How Coyote Imitated Snake

Coyote was loping through the grass one day when she heard a voice off in the distance. “Ah, me!” it said. “Ah, me!” Being a curious sort, Coyote decided it was her duty to investigate this voice on the wind. So she trotted off toward it.

Soon she came to a tiny clearing in the grass, barely round enough for her to plant all four paws. In the center of this clearing she saw Snake. Snake was not looking well; she was pale and coated in dust, her eyes were cloudy, and she writhed about as though she had lost all control of herself. She wound around the bunches of grass and scattered stones, all the while calling out “Ah, me!”

whiteyote4Coyote was taken aback by this sight, and she moved to help Snake. But Snake struck out at her with her sharp fangs, and Coyote skittered back into the grass to save herself a snout full of venom. Still, she couldn’t quell her curiosity, and so she cautiously peeked back out into the clearing, where Snake was continuing her strange rolling and twisting struggle.

Just when Coyote was prepared to brave Snake’s fangs once again to either give aid or claim a midday snack, Snake let out a particularly loud cry. As she did so, the skin on her back split wide open, all the way from her head to her tail. The skin fell away and beneath it Snake was covered in the most beautiful shining scales in a thousand colors, from the red of sandstone cliffs to the turquoise of the perfect sky. She shone so much Coyote thought the Sun might strike her down in envy.

Snake curled up in her new skin, and she spied Coyote watching. Before Coyote could run away, Snake wound herself around Coyote’s leg as fast as lightning. She raised her head and the twin forks of her tongue pointed at her visitor. “Did you wish to devour me, Coyote? Is that why I had to break my dance in order to show you my fangs? Know that you have witnessed something very few are privileged enough to observe. I should strike you down now for it.”

Coyote thought for a moment, but then decided that such a magical creature must know the truth. “For a moment I did think to eat you, but now that I gaze upon your beauty after having come to life again, I now know I must have been mistaken.” Snake preened at Coyote’s words, and twitched the end of her tail in excitement. But still she held on to Coyote’s leg.

For another day and night Coyote told Snake how lovely she was, how many colors were in her scales, and every beautiful thing each scale reminded her of. She praised Snake’s ability to be reborn, and said her powers must be great indeed.

At the next sunrise, Snake finally spoke again. “You have lavished many kind words upon me, and you have suspected my great power over death. Therefore I will share a piece of it with you. You have watched my dance and heard my cry. You have seen me split my skin and come forth from it. I do these things to renew myself. Once every three moons this happens, and I cast off my old self. I discover who I will be these next three moons. If I ever miss this dance, I will die.”

“Forgive me, Snake, but I cannot split my skin, for I know I would die then. What do I do?” Snake replied, “In order to create yourself anew, you must first have something to shed. You must have your offering to death ready before you cheat it.” Before Coyote could speak again, Snake unwound herself and glided wordlessly into the grass, not to be found again.

whiteyote2Coyote felt even more confusion than before, and wished just a little that Snake had bitten her to relieve her of her not-knowing. But looking at Snake’s old skin in the dust, she came upon a grand idea. She ran across the grassland and into the forest and up into the hills until she came to her den. She ran inside and sniffed around until she found a pile of old clothing she had meant to throw out. She put it on, and remembered all the things she had done while wearing it, and who she had been at those times.

Then she ran back to the clearing where Snake had been. She began to writhe and tumble as Snake had done, but something wasn’t quite right. Where Snake’s skin had crackled dry and crinkly, the clothing merely swooshed and flopped. So Coyote grabbed some of the dry grass and stuck it in her clothing and it crackled and crinkled just like Snake’s old skin.

So Coyote danced like Snake. She wrapped herself around the bunches of grass and she bruised herself on the stones. She rolled in the dust until her coat was as pale as the moonlight. And she cried out “Ah, me!” every time she hit the ground, or whenever the mood to cry out took her. She danced and stretched and crawled until the old clothing tore apart into strips that hung about her like moss. She had grass in her toes and burrs on her tail. She was rather a shambles. And she still had no idea what Snake had been up to at all.

Frustrated, she howled at the sky, teeth bared and tongue red. The Sun, who just happened to be passing by then, looked down and asked “What on Earth are you wailing about, Coyote? Is it your matted pelt that’s more wounded than your pride?”

Coyote glared at the Sun, though only for a moment (even Coyote has the sense to not stare at the Sun). “Surely you have seen Snake rebirth herself. Surely you know the power she has over death. She almost killed me, and that made me want to not die. So I tried to dance like her, and it did nothing. I even started off by thinking about who I used to be, and who I am now, and I made my own skin and everything! What did I do wrong?”

“Silly dog,” the Sun said. “I watch Snake and her kin do this dance all the time. They die, too, after a while. Snake was just telling you stories, like you know she does. Snake sheds death with her skin no more than you shed it with your fur every spring. She needs to grow bigger, and you need to be cool for the summer. There’s no magic in it, just the normal things you animals do each year.”

Coyote sat for a full quarter hour silently, something she almost never did. Then, as the Sun looked on, she shook off the old fabric and the grass and the dust. She left them in a pile around the old snake skin. Then she said, “Well, I know one thing about myself, and that is that I am not Snake. And I know another thing about myself and that is that I am less foolish than I was yesterday. And if that older, more foolish self has passed away, then that is enough death for me today”.

And with that, Coyote shook herself one more time and bounded out into the sunny grass toward home.

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