. . . and hopefully a little fun. It’s been a rough week at Casa Karamesines, with illness ruling the household and PGK’s disabled daughter requiring much care day and night, and when PGK has a hard week she likes to put up something on AMV she enjoys doing, something that lightens her mind.
This is an excerpt from my much longer and (yet) unpublished essay, “Plato’s Alcove,” which won first place in the Utah Arts Council’s essay competition a few years ago. I enjoy writing these kinds of stories; they’re fun to play with. Adapted from the folk story form as they are, their language becomes approachable from nearly any direction. The essay from which I excerpted this story is about irony and beauty and how both may combine suddenly and unexpectedly in a dazzling flash to shift one’s world view. Warning: this is not a story about the origins of the world as per evolution or the OT creation story; this is a story about language, relation, and, as mentioned, irony, a much maligned and misunderstood trope. (Oh yes, and some readers with sensitive or out-of-joint noses may detect a faint whiff of environmental idolatry.)
In the desert one day I met Coyote, the Trickster-God. We greeted each other and sat in the shade. I opened my canteen and drank then offered Coyote a drink. When he thought I wasn’t looking he wiped the canteen’s mouth. Then he drank.
“Thank you,” he said, handing it back.
I gestured at the breathtaking view before us and asked Coyote, “Why is this place so beautiful do you think?”
He laughed and said, “I’ll tell you a story that explains everything.”
Used to be (said Coyote) Earth wasn’t like this. Earth wasn’t even earth. A great, watery business, it flowed together and apart, rising and falling. There were no plants, no coyotes, and no people–only Earth, and it couldn’t speak. Each day Sun called out to it but Earth stood silent. Moon signaled across the darkness but Earth made no sign.
Now a great Maker, Ma’i, Coyote, who goes from place to place and star to star, passing by Earth stopped to consider it. Seeing this sphere formed at the very limits of the laws he shook his head.
“What god did this?” he asked. “It’s the work of an imbecile!” To show his contempt he relieved himself on it. A seed passed through him in his scat and fell into the water. Then Ma’i went away.
Waves tossed the scat then struck one of the few drifts of land, casting scat and seed ashore. Instantly the ground doubled over on it and sank.
Moon and Sun continued to call to Earth but nothing happened. Then one day, something happened. The seed in Ma’i’s scat had sprouted! A green tendril rose up through the water and with this tendril, Earth found a tongue. The tendril became a mighty trunk. Its roots pulled together the drifting parcels of ground. Sweeping branches overhung every quarter.
The branches budded and burst into parti-colored flowers, each with a distinct odor and shape. The flowers ripened then dropped into whatever element lay below. Some fell into water, making various fishes and water-creatures. Others became land animals. Some falling through air changed into birds. Two flowers, each budding on separate branches, dropped into warm mud, plop, plop, making man and woman.
Thus Earth went from a sullen place to one of many utterances. Earth and Sun spoke in terms of life and to Moon Earth responded with silver tides. The tree died, but the creatures it produced multiplied like saplings in a willow thicket.
But of all creatures then living, First Man and First Woman (I’m skipping a bit here, said Coyote) were peculiar, because while there was no doubt they were of the tree they behaved as if they weren’t. Earth felt the relation and spoke to them in the sweetness of her fruits and the coolness of her waters. It caressed them with breezes and visited them in still places. Yet First Man and First Woman acted like they were they only thing in the world happening, which caused problems for everyone.
So Earth sent something more obvious by way of speaking to them, namely Strong Spirits. Like the blossoms that fell from the tree, each formed according to its element. There’s Desert Strong Spirit, Strong Spirit in the Sea, Star Strong Spirit, and so on. They tease Woman and Man, coaxing them beyond themselves, calling to them to join the rest.
Coyote finished his story and said, “Well, what do you think?”
“It’s just as you said. It’s a beautiful story and explains a lot.”
He nodded. Waving a paw at land and sky, he said, “This whole business is very ecological, economical, and remarkable, don’t you think?”
“Very,” I said.
“The Strong Spirit of this place has shown you this.” Then he said something that sticks in my head to this day.
“What do you suppose . . .” he began, then stopped. He coughed, “Ahem, ahem.”
“What?” I said. “Say it.”
“What do you think we’d do with our big brains if we weren’t all the time using them to get ourselves out of the trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into?”
I stared at the stones as if they had asked the question and not Coyote.
I said, “Why, I haven’t the slightest idea.”
Coyote slapped his thigh.
“Exactly!” he said.