The Three Legged Coyote

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
What can a three legged pregnant coyote teach us about ourselves, the choices that we make, and the life that we live?


Submitted: March 25, 2007

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Submitted: March 25, 2007



The Three Legged Coyote

A Short Story by

Marshal Hilton

I was recently out of town in the Mojave Desert, just outside of 29 Palms California, finishing up my work on the independent film “The Baja Drop”, for Nautical 12 Productions. I was cast in the lead role on this project, and was very excited to have the opportunity to work with this young, talented and very hungry creative team. Writer-Director Taylor Hamilton, along with Producers Aled Ordu and Aaron Papke had put together a great project and entrusted me with the responsibility to carry their story forward. And anytime someone gives you that kind of trust and faith with their hard earned money and creative vision, its an honor that needs to be respected, no matter how large or small the project. I am grateful for their trust and the experience was awesome.

When I was informed that I had been chosen for the part, Taylor sent me some pictures of the location where we would be shooting the film, The Mojave Desert. The images were expansive, ominous and breathtaking. Along with the script and storyline, it all made sense and my creative juices were humming. Little did I know that there was much more in store for me on this shoot than I had originally anticipated? That not only was I going to be shooting a movie, which in and of itself is very cool, but that an innocent little creature would somehow affect me in ways that were unforeseen, and yet immeasurably invaluable.

The shoot was both stunning and brutal, much like the landscape we had the privilege to experience. An amazing place filled with vistas that are beyond comprehension, people that love without condition, and a life spirit that reminds us of just how insignificant we humans are in the evolution of this planet. And yet, we have complete responsibility to do our best to save it.

The temperature on day one of the shoot was hovering at a somewhat comfortable and dry 100 degrees. Just two weeks prior it was 27 degrees and snowing, with the summer’s heat tipping the mercury to an average of between 115 to 120 degrees. At dark we started the morning trek to a small peak about a mile away for the “sunrise money shot”. The hike across the desert scrub, sand and granite river bed was on foot because the landscape was just too rugged for driving the cast, crew and gear to the location. It was surreal. Shadows cast by the moonlight distort distance and depth perception. Everything looks smaller and closer than it really is. With each and every step on the unbroken soil, I wondered when it was, if ever, that a human being had ever actually broken the earth that I was walking on. Everything in this place is built for survival. If it’s an animal, it either bites and stings under the safety of camouflage, or if it’s a plant, it is defended by an array of various spikes and thorns in order to protect the precious water that it may need to survive. The word harsh doesn’t even come close to describing nature’s way of defending itself in the Mojave.

While on the hike one of the producers Tommy Martinez, who was also the owner of the property we were using as a location and base camp, noticed a coyote in full sprint chasing a rabbit no more than 100 feet from us. The chase was absolutely intense; both rabbit and coyote engaged in the life and death struggle for survival that is the reality of life in the Mojave. It was an amazing display of speed, agility and determination by both combatants, completely unaware of our presence, with one single goal in mind, survival. All of us were for the most part speechless as the dance played out. And as fast as it had begun, both the rabbit and coyote darted over a hill and it was over. The fact that there was no resolution did not disappoint anyone. It was amazing to just witness the event. But I was curious. Did the rabbit escape to live another day, or did the coyote kill to live another day? Such is the delicate balance in this unforgiving land.

The dynamic of life is so simple in the Mojave for those that live underneath its harsh and unforgiving hand. Most things living out there didn’t have a choice. And yet, some people choose to inhabit this place. I personally find it very complex. It’s hard to understand making the choice to actually move out there and live. And yet there are those who did make the choice. They traded chaos for peace, and seem to be very comfortable with their decision. I’m not so sure that I’m ready to trade places just yet, but I do know that the beauty and simplicity of this place is alluring all the while.

For most of us we come from the hustle and flow of urban Hollywood; a constant barrage of images, dreams and possibilities, and the never ending stresses of failure, or our perception thereof. It is a difficult battle that we gladly choose to endure, and yet we often question the sanity of our struggle and wonder if our decision was the right choice. It is in these reflective times that we can easily to fall prey to self pity and blame the world for our misfortunes. We all feel it from time to time. No one person is immune to the feelings of insecurity or fear of failure. But when it’s all said and done, each and every one of us has a choice, and the freedom to make a choice. My recent experience in the Mojave brought that to light for me. Not to say that I was unaware of the reality of my choices, but that sometimes we need new experiences to relearn the lessons that carry us forward through our life path.

I think that it can be best summed up this way. During the shoot I met an elderly couple that 30 years earlier had escaped the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, and moved out to the Mojave Desert to retire. One of the producers asked the women one morning how she was doing that day and if anything new was happening. Her reply pretty much summed up the simplicity of this harsh and unforgiving, yet simple place. “Well, not much really” she said…followed by a long silence of thought…“The three legged coyote is pregnant”

What’s even more humbling is the reaction that most of the locals think to all of this “Hollywood Movie Stuff”. You get the feeling that they are just as unimpressed as they should be. They see through all the gloss. In fact their grounded sense humanity is most likely the reason they are living out there in the first place. It’s hard not to feel a bit embarrassed to be part of the energy that invaded their tranquility, yet very proud to be involved with all the production people that were working tirelessly to make the shoot successful. It was very strange and humbling, yet exhilarating all in the same breath.

Now that the shoot is over, I’m quite sure that they are glad to see the circus ride out of town in a cloud of dust, literally. I don’t know for certain if we made much of an impression on them, a novel distraction for sure, but they probably won’t give it much thought after we are gone. But there is one thing I do know for certain. The three legged coyote is pregnant and she’ll be on the hunt for food today in order to survive. And if she prevails, she will give birth to a new clan of baby coyotes, hopefully, with all four legs. Will the new pups know and respect the hardship that their mother had to endure in order to bring them into the world with one paw tied behind her back?, most certainly not. But now after experiencing this place first hand, I do.

I began to wonder about this pregnant three legged coyote, and how difficult her life must be. After watching the fit and healthy coyote struggle with all its might, on four legs, to catch the fast and agile rabbit earlier in the day, how then must she adapt in order to survive in this harsh land? She doesn’t have the luxury of denial, or self medication, or lengthy excuses that blame the world for her problems. She and her future pups can’t afford missed meals and lack of wits in order to survive. Each and every day she struggles with dogged determination to complete the cycle of life. On three legs she needs to perform what other healthy, and in some cases more talented, coyotes do on four legs instinctively. She doesn’t complain and fuss about her dilemma. Her focus is one minded and clear.

As any artist consumed in this profession, I’m quite certain that in the future whenever I’m feeling down or crumbling under the pressure of this superficial world that we are all living in, I must remember the plight of the pregnant three legged coyote. So humbling is her reality. Yes, I have a choice, but hers was determined. Yet sometimes we allow ourselves to wallow in our self absorbed misery, often asking “why me?” She on the other hand has no time for sorrow or self pity. Without ego, or the luxury of personal choice, she perseveres and forges forward; a selfless concern for her unborn pups, unaware of her handicap, with an iron will to survive her hardship at all costs.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “OK, where in the hell is he going with all of this?” I was wondering myself as well. This experience has been rattling around in my head for a while. I just needed some time and a blank piece of paper to flush it out. So here goes.

Yes, there may be prettier, younger and more talented actors out there. And in some cases I’m quite certain that I may be perceived by others within the industry as a one legged actor, a long shot at best. But is that any reason to give up and die? The three legged coyote isn’t giving up. Look at what she has to endure every day. At least I know for certain that I can get food and water whenever I am hungry. And when it rains, snows, or its 118 degrees in the shade, I can retreat to relative comfort and safety. It’s also pretty comforting to know that I’m not under the immediate threat of having a very large and hungry mountain lion chasing my old body down to eat me as a meal either. My life, with all of its ups and downs, success and failures, is a cakewalk compared to the life lived by that wonderful little coyote whom I never had the pleasure to meet. It’s a whole lot easier to accept my choices in life, when put into context to that of the real life and death struggles of that wonderful, and very pregnant three legged coyote, that didn’t have a choice.

It’s amazing what a pregnant three legged coyote can teach you about yourself if you really take a moment to listen…

2007 Media 1 Inc.

© Copyright 2018 Marshal Hilton. All rights reserved.

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