Chapter One: The Meeting
“I smell smoke.”
“I don’t smell anything” my companion said, keeping on up the trail.
“I smell smoke. I think it’s a campfire.”
“I don’t smell it.”
“Well, I’m gonna go check it out.”
“OK. I’ll wait for you at the lake.” I watched him move on through the trees until he was out of sight.
Most of my friends were used to me getting alone at some point, along the trail. They had learned to let it go, keep moving, not worry. Any old excuse to be a little more alone on the trail was what I was best at. No offense. I just liked the quiet.
But I did actually smell smoke…just a faint whiff, fleeting, absent, then just a hint again on the breeze. I followed it up into the sagebrush over a small rise, past a grandmother Ponderosa Pine with a raven swaying on a high branch, flapping a wing now and then to maintain position.
Beyond the pine there was a rocky outcropping and a tendril of smoke.
I rounded the outcropping and stopped.
It was one of those moments, you know – those moments when you’re simultaneously gobsmacked with amazement and not the least bit surprised. Somehow it was something I had either already done or been waiting to do all my life.
There at the small campfire was a ragged coyote, not a furry song dog like I often watched out in a field jumping up to pounce on a mouse – no, this was another critter altogether. This was Wiley E. Coyote in the flesh. Nearly. Maybe a bit more real, a bit more ragged, and substantially more alive. Weird as he was, he was real. And he was looking at me with a look that said it was about time that I had finally showed up.
He poured me a cup of cowboy coffee out of the can sitting on one of the stones in the campfire circle. Bailing twine for a handle. He put it down quick after pouring, and blew on his fingers.
“Never do learn.” He grinned. “So, you made it. Welcome. Pull up a seat.”
I pulled a round of pine closer to the fire and sat down. Crazy how normal this whacky scene feels. But I didn’t say anything.
I studied him, as I sipped from the mug. It was one of those enamel steel blue, with the white flecks. A real cowboy cup. Burned my lips like they always do. Whoever dreamed up steel mugs, I don’t know. But the coffee was good. I waited. Elbows on my knees, I held the cup in slack hands and looked at the fire.
It occurred to me he was more of a Milagro Beanfield War sort of coyote, the Coyote Angel. Perhaps I had read that book one too many times. Took another surreptitious look.
“Oh, come on,” he said. “Who do you think put that book in the sheepwagon? Thanks for doing such a good job with the imagining.”
“No problem” I could be cool too. Funny thing was, it wasn’t an effort. This whole thing was feeling very much right on time and entirely fine.
He tipped his mug and nodded. “Right. So, do you have any questions?”
Questions. Well, always, sure. But I wondered what he had in mind. I shrugged. “How long have you been here? Seems like you’ve been waiting for me.”
He grinned, and relaxed. I could almost see him thinking, This is going to be more fun than I thought. It didn’t exactly ease my mind, but hey, I’m generally up for an adventure, and I wasn’t feeling any threat. If I hadn’t had my share of weird existential haps in my life I might have been more on guard – but hah. I’ve had apparitions come through the roof of the car and sit and have a conversation with me. I’ve had visions and premonitions and recollections and magic coincidences that I could never explain and actually never really tried because they were just so cool. SO – I figured this was maybe another version of that….except I have to say this really was a living, breathing cartoon caricature of a coyote, poking a stick into the fire and turning a small branch closer into the hot part of the coals.
“Yeah, I’ve been waiting for you. All your life. Lifetimes in fact. Glad you made it, kid.”
Well yeah, this was going to be good.
I stared into the fire. No rush here, that was for sure. I was savoring the way I felt inside. Quiet, curious, ready, calm, excited. There’s pretty much always just a quality of sitting at a campfire that does that to a person. Makes time to sort around inside. I was savoring that time. Cataloguing the magic I had encountered already, wondering where this would fit in the mix. I figured I was entering a world class moment of magic.
“OK, who are you?”
“I’m your coyote angel, kid. Your very own coyote angel. Kind of a sorry mess, I know – but you know, you’re the one dreamed me up, so – here I am. You could say your higher self.”
“I dreamed you up?”
“Well, in a manner of speaking. I mean, I’m real and all that. Of course. Have always been. But you are the one that figured out who you needed me to be, what you needed me to look like, act like.”
I studied him. I could buy that. I liked this guy. He had a quality about him…to steal a movie line, He had that quality about him – the mongrel quality of the mountains. He might not be presentable in company but he’d have your back in a pinch. Yep. I liked him. He reminded me of several people who had had my back over my life. Yep, I liked my coyote angel.
But my “higher self”?? THAT was going to take a moment. Never in my life, well from when I started thinking in terms of anything like a “higher self” did I have THIS picture in mind.
I guess I thought my higher self was something I wasn’t yet, and furthermore, I began to realize, I had thought of my higher self as something I actually was not all that sure I wanted to be. In fact, in this cascading realization, I could see that I had been imagining the higher self I thought I should imagine. What I was supposed to imagine. What “they” thought I should be.
Not a totally comfortable crazy looking character I felt utterly at home and safe with.
OK, wow. I’ll put that one away to mull over.
“Have you got a name?”
“Hmmm. Not to speak of. Guess you could just call me Wildey if you like.”
“Wildey.” Yes, this coyote angel was the real deal – he had been with me. That was the name we gave my first son when he was so active, kicking away in my belly, long before he was born. The name my mother had feared we were actually going to tag the poor kid with…and which I kind of think he wished we had, as he grew older. A cool name, after all was said and done. I still liked it. “Wildey it is.”
“What are we doing here, WIldey?”
“What do you mean, here?” he looked at me with honest wondering. “Here, like at this campfire, here like on earth, here in these bodies? What level of here are you asking about?”
“Well, let’s start with here at this campfire. My friend is heading on to the lake, and here I am talking to a coyote angel. Is this going to take long? Should I go leave a note on the trail or something? In case he comes back? Will he be able to see you too? Will time stop for us, are we in timelessness? Is this really happening or did I fall and hit my head? Yeah, I guess I do have questions. What are we doing here, Wildey?
“I figured it was a good place to meet to answer your questions.”
“Why now? Why today? I mean, I appreciate this and all, but I was kind of fine, going along the trail out there. You might have come about fifteen years ago when I was really up against it – or for that matter when I was a tenager and REALLY had big hard questions. In fact, there are about a thousand days you could have picked when I would have LOVED to have a Wildey coyote angel drop out of the sky to tell me what’s what. Why today?”
He looked around. “I didn’t actually drop out of the sky, kid. See this stack of wood I gathered? That took a little time you know. And that backpack over there? You’re not the only one on the trail.” He wasn’t exactly miffed. It felt more like teasing, and I grinned.
“OK. Fair enough. You hiked in, just like me. What if I had just gone on by?”
“Oh, come on. You are talking to your old friend Wildey here. When in the hell have you EVER walked by smoke without tracking it down? Really? That was the easiest part of this set up.”
“Alright. Yep, you’re right. OK. But still, why today?”
“Well, kid, easy. It’s because you quit needing to know. You got peaceful enough to wander along and smell the smoke and come on over, without any thought in your head at all. So I knew you were ready for the next level.”
“Next level? Next level of what?”
“Next level of the game.”
He ducked his head and looked at me as if he was wearing spectacles, kind of a professorial move – minus the spectacles. But it worked. Askance, is what they call the look he was giving me. Raised eyebrows, pursed lips, imaginary spectacles and silence.
I swear I could HEAR him saying, Come on, kid. Play with me here. You know this.
The game. I got a really, really weird feeling all of a sudden. My insides took an elevator ride to the basement, it got really cold and empty and just the slightest bit hard to breathe. Why it had not felt this weird to come across the coyote angel I don’t know. I guess I didn’t really believe it. But now I knew. I knew I was about to hear something that was going to shatter my idea of the world much more than a random coyote angel I could pretend was a figment of my imagination, a bit of magic, fun on the part of my unconscious mind, a dream…many labels I could put on him.
The game. I had, for a long time, had a snippet of me that kept myself sane by thinking of life in terms of a game, all the stories of souls coming to play, life on earth not being as real as we make it out to be…sure, I had carried those stories.
But let me tell you, bub, it is a long long ways from carrying that nicely packaged idea around in my head, and meeting a rough and ready coyote angel who I felt quite sure was about to make all that very, very real. I was not at all sure I was ready for that level of real.
I looked around. The sagebrush looked the same, the fire was popping where he had just added a stick of pine, and the sun was getting lower in the sky. Still a very normal day on the face of things. But inside…not so much.
I looked at Wildey.
“Are you as real as you look?”
“What do you want me to tell you, kid? How real is that tree? How real is this fire? You’ve been studying this science a long time. You know it’s none of it real, when it comes down to it. You just got to a point of letting your imagination let me in. You let me get this real. Right? You know this. Right? You’re the one who picked the day. I’m just showing up, a whole new level of real. Yep. You got to the next level of the game.
I looked at my personal Coyote Angel apparition and smiled. Reached out and scratched his forehead, between his ears – he startled back a little, but then let me do it. I think he knew I needed to feel the dusty fur under my fingers. We looked into each other’s eyes, and I relaxed.
This was going to be good.