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The Tale About How Juanita Came To The Desert Museum

Categories : Papago (Tohono O’odham) , Papago (Tohono O’odham) Stories

Benjamin, the shyest of the six coyote children, at last spoke up. "I know it is Guillermo's turn for a second tale, but I'd like to hear once more the story about how you came to the Museum, mother. However, only if Guillermo agrees?" Benjamin said, lowering his head and afraid to look Guillermo in the face.

"Okay, okay," Guillermo said, just a little irritated. "Tell the story that will make poor little Benjamin happy. Maybe then he won't sulk and feel sorry for himself."

"Each of us has different personalities," Juanita said gently. "The humans think we are all the same because, to them, all coyotes look and act the same. Little do they know how different we can be, and that's what the second tale is all about." With that prologue, Juanita began her tale.

"Once upon a time, many moons ago, when I was very young and inexperienced I had my only other litter of pups. My husband at that time was a surly older coyote named Nicholas. Unlike your father, Walter, Nicholas was not a kind parent. He growled at our children constantly and forced me to do all the hunting while he lounged away in the den and did nothing. One day, because I had not returned with enough food to suit him, Nicholas bit me on the ear and began picking up my pups and started shaking them. I was fearful that he was actually going to eat them. That very night when he was sound asleep the children and I left quickly and followed a stream so it would hide our scent."

"What did you do then, mother?" Benjamin asked, quivering with fear even though he was safe and was only listening to a story.

"We traveled for three days and nights without stopping, except to rest briefly and eat a few water beetles," Juanita continued. "Travel by day can be very dangerous for a mother coyote and her siblings. We have our enemies, as I've told you. Mountain lions, like Victor, or a wandering bear or a large bobcat would consider small coyotes to be a hearty meal. But, thanks to the Great Coyote God in the sky who lives behind the moon, we all reached a remote area under the stream's bank. There was a den close by."

"That's when you met Mario, the widowed coyote," Benjamin inserted because he knew the story so well.

"Yes. Mario showed us his den and told us the tale of his dead wife, Sarah. Sarah had been killed by a hunter who used one of those flaming tubes."

"Rifle, mother," Tomas corrected.

"Thank you, Tomas. Yes, a rifle. Anyway, Mario was everything Nicholas was not. He was kind and patient. He hunted with me and later trained my children to hunt, too. But Mario was an old coyote and, as will happen to all of us, one moonlit night he told me, 'Juanita, dearest, I am very tired. I am going out into the thicket and lie down and rest.'"

"That's the animal way of saying, 'I am going to die'," Benjamin said.

"That is the usual way, children. All of us eventually get called to the coyote heaven of stars from whence we came," Juanita said gently.

"Skip to the part about how you came here, mother," Guillermo said impatiently.

Juanita did not appreciate this interruption. However, she only sighed and said, "It is getting quite late, and I am beginning to get tired," Juanita said with a yawn.

"Mother, you're not going to die, are you?" Benjamin howled in alarm.

"No, Benjamin. Life here at the Museum is much easier on a coyote, and I expect to live to see more passing moons."

All six coyote children sighed and snuggled in closer to their mother.

"As I was saying, once my children were raised and out on their own and I had endured the winter of ice and snow, I decided to take what the humans call 'early retirement.' From the top of a hill just west of here, I saw one moonlit night that there was a coyote exhibit. I spied Walter pacing back and forth and knew that he was lonely. I thought to myself, 'Juanita, how can you join him? You cannot just trot up to the admissions window and ask for a ticket.' So, I thought and I thought and I thought. The answer was right before my very eyes, but it took me a long time to see it. The next moonlit night I crept to the cyclone fence near where the keepers store their work clothes. I sat, pointed my nose toward the sky, and began to howl. I prayed that the humans would know how to capture me. I prayed and prayed they would not shoot me with one of their rifles."

"That is when you had some great coyote luck," Stephanie said, unable to restrain herself. "The keeper on duty that night was Martin Lopez, the very keeper of our exhibit."

"Stephanie, do you wish to finish my tale, or shall I?" Juanita asked, waiting for an answer.

"I'm sorry, mother." Stephanie bowed her head. "Please continue."

"Well, I will continue, but just with the conclusion to the tale. Mr. Lopez is a Tohono O'odham Indian and knows more about coyotes than any human being I have ever encountered. He let himself outside the gate and approached me slowly and with soothing words. He slipped a leash around my neck, and I let him lead me inside to an area I later learned was called the animal quarantine. For a month, I was given various shots and many medical tests. At long last, I was taken to Walter and properly introduced. We courted and fell in love. It took a while, but I finally had my second litter of pups. When you are grown, you will be taken to other places where you will prosper as I have here."

"We are so glad you are our mother," Benjamin said.

Benjamin and Alfred, Stephanie and Guillermo, Benita and Tomas approached quietly and each, in turn, gave their mother a coyote kiss.

Outside the den, the howling started as Walter began reciting his own coyote tale to the Coyote God behind the moon.

Martin Lopez, newly promoted to foreman of all the keepers, looked down on his coyote clan and smiled. He knew the tales they were sharing even though he had never heard them from Juanita's or Walter's mouths.

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