POWER Animal | POWER Plant | POWER Book
for Rose Bird, Buck, Stubbins, Sam, Jake, Teemo, Mitoc, and Bea
an • i • mal, n. [ L. animal(e), neut. of animalis living (lit., breathing),
equiv. to anim(a) air, breath + alis -AL]
In the very earliest time,when both
people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if [s]he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
-“Magic Words,” traditional Inuit poem
Coyolxauhqui is the Aztec moon goddess named Coyote, howler-at-the-moon. The Diné call the coyote,”God’s dog.” Coyote-trickster, shape-shifter, fool-is God’s familiar.
Coyotes, like women, have survived persecutions and flourished.
There are still bounties for dead coyotes in some states.
I think of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, of how she imagined a world without bird song. In my silent spring, I imagine a world without the howling of coyotes.
The howling of coyotes precedes spring, with January and February the primary howling months. I come home at night from teaching classes to students eager for incomes above the poverty level, classes in digital imaging, interactive multimedia and the world wide web, the so-called cutting edge of computer technologies, and I hear the howling of coyotes in the canyon where I live. My three dogs howl right along with them.
My dogs have taken Brooke Medicine Eagle’s advice to heart: It is not how well you sing, but that you sing out. My virtuoso dogs rhapsodize with abandon at the night skies.
“This is my country,” Coyote says in Ursula LeGuin’s short story, “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight.”
Sometimes I howl too.
Buffalo gals, won’t you come out tonight
Come out tonight, come out tonight,
Buffalo gals, won’t you come out tonight
And dance by the light of the moon?
Wild dogs were the first animals domesticated. Even more often than cats, dogs were listed as women’s familiars in witch trial transcripts. Witches were accused of giving birth to dogs and cats, or shapeshifting into them. Witches were accused of dancing by the light of the moon.
The word “owl” is from ululae, to howl, from the Latin, ululare. “I rejoice that there are owls,” Thoreau writes. Unlike the coyote, the spotted owl is threatened with extinction. The spotted owl is Strix occidentalis, or Western Night Hag.
Wise midnight hags, Thoreau calls owls.
Never a wide-ranging bird, the endangered spotted owl is found only in old-growth forests in the west; destruction of the owl’s habitat means destruction of the species. Unlike the coyote who will increase the size of her litter in a threatening or hostile environment, the spotted owl lays only two eggs, and she will seldom attempt to produce a second brood if the first is destroyed.
The owl and the pussycat dance by the light of an endangered moon.
A black dog is the familiar of Hekate, Greek goddess of the dark moon and queen of the witches. Cerberus, a three-headed wild dog, guards her underworld. Hekate is often portrayed as the frightening personification of the crone, the aged night-hag.
Wild dogs, like women, have acute senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Wild dogs, like women, are more robust that they might appear at first glance.
The mystic and artist William Blake held infinity in the palm of his hand. The mystic and artist Meinrad Craighead saw infinity through her dog’s eyes-“as deep, as bewildering, as unattainable as a night sky.” At the time, Craighead was a six-year-old child.
At times, witches were burned at the stake along with their cat and dog companions.
According to a Homeric hymn, the Great Mother Goddess was well pleased with the lamentation of castanents, kettle-drums and flutes. The Great Mother Goddess was well pleased with the howling of wolves.
Coyotes are considered the most vocal of all wild mammals in North America. Witch/women who were considered too vocal were placed in scold’s bridles, elaborate metal traps to keep their mouths shut tight.
My ancestors placed bounties on wolves. In A History of Claremont County, Ohio, the author speaks of the “extirpation of savage Indians and savage wolves.” My ancestors feared the wolves as they did the forests. My ancestors feared the Great Mother Goddess.
For my ancestors, the wilderness itself was “howling.”
My ancestors used rifles and traps. Today, people use 4-wheel drive vehicles with winches, scope-sighted rifles, helicopters, snowmobiles, walkie-talkies, fixed-wing aircraft, and toxicants.
The slaughter of coyotes and women has done more harm than good. But attempts to eradicate the coyote have succeeded in transforming it into a more adaptable animal, more creative, more prolific, more indestructible. Coyotes have expanded their range in all directions.
The persecution of women has succeeded in transforming her into a more resilent animal, more creative, more prolific, more indestructible. Women have expanded their range in all directions.
I am the apple of your eye.
I am the shadow of your wing.
“Come into animal presence,” Denise Levertov writes.
One morning on the way to work, I watch as a coyote crosses four lanes of southbound traffic going 70 mph on Interstate 15; I watch in my rearview mirror as she successfully crosses the four northbound lanes. I find myself rooting for Coyote.
“An old joy returns in holy presence.”
Coyotes, like women, like indigenous people, refuse to be “extirpated.”
Sometimes at night I’ve gone out to see why my dogs are barking, and I’ve seen a coyote staring down at us from the road above my house.
I think. Cogito ergo sum. Therefore I am.
I could hear her howling at the moon.
I could see her flying in the night.
I howl. Therefore I am not.
In Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez attributes the deep and abiding hatred of wolves and coyotes to theriophobia-the “fear of the beast as an irrational, violent, insatiable creature. Fear of the projected beast in oneself.”
I am the hoot and the whistle and the howl.
I am the caw and the hiss and the rattle.
I am the crackle and the yip and the bark.
I am the screech and the squawk and the flap.
In 1931, the U.S. Senate passes legislation calling for “the destruction of all mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, prairie dogs, gophers, ground squirrels, jackrabbits, and other animals injurious to agriculture, horticulture, forestry, husbandry, game or domestic animals, or that carried disease.”
Tough love means always having to say you’re sorry.
Coyotes have been persecuted more savagely than any other animal. Tough love for the coyote has meant that it has been feared, maligned, trapped, flooded, hunted, clubbed, shot, and poisoned. In 1992, 97,966 coyotes were killed by the federal Animal Damage Control Services.
A predacide program.
We destroy what we fear.
We fear what we destroy.
Helen Keller once wrote that if she were granted sight, she would choose to see two things-first, a child, and second, a dog.
We destroy the village in order to save it.
In LeGuin’s story, “Buffalo Gals,” the child Myra, or Gal as she becomes known, falls out of the sky from a plane and into the animal dreamtime. Gal is rescued by Coyote, who becomes her mentor, guide, and mother. Coyote is poisoned as she attempts to return Gal to “civilization” from the desert. The child holds Coyote all night long as the animal’s body convulses.
At dawn, Gal buries Coyote.
LeGuin does not tell us the particular predacide used to cause coyote’s death. Most likely, it was Compound 1080, considered the “most inhumane poison every conceived by man,” or Thallium, the second “most inhumane poison.”
“I am not one of them,” Gal says.
But of course, we are.
A coyote has been known to gnaw off her own foot to extricate herself from a trap. A woman has been known to gnaw out her own heart to extricate herself from her pain.
Tezcatlipoca is an Aztec diety who can shape-shift into a coyote at will. Women have been known to shape-shift into a dog, or a wolf, or a coyote. Women have been known to shape-shift into an owl, a white rabbit, or a flock of crows.
All speak the same language.