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It’s a transition rain in the dark outside my window. It’s heavy and fragrant. The air is soft. Winter is passed and the world is mud and wet pavement. Your feet slide on the mud under the snow-tired plants. Nothing is firm. For the first time in a long while, it smells like sleeping with the window open.

With the snow mostly gone, the landscape secrets are laid bare. There’s the farmer who left a cover crop. That one didn’t. Bulldozer tracks in the new development. Freeze-thaw spires in the raw earth. Rivulets of black mud washing over the new sidewalk. Plastic bags snagged under the greenspace trees. My face is pale.

She’s the faint movement in the distant fence row, the one funny patch of dirty snow moving among the corn-stubble remnants of winter’s last stand. She’s the lone set of tracks on the lakeshore, disappearing in the fog, signatures in the soft mud that dry up and blow away. When you see her, you realize that most of the time you don’t.

You’ve driven your commute hundreds of times. You watch the season change through your windshield and listen to radio news. You drive right through most days, but she captures your attention. Your home is alive. More alive now.

You see her flash in your periphery, darting through cars. Weightless movement and irresistible grace, she lopes across the median and into the cattail wastes in the inconvenient parts of the industrial park. Your eyes want to follow but you will yourself to look away. Need to keep the car on the road. Did your eyes meet? You want to believe it.

When the blue light from your TV spills out of your window, she’s in the under-darkness, hunting among your lilacs, your Japanese yews and your burning bush. She sniffs at your foundation, at the threshold of your back door. She knows you. Your family too. She knows what you eat and when you leave for the day. She is given to you.

When you are surprised to find yourself awake in the soft pre-dawn, she is the faint laughter you hear in the open window. Animal laughter. Animate laughter. You measure the aural distance against the Doppler whine of truck tires on the distant highway but you can’t. The night is too thin. Is she on your broken and abused hill nearby? On the Easter hill beyond that? On a thousand hills. The world is still wild. She comforts you.

She’s the reason the fawns are dappled and still in the understory, why the feeder-squirrels are nervous, why the baby rabbits in your hostas don’t even blink. The blood on the snow and the pile of downy feathers is from somebody else. Your neighborhood sharp-shin most likely.

She consumes it all and leaves no trace – mostly. You find a bit of cottontail down in the grass. And if you’re lucky, a rabbit’s foot in the gray leavings when the snowbank at the end of the driveway melts. That’s how energy moves. That’s how your little world re-animates. Look for the signs. She remains with you forever.

Our North Shore theologian Zoomed in from the edge of the wilderness on Wednesday night. She told us with an eye-twinkle, that she had located the Holy Spirit shape-shifting among the world’s tricksters, drawn from the world’s memories. Moving in the borderlands mostly out of view, knowing your moves in the second before you do and playing with mischief. Here on turtle island, the Holy Spirit is a coyote. Transitive property. Q.E.D.

Put that in your Lent and contemplate it.

Tim Van Deelen

Tim Van Deelen is Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He grew up in Hudsonville, Michigan, and graduated from Calvin College. From there he went on to the University of Montana and Michigan State University. He now studies large mammal population dynamics, sails on Lake Mendota, enjoys a good plate of whitefish, and gains hope for the future from terrific graduate students. 


  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    I loved this.

  • mstair says:

    “Put that in your Lent and contemplate it.”

    … the activity of The Holy Spirit exemplified in coyote behavior …
    the predator part … ?
    Psalm 139?
    very thought provoking…!

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Tim, for sharing your expertise in animal behavior, a behavior that most of us are totally unaware of. Very interesting. But your comparison of the Holy Spirit to the coyote’s behavior is just conjecture. Animal behavior may be your expertise, but not so much the Holy Spirit. What objective evidence do you have for the Holy Spirit’s actions? I think you are comparing apples to oranges. Is this another Lady and the Tramp story, that of imposing on dogs human emotion and reasoning? It’s good, as far as fiction goes, but it’s not nonfiction. Thanks, Tim.

    • Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell says:

      All “God-talk” is necessarily metaphorical. It has to involve imagination, inspiration, creativity, symbolism, and poetic elements. Holy Spirit as wind, flame, dove, wild goose. Coyote, too. Is the Holy Spirit like any of those? Of course not and also definitely so. Not sure how categories like fiction and nonfiction, “conjecture” or “objective” fit or are at all useful here.

      • RLG says:

        Thanks, Steve, for your correction. I suppose you make a valid point when you say all “God talk” is necessarily metaphorical. That is, in large part, because so little is objectively known of God. So we use analogies and metaphors to describe a God we don’t really know. We make guesses by comparing God to fire, wind, doves, coyotes, a friend, a fortress, and probably and any number of animals and other things. On top of that, all religions describe God differently from each other. So I suppose the metaphors other religions use to describe God are as valid as what Christians use. So why not include a coyote, or any other animal? After all, what do we really know? If a “conjecture” is one’s speculation or guess apart from any objective evidence, then the idea stated by Tim, that the Holy Spirit is a coyote on Turtle Island, is rather uninformed, although valid to Tim (Q.E.D.)

  • John says:

    Had to read it several times, Tim.
    We are the coyotes, I guess, seeking the vulnerable, wanting to stay alive.
    Susceptible to dying. Bringing death. Hidden, but with tell-tale signs of carnage.
    Who brings you to your death, good Lord? It is I. Mea culpa.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    If it weren’t for coyotes (and hawks) we’d be up to our hips in rabbits decimating our tulips and chipmunks undermining foundations. Nature’s lens often gets a human subjectivity.

  • Judie Zoerhof says:

    Thank you for this! We have many coyotes in our area. I love how you give us facts and a beautiful analogy! I will put this in my Lent and contemplate it! How wonderful! I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ idea that “He is not a tame Lion you know.”

  • Daniel Bos says:

    An extended metaphor, enriching our imagination and delightfully convincing. QED. It was demonstrated.

    My understandig of a transitive argument: if two different objects are similar to the same ten things, the two objects are also similar (in at least those ten ways). Meditate on it!

  • Mark D says:

    Wow. I really liked this. It’s a prose poem to Coyote.

  • Thanks for this. The more I read it, the more it captures my imagination. It speaks to me of the hiddenness and yet presence of the Spirit.

    “Your eyes want to follow but you will yourself to look away. Need to keep the car on the road. Did your eyes meet? You want to believe it.” (Yes, I want to believe it.)

    There are so many resonance’s here. You have given me a lot to contemplate.

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