It would make sense that someone who likes to write and is as opinionated as I am would spend more time composing persuasive articles than narratives. Believe me, I am just as heartsick and horrified by what I ingest from the news as you are. If I thought it would do a bit of good, I'd spout off daily about what's wrong and what I think we should do about it all. But really, you don't need another reminder of how screwed up the world is, and frankly, I don't have a magic solution to make stupid people act smarter. Anyway, I've never had the power to persuade anyone who didn't already agree with me...though I frequently convince my husband of just how much he agrees with me. I love a good non-fictional narrative because, while it doesn't undo the discouragement that you felt when you read that article in the Times, nor the anxiety you might feel when you listen to NPR tomorrow morning, it is a reprieve from trauma, a moment of peeking into a less depressing, but still real, news story. The news of my everyday. So much about the mundane is noteworthy, I find. Wouldn't you agree?
Tonight, while suffering the heartburn of trying to digest two back-to-back stories illustrating that racism is alive and well in the form of ugly, stereotypical quips and bumper stickers, I got to thinking about change and how scary it is for those who don't invite it. I do, openly, invite change. I'm a restless soul. I am constantly tweaking the recipe for the soup of my life, and I'm happy to meet anyone who wants to dip their bread into my bowl...so to speak. I know that's not true for everyone. That got me thinking about coyotes, and what it's like to be married to one.
I've always loved coyotes, even before I read Prodigal Summer, though Kingsolver brought a beautiful voice that reinforced the notion that they are this continent's most romantic animals. In that novel, the heroine's quest to protect an elusive family of coyotes in lower Appalachia winds her through a series of encounters outlining the fragility of balance. She wants to ensure balance by protecting a predator. It isn't in everyone's nature to want to protect a killer of weaker things. Coyotes eat your cats, your chickens, your fluffy baby sheep, even your sweet, big-eyed dog right out of your back yard. Maybe only a biologist can appreciate the beauty in that. Here's the thing about coyotes: they are survivors. They have an inspiring ability to adapt to change, not because they want to (I guess they probably don't), but because they have to. We encroach on them, they move to the hinterlands or they adapt to life among us, feeding on our pets. Their range has actually expanded with the advancement of people across North America. They move into regions they've never lived before. They survive in the desert, the mountains, the prairie, the wetlands...you name it, coyotes will find something to eat and a way to stay alive. They hunt small prey alone in the west, they hunt larger prey in packs in the east. They change their hunting habits to correlate with the movements of their prey. They eat carrion. They eat what they can find, and they train the next generation to do whatever it takes to stay alive. What's so romantic about that, you ask? I'll tell you, for I am a narrator and I have a story about a coyote.
For a coyote, staying alive means finding food. For my songwriter husband, staying alive means creating something. Without a creative outlet, he would surely wither. When we met, he was pretty set in the pattern of his hunt for material. That is to say, he had a large and open hunting ground. He didn't have to work very hard to survive. Songs sort of fell into his lap, as did I one night when he discarded a still smoking cigarette onto the floor at my feet during a show. I picked it up, looked him in the eye while he was mid-song, and inhaled. It was supposed to be a brief adventure. No one meant to fall in love. I never intended to become his habitat.
Intentions aside, his open prairie landscape was soon replaced by days and nights in a small house with a wife and three young children. But a coyote survives. This man is a tremendously talented, insanely prolific songwriter. Before life with us, he says he used to wake early in the morning, still foggy from the night before, write, then go back to sleep. Mornings now involve getting the kids up and fed, packing lunches, signing permission slips, finding lost shoes, then shoving backpacks and lunches and children into a minivan, consulting the official rules of shotgun every damn day (www.shotgunrules.com) before finally depositing them at their respective schools and returning home for seven hours of being bossed by the three year old. I go off to work some mornings, not others, but I can see that there is rarely the time or inclination to write a song. It's a very sweet, very uninspiring life, by my estimation. But the songs still flow.
He adapted without struggle, without effort, without resentment. Quite naturally, his habits have shifted into the darkest hours of the night, sometime between midnight and 3am. All through the day he is alert, observing, seeing things the rest of us miss. When it's time to come back to hunt, he remembers everything. The curve of a leg, something someone said in a passing conversation, a smell, a sound... it's all there, like a coyote picking field mice from a nest. It's survival. It's lovely and inspiring, this ability to adapt without meaning to. It's also incredibly reassuring to know that he is made of the same stuff that the heartiest, most romantic creatures on the continent are made of. The sound of his song always elicits the same reaction from me that a howling coyote does: I feel the hair raise up on the back of my neck, my chin lifts, slightly raising my face, and I tumble headlong into wonderment.