“I have cast my gaze two hundred years down the road to dreamers I’ll never know who may, like me, hear sensible voices lovingly telling them to stay safe and not take foolish chances. I want The Coyotes to whisper in their ear wild, irresponsible notions about self-determination and destiny. I want them to grab people by the scruffs of their necks, to inspire them, to change their lives.” –Markus Pierson
About a year ago I was ambling around with a friend in Laguna Beach on the town’s monthly Artwalk night. We went into a gallery that never served any wine or cheese, just some bland box cookies, but had the most incredible, whimsical art. This is the place where I first found out that the Dr. Seuss of my childhood storybooks was a famous painter, and that some of his art had subtly “adult” themes.
Suddenly I was stopped in my tracks by several paintings, each one more fanciful than the last, of coyotes…in colorful suits and ties, in strapless evening gowns and fancy dresses no less. I was enchanted. Coyote lovers were holding hands while sitting on a skinny tree branch—that miraculously doesn’t break and send them tumbling back to earth (“High”). Many of the paintings had texts painted into them expressing wistful sentiments or bold declarations about having the courage to face life, no matter what it did to your tender, stubborn heart. A four-image painting called “The Village Idiot” proclaimed: “Without a word spoken, I cast my lot to the vagaries of the sky. They think me a fool, the ‘Village Idiot’. But what I sought did not exist on frodden soil. You took wing, and thus, so did I.”
In “Ship of Fools” a group of coyotes hopefully rowed their small boat through the sky. Coyotes were embracing lovers, or all alone now, filled with tremulous nostalgia and impossible courage to find or hold onto love. “Staying past the sunset, past the end of the evening, on into the night and its many mysteries…. She has but one wish; for love to rain down upon her, to cover her completely and hold fast, to stay strong over time…and I will. There is no mystery there” (“She Lingers”).
The gallery owner, seeing me mooning over the paintings came over and told me Pierson’s story. Over two decades ago as he lay in a hospital bed terribly sick from Crohn’s disease, he made a momentous decision. He opened his eyes one day and told all of his friends that the man he used to be was dead and that he was going to be an artist. Everyone thought he was crazy, of course, but inspired by the song “Coyote” by Joni Mitchell, he began to paint his coyote art, which became one of the most famous series in the world.
Pierson writes, “I was a dirt-poor billboard painter with an incurable disease when I began The Coyote Series and, if not for unbelievable luck coming my way, I may have remained that. But even then, when I had nothing, I was optimistic, because at last I was chasing my dream. In that experience you’ll find the essence of The Coyote Series: chase a dream, live life like you mean it, love deeply, be a fool for your passions, and come what may, good or bad, book or bust, your life will have few regrets.”
Pierson and his art have become very dear to me since I won my own life-and-death battle with cancer. In fact, I think the coyote should be the patron saint of all who have life-challenging diseases or sorrows that at times seem more than they can bear. As Pierson says, coyote teaches us how to let go of our limitations and live at last—if only we will listen.
Why do we fight so hard against the things that call to our hearts? All I ever wanted to do was to be a writer, yet there were ten million reasons why I just couldn’t finish what I started. Everyone else’s needs were always more important than mine, everyone else’s books either got edited or ghost-written by me while my own work sat unfinished on the shelf. Like Pierson, when I did not follow my dream, it almost killed me. Now, I know that my writing is one of the main things that is keeping me alive because I love words and ideas and writing love letters to the world with every bit of my being.
My favorite coyote painting, the one that tickles me most, is called “The Last Known Journal Entry.” Horatio, a coyote anthropologist, has written in his journal about a tribe of Amazon women who live deep in the jungle. Whenever any of Horatio’s colleagues have any contact with one of them, they are lured into the bush and never seen again. But from time to time, Horatio thinks he can hear their laughter floating in the air late at night. (“I can only hope they are not being tortured.”) Horatio, however, knows that he is strong enough to resist their wiles that make men into “Love Slaves.” In fact, he has been meeting with “Mia Likey, the high Coyotess of the Amozonian all-female Pradagucci Tribe,” trying to find out about the ways of her people. Invited to “an intimate tribal feast,” he is sure that he can resist her because he is “a modest man of science” who doesn’t drink much and talks even less.
In the painting we see an overwhelmingly beautiful coyote woman, her cleavage magnificent in a black strapless evening gown with matching full-length satin gloves. (She has changed from her indigenous attire for the occasion.) Her full lips are crimson and voluptuous (with sharp white incisors just peeking out of the corners of her mouth). In her hand, which shows the outline of one powerful claw beneath the glove, she holds Horatio’s “Last Journal Entry.” Oh, how she has the professor’s number! He sits across from her, slumped down in his chair in his best suit, his wine glass empty (hers is full and she is in complete control of herself). He is completely overcome by her beauty and has succumbed finally to his desire for something he has never known before. And although he is holding onto his chair for dear life with one hand, you know that in the very near future he too will be disappearing into the jungle, never to be heard of again, except as laughter ringing out through the night. In fact, you can already see the bushes encroaching round their table.
Sometimes it takes tremendous wild forces to finally make you surrender to your dreams. Sometimes you are faced with challenges that seem at times almost beyond your strength. But what is that when you are standing in the Shining Presence of the One Thing You Most Love? Then it is time to take flight. It is time to call upon your patron Saint Coyote, who will never allow you to give up, no matter what. Coyote will pick up your dusty heart, put it back into your chest, and teach you to howl at the full moon in the beauty of the night. And when anyone hears that sound, lightening strikes and their own hearts break open with joy.
Writing is my Coyote.
I am Coyote.
Be a Coyote.
[Now you must see some of this amazing art. Follow this link. There is a new piece called “A Life Electric.” Read the text. It will amaze you. http://www.peabodyfineart.com/pierson/index.htm]