Thomas Doty – Storyteller
Coyote's Riddling Talk
Messing with Words
Coyote the trickster loves riddles, and he gets tail-wagging ecstatic trying to stump others with what he considers to be tricksy word plays. Please note that the answers to all of Coyote's riddles are geographically located within Doty and Coyote's homeland of southern Oregon and northern California. In addition, all of the cultural information you need for solving the riddles can be found on this website.
Riddling Talk #7
Coyote says, "His Old Time lodge is a theatre, and he does it all. He acts his play, directs his show, designs his dance, paints the scenery, and messes with the light. And every night is showtime. Though he is a solo performer, he shines with the brilliance of seven seasoned actors. He's more than just a star! As he makes his rounds around center stage, his fire burns bright and true. Though his mortal relations doze through the long, dark act that begins and ends his play, his show must go on! And it does. Who is he?"
In Takelma mythology, Great Bear in the Sky is the Big Dipper which is made up of seven stars ("seven seasoned actors" and "he's more than just a star"). He builds a fire in the center of his sky lodge (the North Star that "burns bright and true"). As he dances counter-clockwise around his fire, he sends the seasons circling through the year ("he directs his show"), giving us a drama of color ("paints his scenery") and days and nights of various lengths ("messes with the light"). Inspired by the nightly circling of the Big Dipper around the North star, Takelmas dance their circle dances counter-clockwise to honor Great Bear in the Sky, and to thank him for the gift of the seasons. Bears on earth ("his mortal relations") doze through the winter ("the long, dark act"). Takelmas recognize five seasons beginning with winter and ending with winter repeated ("begins and ends his play"). Five is the sacred number, and the seasonal repetition suggests that the seasons are a sacred cycle that moves, a dance that keeps circling ("every night is showtime"). Winter is the traditional storytelling season. The year begins with stories, and stories told again are part of the eternal dance of the seasons ("his show must go on").
Riddling Talk #6
Coyote says, "One became two. Though opposite, their name is redundant. Birdsong heralds their beginning and their end. A mirror of my mythic mind, we world-changers walk the same path. While I strut my stuff center-stage in the spotlight, the universe eternally revolves around them. They stole my show! Who are they?"
The Daldal Brothers. At the beginning of a Takelma myth, Daldal (Dragonfly) gets distracted by a lark singing ("birdsong"). He shoots at it and the arrow comes back down and splits him in half ("One became two"). He is now younger brother and elder brother. Their personalities are opposite, loud and soft spoken, foolish and wise.... Together they are the split-personality definition of a trickster character ("a mirror of my mythic mind" -- "They stole my show!") The name Daldal, a repetition of the single sound "dal," imitates the duality of their personalities ("their name is redundant"). In the myth, the brothers walk along the Rogue River -- the same journey Coyote makes in his stories -- and they change the world, making it ready for the arrival of the Human People ("we world-changers walk the same path"). While Coyote likes to think of himself as the center of the universe ("I strut my stuff center-stage in the spotlight"), the Daldal Brothers truly are. At the end of the myth, Elder Daldal whistles like a lark (the other "birdsong") and the brothers turn into the two Table Rocks along the Rogue River, the sacred center of the Takelma universe, the ribs of The Great Animal that is the World.
Riddling Talk #5
Coyote says, "Here is an ancient name and a newbie nickname. The latter has a longer tail that hisses. One is what they call me in the Land of Burnt Out Fires where I am a mighty hero of mythological strength. The other, when muttered in the lesser tongue of new arrivals, is my wimpy almost-identical twin. Scholars smirk that together we are an unintended cross-cultural pun, but they don't know much. Who are we?"
Wus and Wuss. Coyote's name in the Klamath-Modoc language is Wus. The Lava Beds area of the Modoc homeland is called Land of Burnt Out Fires. First appearing in English in 1976 -- a language Coyote refers to as "the lesser tongue of new arrivals" -- a Wuss is someone considered weak, a wimp or a softy. The additional "s" in Wuss is the "longer tail that hisses." Though Coyote thinks of himself as mighty, he is often portrayed in the myths as a comical Wuss of a Dog, thus creating "an unintended cross-cultural pun." In the Klamath/Modoc language, Coyote is also called Ko'ly'aa and his shorter name, Wus, is sometimes written as W'as.
Riddling Talk #4
Coyote says, "One town boasts, 'I'm a mountain' and the other shouts, 'I've found it!' Their names sound so alike to my doggy ears that one might be an echo of the other, but they aren't. And folklorists say I've got a split personality! Those gold-grabbing guys were nuts! Sometimes I think I'm in one town when I'm actually in the other, or is it the other way around? Help me out here. Which is which?"
Yreka is a northern California mining town named after the Shasta Indian name for nearby Mount Shasta: Wyeka. To the west on the coast is the community of Eureka. When a miner shouts Eureka! -- I've found it! -- he's struck gold. The names sound enough alike that they confuse a lot of folks.
Riddling Talk #3
Coyote says, "Rocks and water, rocks and water! One in the north, one in the south. A bitter wind blows here and there, and tales about ME are wagged with the same tongue. What's the one true Indian name of these places?"
Gumbat. Coyote is describing two winter villages with the same name. The northern one is at Upper Klamath Lake and is a Klamath village. It's southern twin is at Tule Lake and is a Modoc village. The Klamaths and the Modocs speak the same language, the "same tongue." The name Gumbat means "among the rocks," and each village is on a rocky point along a shoreline. "Rocks and water!" In these villages, for thousands of years, Old Time stories are told through the winter months, and many of them are about Coyote.
Riddling Talk #2
Coyote says, "Not another bite of this chunky mush! Pincers in the depths pinch my tongue, and the taste is too familiar. No goodies in this doggone doggy bowl are worth munching, and the smell offends even me! What name is stenciled on my bowl?"
Crater Lake. In an Old Time story, Coyote dances into the sky with Star Woman. She dumps him! Coyote falls, goes splat, and makes a big hole filled with his blood and various body parts. This "doggy bowl" of Coyote mush eventually turns into Crater Lake. Another story describes the monster Llao who lives at the bottom of the lake. His pet crawfish grab unsuspecting folks off the rim with their giant pincers and feed them to their master.
Riddling Talk #1
Coyote says, "On this downhill walk, I drink my fill at the beginning till my bones ache in the middle. I sit on my tail at the end. Thinking back, this trek was a pain in the neck! At least it was mostly downhill. Where am I walking?"
Along the Rogue River. The Takelmas -- whose name means the "River's People" -- describe the Rogue as the lifeblood of the Great Animal that is the World. The head is Crater Lake. The neck is Boundary Springs where the river starts. The ribs of the animal are the Table Rocks, the center of the Takelma universe. The tail at the animal's rear end is at the coast where the Rogue flows into the Pacific. In Takelma stories, there are only two directions: upriver and downriver. Coyote's downhill, downriver walk is from Boundary Springs in the Cascade Mountains (the neck), past the Table Rocks in the Rogue Valley (the ribs or middle), to the beach (the tail).
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