Once upon a time, when Coyote was young, his favorite resting place was beside the blue meadow pool. There were trees there, which made a fine shadiness, just right for Coyote on a fine spring morning. Coyote liked to study his reflection in the pool’s quiet waters. Happily, he stretched and took note of his large furry front paws, his strong furry hind paws, his long tail, narrow muzzle, white teeth, and pointy, stand-up ears.
He planned to spend the rest of one particular day in such pleasant contemplation, his belly full of dried prickly pear fruit, but it seemed to Coyote that the morning world had become a busier and noisier place than he remembered. Pairs of squirrels swarmed up tree trunks, chasing and chattering for all they were worth. Chickadees called from bush to tree across the meadow. Even the butterflies seemed to flutter with more enthusiasm than before. All told, it was enough to keep Coyote from his rightful nap.
Coyote sat up with a yawn, showing all the fine white teeth in his narrow muzzle, just as Rabbit came hopping by in fast pursuit of another bunny who looked much like Rabbit himself. “Hola, Rabbit,” said Coyote, reaching out to put a large front paw on Rabbit’s short tail. “Can you tell me what all the fuss is about this morning?”
Rabbit was somewhat annoyed, but had not missed the teeth inside Coyote’s wide yawn. “Well,” said Rabbit, unobtrusively extricating his tail. “It’s a fine spring morning, and spring is the time when most folks’ thoughts turn to finding a mate. Your mother must have told you about it.”
Coyote nodded sagely, not wanting to appear ignorant, but, when it came right down to it, that’s just what he was—at least on this one particular subject. Thankfully, he knew that ignorance, unlike stupidity, is curable.
“But… just what is a mate?” asked Coyote, thinking that he had forgotten most everything about his mother except that she had often been a bitch.
“Well,” said Rabbit patiently, remembering certain unpleasant interactions between his tribe and Coyote’s. “A mate is someone you… have fun with.”
“Fun?” said Coyote, thinking that he usually had plenty of fun, just being with himself. “What sort of fun?”
“Well….” Rabbit blushed a little, though it was hard to see through his fur, involving mainly a darkening of his already pink nose. “Well, you see… you make a home together, and then when you want to….” Rabbit tried, but soon found himself at a loss for words. “It’s all instinctive,” he finished quickly.
“Oh.” Coyote nodded. “Of course.” Rabbit bounded off before Coyote could ask for more information, or worse, a demonstration. Rabbit was happy to find that the lady bunny was still waiting for him, if a bit impatiently. He forgot Coyote almost instantly.
Coyote, on the other hand, was—for him—thinking quite deeply. From what he could tell by observing the birds, butterflies, squirrels, and now Rabbit and his friend, when he caught a glimpse of them through the branches, having a mate seemed to involve a lot of wrestling, followed by piggy-back rides. And, as far as he could tell, all parties did seem to be having fun.
It just so happened that Fish and her family lived in the blue meadow pool. If Coyote looked into the water just right he could see her there, dozing under a big rock. Coyote saw no reason to leave his comfortable resting place if he could find a mate nearby, so Coyote called, “Excuse me, Fish, I was just thinking that it might be time for me to find a mate. Would you consider being mine?”
Fish thought for a minute. It seemed to her that if she mated with Coyote, it might guarantee her family some freedom from certain of Coyote’s more unfortunate moonlight snack excursions. So, “I would,” she said.
“Good!” said Coyote, pleased to have only started his search for a mate and be already at the end of it. “Where shall we make our home?”
“Well,” said Fish, “I personally am most comfortable in the water. Perhaps you could move in with me.”
“Of course,” said Coyote, happy to accommodate his new mate. Soon they would start the wrestling and the piggy-back rides and the fun would begin. Coyote waded into the water and suddenly realized that to have Fish for a mate and live in the water, he would have to swim. Not being very good at swimming, except for the dog paddle, he made a great many splashes… so many large splashes, in fact, that the level of the pond began to drop alarmingly.
“Coyote, wait!” Fish cried. “Your method of swimming will soon splash all the water out of the pool, and my family and I will have nowhere left to live! Perhaps,” she continued, “I had best come to live with you on dry land.”
“That will be fine,” said Coyote agreeably, wading out of the pool. He stopped on the edge to shake the water out of his fur, which raised the level of the pond significantly.
True to her word, Fish raised her head out of the water, measured the distance, and leaped directly into Coyote’s damp but waiting paws.
“Wups!” said Coyote, as he tried to hold onto slippery Fish. “Wups again,” he said, as Fish’s smooth, scaly body slipped away from him, landed on the sandy shore of the pool, and finally flip-flopped back into the water.
“Oh, dear,” said Fish. “I was afraid of that. You don’t do well in the water, and I cannot live on dry land. Coyote, I’m sorry, but you need to find a mate more like yourself.” And with that Fish disappeared back under her favorite rock.
Sadly, Coyote regarded his reflection in the pool. It was true that Fish looked very different from him. She had a head and a tail like he did, even though they were not at all furry, but she had no front or back paws, only fins. Very well, thought Coyote, I will be more selective in my search for a mate.
Ambling slowly down the path into the trees, it wasn’t long before Coyote heard a voice overhead. “Caw, caw. Hello, Coyote,” said Crow, perching in a nearby pine.
Coyote looked carefully at Crow. Her feathers were soft and thick, very much like Coyote’s fur, he thought, and her beak was thin and sharp, almost the same as his muzzle. Crow is more like me than Fish, thought Coyote.
“Excuse me, Crow,” said Coyote. “If you’re not busy right now, would you consider being my mate?”
Crow examined Coyote with one beady black eye and then the other. She admired his fine furry tail, which was almost like her feathers, she thought. Being a young bird, she had yet to find a mate, but had heard that it was the desirable thing to do in the spring, and fun too. “All right, Coyote,” Crow said.
Coyote was pleased. “Wonderful, where shall we make our home?” he said.
“You are in luck,” said Crow. “I’ve already built a fine nest right here in this pine tree. All you have to do is move in with me.”
Coyote was proud of himself for selecting such a fine mate with a ready-made home. He looked up, and sure enough, there was a large nest of twigs in one of the tree’s highest branches.
“Up there?” said Coyote. “In such a tall tree?”
“Of course,” said Crow. “It’s the very best spot.”
“All right,” said Coyote bravely, “I’ll be right up.”
Coyote did his best, but, try as he might, he could not climb above the first low pine branch, where he clung precariously.
“What’s the matter?” said Crow, flapping down closer to Coyote.
“I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake,” said Coyote, noticing that Crow’s feathers weren’t much like his fur after all, and that her front paws were really wings which seemed to be intended more for flying than running. “I don’t think we can be mates after all.”
Coyote’s attempt at a graceful exit from the tree branch was complicated by Crow, dive-bombing him and cawing “Flirt!” in an annoyed tone, but thankfully there was a thick carpet of needles to cushion his fall.
Coyote was still lying there a few minutes later, trying to catch his breath, when Porcupine came along. “Excuse me,” said Porcupine politely, “but I would really like to climb into that tree, and it seems you are in my way.”
“You’re going to climb?” said Coyote, eyeing Porcupine’s plump body. “Just so you know, I don’t recommend it.”
Then he looked a little closer at Porcupine, who had four furry front and back paws and a nice thick tail too, looking much more like his reflection than Fish or Crow. Wearily, Coyote drew himself up, deciding to give it another try. “Pardon me, Porcupine,” he said, “but have you ever considered taking a mate?”
Porcupine paused to consider the question, never one to leap right into anything. “Well,” she said, “it is spring, after all, but I really can’t think about anything so serious until I’ve had my lunch, and for that I need to climb this tree.”
“Very well,” Coyote sighed, willing at this point to do almost anything to get the whole mate-finding thing settled before nightfall, “let me help you.”
“Thank you kindly,” said Porcupine, “but that really won’t be necessary, and do be careful with my….”
“Think nothing of it,” said Coyote, thinking that the best way was probably to boost Porcupine up with a paw, and then, “Ouch!” Coyote shook his punctured paw, dropping porcupine and managing to trip and fall onto her tail in the process. “Yeow!” Coyote cried, his furry belly now bristling with quills.
Porcupine shook her head as Coyote leapt several feet into the air and came down in a run. “I lose more mates that way,” she said sadly.
Coyote ran until he came to the safety of his favorite pool, only then stopping to evaluate the situation. Several of the sharp quills had fallen out of the fur on his belly as he ran, but there were several left which had to be carefully and painfully extracted with his teeth. The quills in his paw had mostly broken off, and those had to be chewed out. It was the work of an hour or more, and Coyote was in no fit mood for some time thereafter.
In fact, he was feeling quite cross when he saw Rabbit hopping by, a silly smile on his bewhiskered face.
“Rabbit!” called Coyote, spitting out a fragment of quill. “Come over here. I’d like to have a few words.”
Fervently wishing he had used another path, Rabbit advanced a cautious step. “Um… yes, Coyote, what is it? I’m really quite busy with my new mate.”
Coyote was thinking seriously of inviting Rabbit to be a dinner guest, but instead he snorted. “Mates! Hah! Because of mates I’ve had an absolutely stinking day. First I almost drowned when trying to mate with Fish, then I fell out of a tree because of trying to mate with Crow, and I don’t even want to talk about my latest problem.” Coyote shuddered and gave his paw another lick. “Rabbit… I blame you.”
Rabbit shivered a little at the tone in Coyote’s voice, but had hopes he could settle the matter amicably, once and for all, so he hopped a little closer—but not much. “I think I see the problem, Coyote,” said Rabbit. “Perhaps I neglected to mention it, and certainly your mother must have, but you need to find a mate who is exactly like you!”
“Are you sure?” asked Coyote, thinking that Rabbit could have saved him considerable trouble by giving this advice earlier.
“Positive,” said Rabbit, “just take a good look at yourself, and you should be all right.” And when Coyote turned toward the pool, Rabbit beat a hasty retreat. His mother hadn’t raised any dumb bunnies.
This time Coyote went right up to the edge of the blue meadow pool and looked at his reflection very closely, hoping he would remember in case he happened upon another potential mate.
While Coyote was sitting and contemplating, it just so happened that Ms. Coyote ambled by. “Hello, Coyote,” she said.
Coyote looked up and then stared at her, thinking that, as far as he could remember, Ms. Coyote looked the most like his reflection as anyone he had yet seen today. “Hello,” said Coyote. “Excuse me, but might I ask you a question or two?” He had decided that it wasn’t working well to rush right into things.
“Of course,” said Ms. Coyote, who was a pleasant young lady, after all.
“Well, first,” said Coyote, “I notice that you have two furry front paws.”
“I do,” said Ms. Coyote, holding one out for Coyote to see.
“And,” Coyote went on, “You also have two furry back paws.”
“Indeed,” said Ms. Coyote, wondering where this all might be leading.
Coyote checked his own backside, just to be sure, and then regarded Ms. Coyote’s nether area. “And you have a furry tail,” Coyote said, pleased with himself for noticing it.
“Why, yes, I do,” said Ms. Coyote, sitting and modestly tucking her fine furry tail over her front paws.
“You even have a fine narrow muzzle,” he commented, feeling rather excited. “Just like mine!”
“Of course,” said Ms. Coyote, becoming a bit irritated at the obvious statements which were not questions at all. “Excuse me,” she said, “but I thought you wanted to ask me something.”
“Well,” said Coyote, “the truth is that I’ve been told I should be feeling a bit lonely lately, it being spring and all, and I was looking for a mate. I don’t suppose you’d be interested?”
Ms. Coyote narrowed her eyes and looked Coyote over. His front and back paws, his furry tail, and even his narrow muzzle and pointy ears were particularly fine.
“I accept,” she said, demurely, fluttering her lashes.
Coyote held up his unquilled paw. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I’ve had an interesting day, to say the least. If it’s all right with you, there are just a few more things I want to check out before we do anything rash.” Coyote reached down to lick his belly, which had been itching since the porcupine incident. The porcupine’s quills were long gone, thank goodness, but had left a reminder or two behind.
Well, Ms. Coyote was miffed, to say the least. She wasn’t in the habit of throwing herself at just any itinerant Coyote that happened by. Still, this one looked like fine mate material, so she shrugged philosophically. “Go ahead.”
“Well,” said Coyote. “You have the front and back paws, the furry tail, and the nice narrow muzzle and pointed ears. Would you mind rolling over, please?”
Ms. Coyote sighed, but if there was one thing she was proud of it was her nice flat belly, so she lay on the ground and rolled to her back, raising all four shapely limbs in the air. “Well,” said Coyote, “You do have a lovely furry chest, and your belly is nice and flat, but….” He looked closer. “It seems to me that something might be missing.”
“What?” said Ms. Coyote, now really annoyed.
“Well,” said Coyote, who had decided to settle for nothing less than perfection this time. “You don’t seem to have one of these.” Coyote reached down to indicate his fine furry sheath, nestling there on his lower belly. “Or one of these,” he continued, using a paw to gently swing the sack of balls hanging between his hind legs.
“Of course not,” said Ms. Coyote, scandalized. “I have no need of those things, you silly man. Now, let’s stop all this chitchat and get down to the business of mating,” she said, rolling onto her belly and moving her furry tail to one side.
“Um,” said Coyote, not feeling completely committed, for some reason. “You mean you want me to get on your back right now?” She obviously wanted to start the piggy-back rides immediately, and he had been certain that the wrestling always came first.
“Of course,” said Ms. Coyote. “And as soon as that’s out of the way we can get down to what mating is really all about,” she said, seductively wiggling her hips.
“Wrestling?” said Coyote. For some reason his head had begun to hurt.
“No,” said Ms. Coyote, “I mean preparing for the pups that will be born.” She smiled a secretive, motherly-type smile. Coyote suddenly felt as though he’d somehow filled his empty stomach with cold water instead of nice prickly pear fruit.
“And while I am pregnant you can hunt for me and dig us a nice den in the hills, and then we’ll both care for the pups and teach them to hunt until they are old enough to go out on their own,” Ms. Coyote said dreamily. “And next year we’ll do it all over again!”
“We will?” said Coyote, who was by now feeling rather queasy. “Pups, you say?”
“Of course,” said Ms. Coyote.
“But I don’t want to have pups!” wailed Coyote, losing it at last.
“What a silly you are,” said Ms. Coyote. “You don’t have them. Only females have pups.” Then she sighed, feeling as though she already had one overgrown pup to educate. “You males,” she said patiently, “are the ones with the sheaths and balls. Females don’t need them because we’re the ones with the opening for mating and giving birth. My mother told me all about it. See?” And she turned and lifted her tail. With that cleared up, she was ready to get down to it. “Now get your furry butt over here and let’s get this part over with.” She wriggled her hips and tail again, though to Coyote the movement was beginning to look more impatient than inviting.
“I hope you will excuse me,” said Coyote, backing away as fast as his four fine furry paws would allow. “But I have just remembered a previous appointment.” Coyote vanished into the trees before a surprised Ms. Coyote could get a decent start on trailing him. After quite a while, Coyote could no longer hear the string of creative but unladylike words and stopped to rest. Well, he thought, it wasn’t like he’d actually asked her.
For supper, Coyote again filled up on dried prickly pear fruit, but went to sit on the canyon rim instead of in his favorite spot near the pool. Well, he thought sadly, it was over before it even started. He remembered his reflection in the mirror-like surface of the pool and sighed. He had finally found someone who looked almost exactly like himself. There had been only that one… well, two or three, depending on how you looked at it, differences. And because of them, everything had become complicated. Perhaps he would just have to learn to live with being alone in the spring.
Idly, Coyote sat up and looked down at his belly. It was a fine furry belly, and he thought that the sheath lying against it made it look finer still. Ms. Coyote’s belly had looked quite plain by comparison. If he ever did have a mate, he would want his mate to have a sheath just like his, he decided. More important, if he could believe Ms. Coyote, when you had a sheath and balls you didn’t have the opening for mating and birthing pups. Not having mewling pups to hunt for and train seemed like a particular plus to Coyote. And, well, as far as mating, he might not have the opening Ms. Coyote mentioned, but he was sure he had some kind of opening back there.
Coyote didn’t want to go back to the blue meadow pool that evening, just in case Ms. Coyote was still waiting nearby, so he wandered the hills until he came to a little cave in the rocks. This would be a lovely warm place to spend the night, he thought to himself, and he walked right in.
Puma had just come home from a successful hunting trip, and was busily licking blood off his furry front paws when Coyote, whose vision wasn’t all that good in dark caves, bumped into him.
“Oof,” said Coyote.
“Oof yourself,” said Puma. “I’m Puma, and this is my cave. Who are you, and what are you doing here?” Puma most often kept to the rocky foothills, so he and Coyote had not yet been introduced.
“I’m Coyote,” said Coyote, “and I’m looking for a place to spend the night, and….” He felt quite cautious about bringing up the mate thing with another perfect stranger. Still… Coyote blinked, since his eyes were becoming used to the dimness, and he noticed Puma’s fine furry front paws, which incidentally smelled quite delicious. He looked even closer and saw that Puma had also two fine furry back paws and a fine furry tail. Best of all, he was pretty sure he spotted a sheath on Puma’s flat belly, and no one could mistake the sack of balls between his hind legs. He wasn’t sure the ears on Puma’s round head and the short muzzle were exactly right, but Coyote was just too tired to remember things perfectly. He thought he’d give it one more try.
“As I was just saying to… well, never mind who, but I’ve had the most interesting day. Puma, you seem like a fine healthy person, and I wonder if I might ask you a few questions.”
Puma had been feeling rather sleepy, being full of one of Rabbit’s cousins, and all, but his mother had taught him to be hospitable to people who weren’t on the menu, and as far as he could remember, she had never brought home a coyote to dinner. “What sort of questions?” asked Puma.
“Well,” said Coyote, “I guess the most important one is—do you want to have pups?” Coyote had decided to have any bad news right at the start.
Puma thought, but it didn’t take him long. “Never crossed my mind,” he said honestly.
Coyote nodded, encouraged. “Good. Now, how do you feel about taking a mate?”
Puma thought some more. “Sounds fine to me, it being spring and all.”
Coyote took another, closer look at Puma. Well, he thought, he and Puma might not be one hundred percent alike, but Coyote saw no Fish scales or Crow feathers, no Porcupine quills and, best of all, no opening for birthing pups. “How about we go right to the wrestling, then?” Coyote asked, and he leaped at Puma.
Puma rolled over and caught Coyote in his front paws while he brought up his back ones in play, managing to knock out Coyote’s breath without slicing open his gut, which was harder than you might imagine and showed that Puma was fairly committed to the whole wrestling thing. Coyote was enjoying the wrestling more than he had thought he would, and decided that Rabbit might have had a point about it being instinctive, because suddenly his body was feeling quite different. Something hard was growing out of the sheath on his belly, and that something was telling him that it was time to get on to the piggy-back portion of the mating thing. But Puma was very strong, not to mention limber, and it was somewhat of an accident that landed Coyote on top. Without taking time to think, Coyote curved his hips and felt the hard part of him sink into Puma’s conveniently placed single opening.
Puma yowled in surprise, but Coyote didn’t let that bother him. He wrapped his paws around Puma’s warm body, took a generous bite of Puma’s thick neck fur, and just held on. He finally understood about the having-fun part of mating, and he soon found a nice rhythm, and lasted quite a while too, considering that it was his first time.
Puma, who had lain there panting while Coyote did all the work, suddenly felt his insides coming to a boil and let out another yowl, which was soon joined by a howl from Coyote, after which he fell off Puma’s back and lay panting beside him.
“Well, I’ve never done that before,” said Puma, trying to catch his breath. “That was a pretty good trick.”
“Well,” said Coyote modestly, “they don’t call me the Trickster for nothing.”
After another few minutes of recovery, during which they licked interesting juices off themselves and each other, Coyote, who was now very much in favor of the whole mating thing, said, “So, Puma, do you want to be mates?”
“Well,” said Puma, looking Coyote over critically and taking into account the very pleasurable trick Coyote had just taught him. “I would… but you aren’t exactly like me, and my mother told me I needed someone exactly like myself for a mate.”
“Been there,” said Coyote, shaking his head sagely. “Nobody’s perfect.”
“That’s just what I was thinking,” said Puma, “and what does my mother know, anyway.”
So Puma and Coyote hugged to seal the bargain, and that led to more wrestling, and I’m sure you know where that led. And they lived happily ever after, in spite of a little snickering now and then from Rabbit and the occasional nasty visit from Puma’s mother.
And the moral of this story is: if you’re looking for the perfect mate, you must first pick a peck of porcupines. Or, wait… it might be that mating with a fish can be a slippery proposition. Or, yes, I’m pretty sure that it really is that the path to true happiness is not always straight. Or… something like that.