There are times that I can clearly see the box I live in. Reading a flummoxing story often helps me do that, and “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” is one of those. The story has a mythic quality, and my limited knowledge of myth (Native American myth in particular) may be keeping me from grasping a point larger than “western culture has it wrong when it comes to nature”.
Surely, though, that viewpoint is a big part of what Le Guin offers here. In the introduction to the Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences collection, she says:
By climbing up into his own head and shutting out every voice but his own, ‘civilized man’ has gone deaf. He can’t hear the wolf calling him brother – not master, but brother. He can’t hear the earth calling him child – not father, but son.
That we are deaf, I have no doubt. Striving to hear voices other than one’s own may be the main point of Christianity! It reminds me how much different traditions have in common.
The character of the coyote (or is it Coyote with a capital C?) is a key. The coyote figures prominently in Native American myth, but Le Guin is offering her own version. A bit of poking around on Wikipedia tells me that in Navajo mythology, Coyote is a trouble maker, and in other Native American traditions the myths and legends vary widely. The character is usually male, also says Wikipedia. Le Guin’s Coyote is female, and sometimes turns into a human.
Which is right around where I lost connection with the story. The coyote is a coyote, then a human, then perhaps both, then a coyote. What the heck is going on here? Then I remember: this is only as flummoxing as the Trinity.
Thanks to Jenny for discussing this story with me. She had some great insight.