A few Saturday mornings ago while walking down the hill to the Cape Cod Bay, my daughter told me she had never seen a coyote. I was surprised, she’s traveled to South Dakota at least once a year her whole life to visit my family. We stepped on the beach before sunrise and the very first thing I noticed was a coyote in the shadows walking near the high tide mark. The shape was distinctive, magnificent, and haunting.

“In Plains Indian stories, Coyote nearly always takes the shape of a man. He is clever but reckless and is constantly getting himself and the people around him into trouble with his socially inappropriate behavior like greed, boastfulness, lying, and chasing women…He is both trickster and culture hero — often described as witty, clever, obscene, vulgar, and thieving.” http://www.native-languages.org/plains-coyote.htm

Growing up in South Dakota I frequently heard coyotes howling outside my bedroom’s eastern-facing window overlooking acres of the uninterrupted prairie where my horse, Honeybear lived.

Coyotes are a tether to the wide-open plains where I grew up and the inner wildness instilled by the early freedom I was granted to roam that spacious landscape. Coyotes are part of my interior geography.

In Native American storytelling, the coyote plays a crucial role. Interestingly enough though, the coyote is seen quite differently from nation to nation, region to region. The familiar thread is that the coyote is generally viewed as a trickster meant to serve as an example of traits that don’t always serve the community. The flip side is that the coyote’s cleverness can often get them out of certain pickles and predicaments.

I see the coyote as a sneaky creature in storytelling to help people develop more discernment, learn to trust their intuition, and get themselves out of danger by utilizing some clever trickster energy.

After college graduation in 1988, I went to Auckland, New Zealand to volunteer in the public relations department for a non-denominational radio station, Radio Rhema. While I was there an American man who claimed to be a prophet arranged a visit. I don’t remember his name. He wanted to pray with the staff right away when he arrived. I was the only American.

He gathered everyone in a circle and my hair instantly stood up on my neck and arms. I was so certain he was a fake. He singled me out and said, “come here, Dakota, please join us”. I said “no” without any explanation. My colleagues were surprised, but not pushy and let me hang back—Kiwi’s are wonderfully respectful and polite.

I looked up while they prayed and watched his body language closely. He opened his eyes and looked at me, I didn’t blink.

The so-called prophet wanted the only other American to lend authenticity to him and help advance his narrative. He was seeking, like many before and many after him, donations of course, and a platform to spread his message for donation getting and ego elevating.

I grew up in a household with Tammy Faye and Jim Baker on in the morning. I saw the tricks used to get donations, create false narratives, and get people hooked on the drug of righteous magical thinking — a high that is never ever enough.

Even as a 22-year-old, I knew that the American claiming to be a prophet was a snake oil salesman. I’d been in training to spot what’s inauthentic from a very young age, not the message my mother intended by having me watch the PTL Club. However with hindsight, an education I now find myself quite grateful for on many levels.

This story was a pivotal event in my life. I now understand that at that moment I realized I no longer had to accept the dogma of my childhood. I could personally reject what felt inauthentic to me and navigate the world in a way that honored my inner knowing. I also understood, with maybe perhaps even greater significance, I could handle the fall out if others thought I was wrong.

“Coyote is a revered culture hero who creates, teaches, and helps humans; in others, he is a sort of antihero who demonstrates the dangers of negative behaviors like greed, recklessness, and arrogance; in still others, he is a comic trickster character, whose lack of wisdom gets him into trouble while his cleverness gets him back out. http://www.native-langages.org/plains-coyote.htm

The next morning I awakened at five, it was still dark and there was lingering coastal fog in the air. I sipped my coffee outside and watched the light shift over the bay. I walked through what I would do if I encountered a coyote on the beach this morning. I imagined I could be the trickster and outsmart him…magical thinking indeed, Lisa.

I arrived at the beach and scanned east then west. There was now enough light to see if there was a coyote. I didn’t. I was a little disappointed at first, but then I felt safe enough to walk the shoreline.

Then I started noticing the tracks in the sand, I loved this unfamiliar energy and the way my heightened awareness made me feel.

I thought about my northern Quebec fur trapper ancestors. Maybe I should become a wilderness guide or a private investigator? I was heady with possibilities.

The coyote tracks awakened my curiosity in a way that led to further investigation. I don’t feel tricked. I feel sparked to learn more and pretty damn grateful for the early trickster education I received.




I’m a South Dakota raised, Vermont living artist/writer/photographer hacking my way through midlife trying to understand myself and the world a little better.

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I’m a South Dakota raised, Vermont living artist/writer/photographer hacking my way through midlife trying to understand myself and the world a little better.

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