Of late, I’ve been spending a lot of time wandering the forests that surround Sweetwater Vale. In my wanders, I’ve been meeting a lot of the creatures who make their homes in the forests. There’s the big buck with the wicked antlers, the red-colored turkey, the squirrel who’s missing half his tail, and the barred owl who makes his home in our pine forest.
These creatures give to Rebecca and I in many ways. We enjoy watching them play, eat, and fly. Rebecca captures many of them with her photography. We observe them as they move from season to season. But a week ago, I met one of the more elusive of the forest’s denizens.
I met a very special coyote.
For those of you not familiar with the wildlife of the
As you might imagine, I felt pretty lucky when I saw the coyote on this particular hike. He was about four hundred meters distant, lying in the middle of a huge field and basking in the sun. From my hiding-place in the trees, I watched him roll about in the short spring grass. He’d nap for a half-hour or so, and then roll about again, re-adjust, and go back to sleep. After a time, I thought I’d try to get a little closer, so I started moving quietly from tree to tree.
To my amazement, I made it all the way to the edge of the field without him seeing me. Delighted with my luck, I got down on my belly and started to cross the field, inching along as I tried to close the last hundred meters. There was a slight rise in the terrain between him and me, and since the wind was blowing favorably (and thus he wasn’t alerted to my scent), I managed to get about twenty feet away before he saw me.
I was ecstatic. I had never been so close to one of these wild predators, and as his eyes looked into mine, I was transfixed by his beauty.
Then he got up, and my heart skipped a beat.
This coyote was paralyzed. Both his back legs were draped uselessly behind him, and as he began to run, he had to pull himself along with his forelegs.
Rebecca and I have more ‘injured animal’ stories than we can recount. Animals in need (and humans, as well), often cross our path, and we always do our best to help out. As I watched the coyote flee, I did what came instinctively – I gave chase, intending to see if there was any way I could help.
Even with only two legs, the coyote was fast. I sprinted to head him off, and he darted about a little, seeing if he could find an escape. When it was clear that I wasn’t going to give up, he simply lay down in some leaves.
It was a surreal moment. I sat down on a rock a few feet away, and we regarded each other for a long while.
I tried to ascertain the nature of his wounds, but he was clearly uncomfortable with me getting any closer, and I couldn’t tell what had happened. Despite his paralyzed state, his eyes were sharp and clear, and he was not skinny – indeed, he looked well-fed.
It was one of the rare instances that I had a camera along, so I took a picture.
It’s tough to know what to do in situations like this. A part of us can feel that if some creature is injured this badly, the best thing we can do is to kill them. It reminded me of a scene from Peter Matthiessen’s book The Snow Leopard, in which he sees a young girl in
We have an idea that life can always be better. And that idea creates a scale with which we tend to judge both ourselves and the people around us. Living by this philosophy, we feel pity for the poor and envy towards the rich. But in truth, we know nothing about the suffering of others. We are too immersed in our own judgments. Was Peter’s little girl suffering? Was the coyote suffering? Is the poor person suffering? What about the rich?
With our judgments in place, we dole out our compassion and we dole out our contempt, all the while digging ourselves deeper into a trench of judgment. This is not to say that we shouldn’t reach out and help those whom we judge to be in need. But let us not pretend that we are making their lives better in the process. We may be setting into motion great happiness, or great misery.
When we give without assumptions, something special happens. We discover that we’re not giving in order to appease our own judgments, but that we are giving simply to GIVE. This is true compassion, and giving in this way is always a joyful thing. Nothing taints the purity of our giving.
This is most important when it comes to our relationship with ourselves. In our constant striving to make our lives better, we rarely stop to appreciate where we are. This simple skill is lost to us, and in this way we guarantee that no matter what we achieve, we will always be filled with desire for more.
It is fine to strive for more, but if we do it believing that our life will be better once we get what we want, then we’ll be trapping ourselves in an endless cycle. Let us see clearly enough to recognize that our joy is right here, right now, no matter what our circumstances. We may have just gotten a wonderful new job, just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, or be sitting down to a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. In each of these moments we are free to experience life, or to push life aside in a constant effort to make things better.
As for the coyote, I tossed him the dried meat I had brought along for my hike (which he eyed suspiciously), and then quietly got up and left. A few days later I went back to the same place, and he was gone. Perhaps he was slowly dying in a hollow log, or had already been killed by dogs, humans, or another predator. But he might just as well have been lounging in a sunny field, rolling over so that the sun could warm his belly. I don’t expect that I’ll meet him again, but in the few moments we had together, I was in the presence of a great and beautiful teacher.