Faerytale the coyote
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
One day some time ago, one of our fine supporters, Judith Austin, called us. Could she bring a friend over to visit the animals? He was a very special childhood friend who loved animals. Judith had been good to us over the years, so of course we said yes. She arrived on the property with this massive man who had been a famous—and famously aggressive—NFL football player named “Adam.”* A little taken aback, we took him around to meet the animals. He stood silently overlooking the Wildlife Garden as he watched the wolves play; met Bluebell the Bison and the bears. Our first assumption was that he would be attracted to the large, powerful animals. Then we took him to meet the foxes and coyotes. As we always do, we ask people not to go too close to Faerytale the coyote, who lives in a constant state of fear despite years of loving treatment. What happened to her we can only surmise. She has behaved like a traumatized animal ever since we got her very young.
Adam stood transfixed in front of Faerytale. She ran to her box and hid, as usual. Then, as Adam continued to stand there, she peered out, then cautiously crept out of her box. He continued to stand transfixed as she slowly, slowly crept towards him; startling, backing up, then creeping forward a little more. I don’t remember now how long they stayed looking at one another, communing together on some level. I just remember that it was powerful and moving to Jean, Judith, and I as we watched in the background, wondering.
I asked Judith later if she would ask Adam to write something about his experience with Faerytale. What we didn’t know at the time was that he was in serious mental decline from football injuries to his head. He never did write anything, though he spoke to Judith frequently about the impact Faerytale made on him. He is now in a nursing home and only sometimes recognizes Judith. The other day, I ran into Judith at a Rotary luncheon where I was speaking. The stories I told reminded her of my request so long ago. Because Adam can no longer communicate, she was moved to write the following:
“Often trauma is so deep and so profound that it is not easily accessed. Beings struggle, day after day, to survive with a rope of fear and sadness strangling their souls.
“This rope has threads twisted to the breaking point with power and might. Yet within this twisted mass is a ‘snag’…an unravelling…a frayed end…sensitive to the wind.
“My large friend, abused in childhood, brain damaged in the NFL, sat quietly in the Garden at Earthfire with small, bound and frayed Faerytale the coyote. The wind whispered and ever so slowly the threads of their pain knit together…in peace and comfort.”
Judith is a fiber artist, so thinking of threads came to her naturally. But it also made me think of all the threads intertwined here. What happened to Faerytale? Was she abused in some way? But she was only a few weeks old when we got her. Could it have been seeing her mother killed in one of the cruel ways coyotes are treated in the West? Or perhaps it was past trauma from all the coyote exterminations that echo down through the generations. I suspect most humans also have a history of trauma somewhere in our past from wars, plagues, and disasters, and we are only beginning to understand how that reverberates through generations. And how deliberate cruelty is the most hurtful and damaging of all. What happened to Adam? Why was he abused as a child? Why do we do that to our children—inflict suffering? What universality causes two hurt beings to recognize and connect to one another, even across species; perhaps give one another some measure of comfort or healing? It reminds me again that a “common” animal such as a coyote, often reviled, has depths and beauty we don’t recognize as we rush about absorbed in our own worries, hurts, learned prejudices, and busy lives. That is a great loss, impoverishing our own lives, limiting awareness of the magic and healing available all around us, and allowing us to do unthinking damage to sensitive beings. Or there is an opposite way of looking at things, and an opposite possibility—that we tune in to the great healing and beauty everywhere, rescuing us all.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.
* (We changed his name to protect his identity)