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Animal Attraction

April 25, 2012

“Dog is not man’s (nor woman’s) best friend…not exactly. He’s merely the better behaved distant cousin.”
—Unattributed

“Hi-diddle-dee-doo
You sleep till after two”
—Ned Washington, potentially

“She says will we make it at all?”
—Britt Daniel

Coyote sat in the shade, leaning against a great pine tree.

And why not? The pine tree seemed sturdy enough. It was not at all the kind of tree that could fall over and squash your head like a grapefruit.

But Coyote was hardly thinking of pine trees or fruit. He was frustrated. He was more than a little angry. He was, overall, unhappy.

He’d lost track of his friend Mountain Lion. Not exactly lost, but misplaced. Or, not exactly misplaced, but he just couldn’t bloody find him. Okay?

Coyote, being the nearly laziest of creatures, relied on the labor of others. Whether it was picking off a few scraps from Mountain Lion’s latest meal (delicious enough but hard work to prepare), pretending to be one of the wolf or dog pack to keep warm (these other canines were sometimes fine company, but Coyote had others places to see, other creatures to be), or listening to the birds sing (sometimes it was good, sometimes annoying), he depended on them to do what they do.

In return, Coyote did have one skill others creatures lacked: he could spot traps. When hunters left covered pits for Mountain Lion, metal jaw traps for Brown Bear or a spring-doored cage for Red Fox, Coyote would sniff it out, eat the bait, and then relieve himself on the trap so the other creatures would know to stay away. All the while, Coyote avoided being trapped himself.

It was often said that the only trap Coyote could fall into was the one he fell into willingly. Watching—without directly partaking—had given Coyote a unique perspective on things.

Buy today he was annoyed.

Every creature Coyote spoke to, while superficially concerned, didn’t really care enough to help Coyote return Mountain Lion to his proper place. They seemed to Coyote to be almost superstitious in their fear that, should they look too hard, they might disappear like Mountain Lion.

The sparrows all chirped and sang, each thinking they had the best song. To Coyote’s ears, it sounded like a tornado, a forest fire, and the machines men used to remove the trees all at once. None of it made sense.

“No help here. Stupid, stupid birds…”

The dogs he spoke to were sympathetic. But none were willing to leave their yards to help.

“Got enough to deal with! Woof!”

The wolves didn’t even pretend to care.

“Morrre food forrr us! Grr-heh-heh!” was the pack leader’s response before burping and coughing. “Mountain Lion can catch and eat prey all by himself! Not proper! Oughta be done in grrrroups.”

Coyote pretended to look up at the sky as he was leaving (but he was really rolling his eyes). He shook his fur coat, trying to knock the stupid right off of it, fearing some had rubbed off on him.

So it was with the owls (who!…who were strangely silent), a fox (much too busy elsewhere), a raccoon (he didn’t really want to know any of the parties involved, thank you—none of his business) and even a bear (“Mountain Lion lacks respect…prolly got what was coming to ‘im!”).

It was after all of this that Coyote found himself next to the sturdy tree. Creatures came and went while he sat thinking: squirrels who hardly seemed to notice him at all; geese waddled by paying him no mind; but Mallard did stop to see if he was still breathing (but truly hoping for some bread crumbs).

Coyote hardly noticed them at all.

This continued until it got dark. Unlike during the day, Coyote could feel eyes watching him from everywhere. Suddenly the friendly forest did not seem to hospitable.

Which only made what happened next even more bizarre.

In defiance of the night creatures who watched, Coyote knew there had to be someone to help. Some other creature to call on tomorrow who could lend a hand or point him in the right direction. As he considered who and what that might be, he no longer paid attention to what was happening around him.

“Hey!”

Coyote just stared silently at the small furry figure before him. He was speechless when he saw what it was.

It was a rabbit. The rabbit had one paw on Coyote’s chest, poking him gently.

Stranger yet, the rabbit had no fear. It had no fear of Coyote (who had been known to dine on the occasional rodent in a pinch) nor of the merciless eyes watching them both.

“Uh…hi?” was all Coyote could muster under the circumstances.

The rabbit smiled. “Bye!”

With that the rabbit bounded off. It was some minutes before Coyote realized his mouth was fully hanging open (and Coyote could open his mouth quite a bit).

——

Coyote decided the next morning to get up off his furry behind and look for Mountain Lion himself. As unpleasant as he found the thought, he might actually have to do some work.

He wandered aimlessly, no closer to finding any answers than he was the day before. Before Coyote knew it, it was dark again in the forest.

This time he paid it no heed, however, and pushed on. He paused at the edge of the swamp and scratched and sniffed around.

“Hey. Psssssst! C’mere,” said a voice from a hollow of a large, dead oak tree. From within the hollow, Coyote spied two glowing red eyes.

“Y’know… Th-that tree doesn’t look very safe.”

“Fuggedaboudit. C’mon. Let’sss tawk. Right inside heeh. There’sss plenty a’room. Come and have yassself a looksssie.”

Sensing that this was very much not a good idea, Coyote bristled up his fur and did the best wolf impression he could muster, “Nah. Gotta meet the pack soon. You know how it is. Gotta get something to eat. Howl at the moon. You know the drill.”

He sniffed as though wondering if whatever was in the tree would make a good meal for the Pack. He soon regretted taking that nosefull of air, however.

The scent was undeniably reptile. Definitely some kind of snake. Judging from its eyes, a very large one.

“Oh, dat’sss funny. Yer awfly sssmall for a wolf.”

It was only then that Coyote realized that the snake was not actually inside the tree at all, but had stuck only it’s head inside, from a hole on the opposite side. In fact, the snake’s tail had already sneakily surrounded Coyote, slipped around him in a circle. It twisted and writhed, ready to squeeze the life out of him.

Coyote thought his heart would burst with fear at that very moment. His blood ran cold and he could barely feel his paws. He watched as the snake’s scales glistened in the moonlight; the serpentine muscles flexing in anticipation of the meal.

“Look into my eyesss…” the snake said softly as the scaly circle drew ever tighter around Coyote.

Absurdly unannounced, the image of the rabbit popped into Coyote’s head. The unexpected memory of the almost magical surprise and the silly poke in the chest snapped him out of the snake’s trance.

And he began to laugh uproariously.

The snake had never seen this before. Quite unusual for a meal to laugh just before being eaten and just after realizing how scary snake could be. He was quite taken aback.

“Wha? What?”

Being robbed of the enjoyment of smelling his snack’s fear almost made him lose his appetite. He would set matters straight directly.

Meanwhile, Coyote could barely breathe from laughing so hard.

“Ohhhh… You wouldn’t get it…”

He paused briefly to look at the snake. The reptile’s confusion suddenly making the absurdity of it all even more humorous.

He laughed even harder.

At this, the snake was really feeling rather self-conscious about the whole affair. What had this smart aleck coyote noticed that the snake had not?

Was there some bit of unshed skin hanging off of the snake in an unkempt fashion? Was there something embarrassingly hanging off of one of the snake’s beautiful fangs, some remnant of a previous meal or had he gotten a cavity? Was the oak tree about to topple over on him and that darned coyote had seen it begin to fall?

No. Nope. Negative. The snake checked all of these possibilities quickly and efficiently and none of them were the case.

But the snake was a very clever animal. He quickly pondered that there could only be one possibility remaining: there was something larger and even scarier than the snake behind the snake. The coyote could see it but the snake, being focused on the coyote (and the prospect of eating him, etc.), meant that this must be the case.

All of these thoughts occurred in an instant, much quicker than it took to read them. Once the obvious answer occurred to the snake, he quickly rolled himself up into a coiled ball to protect himself. He then popped part of his head out and began glancing in all directions to see where the looming super-predator must be.

That was all that Coyote needed. He lowered himself and sprang off in such a great leap that he nearly flew away from the snake, the oak tree, and the swamp before touching the ground again. When he did touch down, he began quite the gallop).

After he was safely away, Coyote stopped to catch his breath. “Well, that wasn’t so bad. Hm.”

He realized that fear itself was the issue. Fear kept him from running away from the snake in the first place, true, but fear also gave the snake pause.

Ultimately, whether he knew it or not, Rabbit was far more frightening than the snake. And, because of that, also much, much cleverer.

It made absolutely no sense. Therefore, it must be true.

Coyote scratched and sniffed again. It was a brand new day and another chance to find Mountain Lion.

Coyote knew once that was done, he’d go find Rabbit as well. One lesson well learned meant there could be more. And now he wasn’t afraid of any creature under the Sun nor Moon. Save one.

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