said, curiosity making him lean towards the giant.
Giant Armadillo was silent a spell. “I won’t tell you unless you promise by your spirit and the land that you won’t harm me.”
Coyote did. Crossed his chest, jumped over his own shadow and howled to the sky. Coyote did promise.
Satisfied, Giant Armadillo told the story of her journey.
“I come from the South Continent, a long, long way away from this range. Past thick and wet forests, past frosty mountains, past grassy meadows. To get to there, Long Bushdog, you must cross the Narrow Land Bridge. But the bridge itself is a world of beauty and so different than this home of yours that everything can and might distract you from your goal. So you must remember your goal, and that you will only reach my hearth after you find the King of the.”
Coyote thanked the stranger and then smiled that Coyote smile before he jumped upwards, up towards the sky he knew how to tread and walk and so Coyote set out southwards.