Coytoe Dances With a Star
Because the Great Mystery Power had given Coyote much of his medicine, Coyote himself grew very powerful and very conceited. There was nothing, he believe that he couldn’t do. He even thought he was more powerful than the Great Mystery, for Coyote was sometimes wise but also a fool. One day long ago, it came into his mind to dance with a star. “I really feel like doing this,” he said. He saw a bright star coming up from behind a mountain, and called out: “Hoh, you star, wait and come down! I want to dance with you.”
The star descended until Coyote could get hold of him, and then soared up into the sky, with Coyote hanging on for dear life. Round and round the sky went the star. Coyote became very tired, and the arm that was holding onto the star grew numb, as if it were coming out of its socket.
“Star,” he said, “I believe I’ve done enough dancing for now. I’ll let go and be getting back home.”
“No, wait; we’re too high up” said the star. “Wait until I come lower over the mountain where I picked you up.”
Coyote looked down at the earth. He thought it seemed quite near. “I’m tired, star; I think I’ll leave now; we’re low enough,” he said, and let go.
Coyote had made a bad mistake. He dropped down, down, down. He fell for a full ten winters. He plopped through the earth clouds at last and when he finally hit ground, he was flattened like a tanned stretched deerskin. So he died right there.
Now, the Great Mystery Power had amused himself by giving Coyote several lives. It took Coyote quite a few winters, however, to pull himself up again and into his old shape. He had grown quite a bit older in all that time, but he had not grown less foolish. he boasted: “Who besides me could dance with stars, and fall out of the sky for ten long winters, and be flattened out like a deer hide, and live to tell the tale? I am Coyote. I am powerful. I can do anything.
Coyote was sitting in front of his lodge one night, when from behind the mountain here rose a strange kind of star, a very fast on, tailing a long, shining tail. Coyote said to himself: “Look at that fast star, what fun to dance with him!” He called out: “Ho, strange star with the long tail! Wait for me; come down; let’s dance!”
The strange, fast star shot down, and Coyote grabbed hold. The star whirled off into the vastness of the universe. Again Coyote had made a bad mistake. Looking up from his lodge into the sky, he had had no idea of that star’s real speed. It was the fastest thing in the universe. It whirled Coyote around so swiftly that firs one and then the other of his legs dropped off. Bit by bit, small pieces of Coyote were torn off in this mad race through the skies, until at last only Coyote’s right had was holding onto that fast star.
Coyote fell back down to earth in little pieces, a bit here and a bit there. But soon the pieces started looking for each other, slowly coming together, forming up into Coyote again. It took a long time–several winters. At last Coyote was whole again except for his right hand, which was still whirling around in space with the star. Coyote called out: “Great Mystery! I was wrong. I’m not as powerful as you. I’m not as powerful as I thought. Have pity on me!”
Then the Great Mystery Power spoke: “Friend Coyote. I have given your four lives. Two you have already wasted foolishly. Better watch out!”
“Have pity on me,” wailed Coyote. “Give me back my right hand.”
“That’s up to the star with the long tail, my friend. You must have patience. Wait until the star appears to you, rising from behind the mountain again. hen maybe he will shake your hand off.”
“How often does this star come over the mountain?”
“Once in a hundred lifetimes,” said the Great Mystery.
–Retold from several North California fragments.