How Coyote Lost His Songs, Music, And Dance
From Our Seven Principles in Story and Verse: A Collection for Children and Adults by Kenneth Collier (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1997). Used with permission.
Read or tell the story.
Here is a new story about Coyote. One day it occurred to him that he didn't need any of the other creatures. There he was, sitting pretty all by himself. What did he need anyone else for? He had his songs, his flute and drum, and his fire. He had his dancing and his huge tipi. Besides, all the other creatures were kind of strange. There was Rabbit, with his huge ears and enormous legs, and all he ever did was run around. And there was Moose, with that absurd head of antlers, wandering up to his knees in marshes. And there were all these pesky birds, flitting around, twittering, and never letting Coyote nap. Ridiculous! Who needed them? Not Coyote!
So he decided to just leave them all behind. He picked himself up and wandered off, trying to find a place where he could be alone. Entirely alone, with none of these silly and absurd creatures to bother him, where he could dance his dances by himself and sing and play his flute and drum for no one but himself, a place where he wouldn't have to share his fire and he could nap in peace.
As Coyote was leaving, Rabbit happened to see him and tagged along. At first he ran ahead with his big legs and then he ran back, and then ahead, and then back. Coyote ignored him, hoping he would just go away.
"Hey, Coyote," Rabbit yelled. "Where ya goin'?"
Coyote ignored him.
Rabbit ran on ahead and came back. "Hey, Coyote," he said. "Know what's on the other side of that hill? I do. I just saw it."
Coyote was curious, but he ignored Rabbit and just kept on walking. Rabbit ran on ahead and came back.
"Hey, Coyote," he said. "There's something over there, where you're headed, and you ought to know about it. I just saw it. Want me to tell you about it?"
Well, Coyote did want to know, but he just ignored Rabbit, hoping he'd go away and leave him alone. Ridiculous Rabbit.
Rabbit's feelings were a bit hurt. "Coyote, you know what? You're crazy." And he went away.
That night, a funny thing happened. Coyote stopped and built his fire and sat down to sing, as he did every night. But as hard as he tried, he couldn't remember any of his songs. And so all he could do was play his flute and drum, and dance a little. But he couldn't sing. And the night was strangely quiet.
The next day, Coyote was off again, feeling a little sad and a little strange. But he still wanted to get away from these ridiculous creatures with their absurd ways of being. Before long, he came to a marsh. It was so wide he didn't see how he could go around it, and, shrugging his shoulders, he started to go through it. Pretty soon he ran into Moose, who was as usual up to his knees in mud and weeds. Moose lifted his huge head of antlers when he saw Coyote coming. "Well, hello Coyote," he said. "What brings you way out here to the marshes?"
Coyote ignored him and kept looking for a way to cross the mud. Moose swung his great head this way and that, a little miffed that Coyote was ignoring him.
"Coyote, if you're looking for a dry path, I could help you," he said.
Coyote looked right at him and said nothing. What a ridiculous creature, Coyote thought to himself. lf I had such silly things growing out of my head, I wouldn't let anyone see them!
Moose's feelings really were hurt by now. "You know what, Coyote? You're crazy!" And Moose walked away.
Coyote finally did find his way across the marsh and went on. That night something strange happened. Again, Coyote built his fire and tried to make his music, but not only had he forgotten his songs, now he couldn't remember how to play his flute and drum. All he could do was dance around the fire. And the night was frighteningly silent.
The next day, Coyote was really upset and a little afraid, but he had decided that he would get away from all these silly creatures, and get away he would. So he set off again. This time, he came to a little stream that flowed down out of the mountains. All along its banks were bushes and flowers and it was beautiful and still and cool. And since he was thirsty and a little tired, Coyote took a long drink, sat down, and decided to take a nap.
As they often are, the bushes were filled with birds, and just as Coyote was about to go to sleep, the little birds started singing their songs. This was exactly what he wanted to get away from. It really made him angry that the birds wouldn't let him sleep in peace. And he was a little afraid and jealous that they could sing and he had forgotten his songs and even how to sing. And so he leaped up and snarled and barked at them to frighten them away.
And he succeeded. They flew up and off. But one bird, a little braver than the others, said to him — being careful to fly just out of his reach — "Coyote, you're crazy!" And off she went.
Coyote was kind of pleased with himself for getting rid of the birds and so he decided to stay right there. That night he made his fire, but the strangest thing happened. Not only could he no longer sing, and not only could he no longer play his flute and drum, but now he couldn't even remember how to dance! All Coyote could do was stare into the silent fire and think about how much he had lost.
Finally he fell asleep and dreamed. In his dream, White Buffalo Woman appeared to him and asked him why he was so sad and scared. Coyote explained how he had lost his songs and music and dance. He didn't know what to do, and he was afraid that he would also lose his fire.
White Buffalo Woman asked him why he was out here all alone. Coyote explained that he was tired of being surrounded all the time by those silly creatures who looked strange and acted strange and lived such ridiculous lives, and he had decided that he would live by himself, away from them all.
"Coyote," said White Buffalo Woman, "don't you understand that your music and your dance, and even your fire, are nothing but the spirits of those creatures who are different from you? As you drove them away, they left even your heart and took their spirits with them. If you want your music and dance back, you must go back to your friends and accept them back into your heart. Only then will you be able to go on."
The next morning when Coyote awoke, he couldn't remember his dream, but when the birds began to sing, as they always do in the morning, he sat still and listened to them. And then he began to go back the way he had come. That night when he built his fire, he could remember his dance. And the next day he went on, back the way he had come, and chanced upon Moose. And he asked Moose how to get across the marsh.
That night, when he built his fire, he remembered how to play his flute and drum and the night was not so lonely. And the next day he still went back the way he had come, and suddenly up ran Rabbit. Coyote ran with Rabbit and played and had a good old time. And that night, when he had built his fire, the air was filled with Coyote's songs. And never again did Coyote forget how easily he could lose his music and his dance and even his fire.