Thomas Doty – Storyteller
The Yellowjackets Steal Coyote's Salmon
Along the Shasta River, the people tell this story....
There were many people living along the river near Mount Shasta. They had built a fish weir across the river and were busy catching and drying salmon.
A ways upriver, toward the mountain, Coyote was feeling hungry (which is how he felt most of the time) and feeling lazy (which is how he felt most ALL of the time). But instead of going out and getting his own food, he decided to travel downriver and mooch some dried salmon.
Those people saw Coyote coming a long ways off, and they were saying, "Oh, oh, here comes Coyote, that master mooch and trouble maker. Hide your riches, hide your food, keep an eye on your wives and daughters. Brace yourselves, here he comes!"
Coyote walked up and said, "Hello, friends. How about giving a weary traveler some of that salmon to get him back home?"
"So who's this person you're talking about?"
"Why, me, of course. I've been working for days trying to find food, but good stuff like this salmon never comes my way."
The people gathered together and talked it over. "I don't know," said one man. "We work hard for this salmon and Coyote never works for anything -- let alone hard work. I say we tell him to go get his own food. Weary traveler, that's a laugh." Another man said, "Maybe so, but it never was good manners to send a traveler on his way without food when he asks for it. And if that's all Coyote wants, I say let him have it. There are some things harder to give up than salmon. Think of your daughters." The people talked a bit longer and decided to give Coyote some salmon to keep him from doing something drastic, hoping he'd just go away and leave them alone. They gave him a huge pile of salmon and sent him on his way.
Coyote packed it all on his back and went traveling back upriver, toward his home near Mount Shasta, grinning to himself as he went along. He hadn't gone far before that heavy pack of salmon tired him out. So he stretched out in the shade along the river and started snoring into a deep sleep, the pack of salmon under his head for a pillow.
* * * * *
There had been some yellowjackets following him upriver, their eyes and their tastebuds focused on that fine catch of salmon Coyote was carrying on his back. They came swarming around Coyote while he slept, swarmed close to get a good look at the salmon under Coyote's head.
One of them said, "Serves the idiot right. he's always pulling tricks on people." Another said, "Now how are we going to get the stuff from under his head without waking him up?" "No problem," said a third yellowjacket. "Once the lazy sap is asleep, nothing short of the mountain blowing to smithereens will rouse him, and only then if he's hungry." "Ok, now" said the first yellowjacket, "let's all work together. Everyone call in brothers and sisters and cousins. This is going to take everyone we can muster."
Before long there were so many yellowjackets swarming over Coyote that it looked like a huge cloud of yellow smoke had balanced on his nose. But still he slept, snoring and snoring.
Now they went to work. Some of the yellowjackets lifted Coyote's head and some of them lifted the pack of salmon and others replaced it with a pack of pine bark. Then they all helped carry the salmon away -- that pack looking like it was floating -- upriver toward Mount Shasta. And they were laughing the whole way, which is quite a funny sound, an entire cloud of yellowjackets all giggling and belly-laughing at once.
* * * * *
Coyote started yawning, one eye half open, the other still closed, and his mouth -- anticipating the salmon -- going num-num-num, drooling a little over his chin. He turned over, still half asleep, took a bite out of his pillow only to find not salmon, but pine bark, and slivers running every which way into his tongue.
Coyote jumped to his feet. "What's going on here? I'm the trickster in these parts. Nobody's going to steal my reputation. I'll find whoever did this and fix him good."
Coyote started sniffing circles around the place he'd slept, searching for tracks. "Now that's funny," he was thinking. "No tracks. Pretty tricky one, this fellow."
So Coyote, having no clues and hungrier than ever -- even with his tongue speared full of slivers, which didn't seem to curb his tongue or his hunger -- started back downriver to where the people were drying salmon.
* * * * *
It didn't take long for word to get out. "Coyote is coming downriver again," people were saying. "And he looks pretty mad." People were hiding their valuables when Coyote came stomping into their camp. His ears were steaming. "I need more salmon!" he demanded. "Some monster came while I was sleeping and stole all the salmon you gave me."
All the people went, "Whew! So that's all he wants."
They gave Coyote a heap of salmon and a place to sleep the night, well away from where everyone else slept, and in the morning they sent him on his way.
* * * * *
Coyote went on, and he started puffing at the same place he got tired before, just a little ways upriver from where the people were drying salmon. Again he stretched out in the shade along the riverbank, and again he put the salmon pack under his head for a pillow. But he had only pretended to be tired -- he'd stuck his tongue out and made it limp -- and he only pretended to go to sleep, yawning at just the right time, slowly pulling his eyes closed. He was dramatically convincing. And sure enough, the yellowjackets had been following him, keeping their eyes on that salmon.
They called in all their relations and came swarming down on Coyote. Coyote was watching and thinking, "It can't be them. Yellowjackets always land on salmon." But the yellowjackets swarmed down on the salmon and groaned and moaned and moved it a bit. Coyote was watching. The yellowjackets tugged and tugged and they lifted the pack, and they took off with the salmon, upriver toward Mount Shasta.
Coyote jumped up and took off after them, but he only got a little ways before he pooped out. He rested a while, watching his salmon float away in the distance, listening to those yellowjackets whoop and laugh, then he went back downriver to where people were drying salmon.
* * * * *
The people saw him coming and they said, "Oh, no! Here he comes again!" Everyone braced themselves for Coyote as he came stomping into the camp. "You won't believe it!" Coyote yelled. "A huge cloud of a monster came right out of the sky and stole my salmon. It carried all that salmon through the air towards the mountain, laughing a crazy laugh the whole way." It didn't take long before Coyote's story spread all through the camp and a large crowd of people gathered around Coyote, asking him all kinds of questions and patting him on the back for being brave enough to run after the monster. "It was nothing," grinned Coyote. "Nothing at all. I do this sort of thing all the time."
The people gave him more salmon. He packed it on his back and traveled upriver, a great crowd of folks following behind hoping to get a chance to see the laughing yellow monster.
* * * * *
Coyote stopped to rest at the same place and the people gathered all around, hiding behind bushes and trees and rocks, all through the woods along the river.
A while later, Turtle came up and joined the crowd, and Coyote saw him and laughed, "Hey, you little runt, who asked you to come here, you little hard-backed, pin-eyed runt? What do you think you can do, you puny thing?"
Turtle didn't say a word. He only hissed a little at Coyote and sat by the river, apart from the others, looking like a river rock.
Now the yellowjackets came swarming in. Coyote quickly pretended to be asleep, the salmon pack for a pillow, and in the same way, the yellowjackets ripped off Coyote's salmon, grunting and wheezing as they were lifting, then laughing all the way upriver, flying toward Mount Shasta.
The people all came out from their hiding places and started running upriver after the yellowjackets, a long line of people racing up the river valley toward Mount Shasta.
Coyote was the first one to drop out, exhausted and droop-tongued. One by one others dropped out and they made a long line of exhaustion along the river. But Turtle, who had started last, kept plugging along, and as he passed Coyote he hissed, "I haven't even started running yet."
Turtle went on and on, passing everyone, all the way up Mount Shasta, following the yellowjackets up the slopes of the mountain until they disappeared into a hole at the peak, salmon and all.
One by one, the people rested up -- Coyote included -- and they puffed and they puffed and they puffed their way clear to the top of Mount Shasta where Turtle was waiting at the hole the yellowjackets had gone down.
When Coyote arrived, he took charge. "Let's smoke that monster out of its hole. Come on, everyone, gather some wood. Let's get on with it."
All the people went down the slopes, gathered wood and brought it back to Coyote, who piled the wood in a heap in front of the hole, and lit it.
Coyote fanned the smoke into the hole with his tail. Turtle was looking downriver and he said, "Looks like your smoke is coming out down the valley a ways."
Coyote scrambled down the mountain, plugged the hole the smoke was coming out, then rushed back up and fanned more smoke into the original hole.
Now Turtle said, "Hey, Coyote, your smoke is coming out around the bend there."
So Coyote ran and plugged up THAT hole and came back around, fanning and puffing, fanning and puffing.
Turtle said, "Now it looks like the smoke is coming out a hundred holes all over the mountain and all down the valley."
Coyote went crazy plugging holes, but every time he stopped one up, another one started puffing smoke. Finally, Coyote went down the mountain, muttering, "Rabbits. Maybe that yellow monster doesn't like rabbits. Anybody got any rabbits?"
The people went back down the mountain -- Turtle following behind making his own pace -- and they got back to work drying salmon, shaking their heads and chalking up another misadventure to Coyote.
On the top of Mount Shasta, deep in their hole, the yellowjackets laughed as they ate, convinced that smoked salmon was more tasty than dried salmon.
And the mountain puffed smoke for a long, long time.