David often goes home (back to his apartment in Pittsburg) pretty late in the evenings. He often doesn't arrive back from work until 6:30 or so, at which point I am often leaving for meetings. So if we are going to spend any time together, it usually doesn't even begin until 9 (or later) at night. The result is that when he finally heads over the hill to his own abode, it can often be quite late (or what I consider late, being that my natural bed-time is really about 9pm). The other night, arriving home at 11:15, he walked up to his apartment to find a scroungy, scraggly dog laying on his welcome mat in front of the door to his small, one-bedroom apartment. This rough, scabby looking dog glanced at him as he tried to approach his door, but also made it clear that he was not moving. David talked to the dog, trying to encourage it to go "home" or at least to move enough that David could get inside his apartment, but the dog just looked at him balefully and continued to lie on the mat. He tried to intimidate it by making loud clapping noises against the side of the building, but nothing would move the dog. Fortunately, the neighbor was still up and invited David to come inside while they figured out what to do. He texted me and I said they should call animal control to get some help. By the time animal control arrived (a long time later... after all, this was the middle of the night and they are not as well staffed after hours), the dog had died. And, it turned out, it was not a dog: it was a coyote.
We live in coyote country, which is one of the two main reasons my cats have had to become strictly in-door animals since we have moved here (the other being that we live only a block from a 6-lane, 55 mph road). Neighbors and friends have all shared with us stories of their pets becoming dinner for the neighboring coyotes, whom we know have to eat. Since we would prefer our cats not turn into someone else's meal, we keep them inside. This is the coyote's land. We are the invaders, we are the new-comers to this place. While it is not common to see living coyote's out here (they are basically shy animals, especially when it comes to people), it is common to hear them at night, or to see signs of their presence in the area (or to find them dead alongside one of our busy roads).
Still, I found I was struck by the choice of the coyote's final place to die. The complex in which David lives has over 200 apartments of various sizes. David's is not on the end of one of their rows, his porch is smaller than many, but is a common size for the complex. Why choose his doorstep? Why insist on remaining there as a place to die?
So, because I tend to look for meaning and symbolism, I started studying up on coyotes. Reading the science behind the animal gave no understanding of why the coyote would choose a place near humans to die. They don't like people, they avoid people. If they come across people, they run or, if backed into a corner, might become threatening. This coyote did not have any intention of leaving, but neither was it hostile towards David. David didn't touch it because it looked scruffy, not because it appeared wild or anxious.
So I started looking at Native American sites and understandings of coyotes. As a spirit animal, Coyote has been associated with deep magic and creation. Coyote is a jokesters, a symbol of playfulness and paradox, his teaching is not direct but is through subterfuge and symbolism. Coyote encourages us not to take life too seriously, and to look for the unexpected. Coyote can be an omen of bad things about to come, but he encourages survival and resourcefulness to meet those challenges and hardships. Coyote is a symbol of growth through the difficult and unexpected. He teaches that wisdom and folly go together. If a coyote enters your life, you are called to look at something you may have been avoiding. One site I read said that if an animal dies near you or around you, it is a strong call for you to pay special attention to the messages of that spirit animal. I'm taking all of that in, even if it is mostly for David. But I also found myself thinking in another direction.
David is kind, he is warm, he is accepting. The coyote may have been there because the mat on his doorstep was dry, welcoming, warm (it was a very rainy, stormy evening), and felt "safe." David does that. He creates warm, unthreatening spaces. He is not judging, he is very loving and open. He is affectionate, protective, caring and safe. The coyote was at its end. He may simply have found that small space, the welcome mat on David's tiny entrance way, to be that safe place to end his journey here.
What is the point of all of this? It once more gave me something to strive to be as well: I want to be that safe place for others to come, to feel my warmth and presence. I don't want to be scary or intimidating to someone in need, someone in pain. I want my welcome mat to always be warm and inviting. I am so grateful that I've found someone who embodies that safe, warm, welcoming place for me, as well as someone who can teach me to embody that for others.
I also find myself mourning the coyote, carrying the coyote's spirit with me, even though I never even saw it. I feel touched by it's story: a life that ended after seeking a warm, safe place to finish its journey. Today I am carrying that coyote spirit in my heart and looking for its message for all of us.