Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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The Visit

At my mountain home, on the winter solstice, the breeze dies at sunset. It's calm enough to put a candle outside. Before moonrise, this lone light is the only light, and hauntingly bright. It draws the forest closer, makes the eyes of night critters shine, melts a circle in the snow....

Coyote stirs from his nap. He steps outside. He has a curious glimmer in his eye.

"Are you trying to welcome winter by melting it?" he asks.

"Just giving the sun a place to come back to."

"A fire might work better." Coyote saunters to the firepit. He yammers as flames catch the twigs. "Let's have some stories. Maybe you could make up a new one about me?" He mimics my voice. "A long time ago, on the darkest night, brilliant Coyote woke up from his nap and made the world a better place for himself!"

Coyote's monologue stops dead with the sound of footsteps crunching through the snow.

"Quite right," whispers a voice from the edge of the trees. We watch a man wearing a heavy coat step into the clearing. The fire lights his face, and we recognize our old friend Lampman. He settles onto a log close to the fire.

"Quite right," he says again.

"What's right?" says Coyote.

I walk over to the fire and sit on a log across from Lampman. "What brings you up here? It's a bit cold to be walking through the woods."

"And dark and snowy," says Coyote.

"It's perfect," says Lampman. "They're about to arrive and we're here to welcome them."

''Who?" says Coyote.

"Stories, you silly pooch. Just what you wished for. Just wait."

No one speaks for a long time. The candle burns. The fire crackles. The first moonlight clears the ridge.

An owl hoots deep in the woods. Another answers. "That's not a story," says Coyote.

"Be patient," says Lampman. "Try listening in their language."

Sounds step through the night. I listen for a long time and catch these words: "Wili yowo." Smoke from our fire settles into fog and blurs the edge of the forest. Owls talk back and forth. Fox yips and barks from somewhere down the ridge. Bear mutters and snores in his hidden cave. More sounds gather on the ridge. Words, sentences, stories. The Rock People have the last word. A voice drifts out of the darkness. "And that was the night the world made Coyote a better dog. Gweldi. Baybit' lep'lap."

As the smoke thins, I notice tracks. Lots of them, all different shapes and sizes. They dimple the snow in the clearing around the fire.

No one speaks for a long time. The candle flickers. The fire burns to coals. The first sunlight clears the ridge.