The Place of Choosing
Taking the right road is sometimes simple.
Coyote observed the slow moving travelers as they slouched down the dusty road towards him. They were a few dozen in number and looked the same as the many, many groups of travelers he had seen arrive at the old crossroads during the past 5,485 years. He scratched his neck with his left rear paw and yawned.
The travelers set down their loads, wiped the sweat from their brows, drank water and rested. The noonday sun was achingly hot. Coyote saw artisans and officials, farmers and soldiers, priests and dancers, shopkeepers and merchants and all the kinds of people that comprise the human panorama. Old and young, infirm and robust, cheery and sullen. Even cynics and hopeful fools were among them. Now and then, some would look up from their resting place and gaze blankly at the three trails that led away from the crossroads. There was some gossip, a few prayers and the low, familiar murmur that he knew was the sound of people wondering aloud.
After a time, the travelers all picked up their belongings and started towards the Place of Choosing. Coyote stepped forward, brushing a troublesome burr from his tail with a quick dash of a paw. He spoke with the authority of a sage, but in the high pitched tone of his kind.
“You have come to the Place of Choosing. There are three trails before you.”
Coyote pointed his left forepaw at the trail to the left of the teeming crowd.
“That trail is well worn. You can see that millions have chosen it. The path is straight and level, wide and sure. Although there are no clear destinations marked along the trail, you can take comfort in knowing so many have chosen it before you.”
Coyote directed his right paw at the trail to the right.
“That trail is also well worn, though not as much as the other. You see that there is a sign at the trailhead. The language is ancient, unknown to you. It reads, ‘I am your destination.’ Along this trail there will be signs posted, and they will become more frequent the further you go. You will be told which way to go, when to rest, when to walk and how far you will need to go. You will never be confused on this trail. Although the way is clearly marked, you risk ending up in a destination you do not choose for yourself.”
Coyote then nodded his grizzled muzzle to a third, almost obscured trailhead nearby.
“The third trail is rarely taken. It is crooked and washed out in places where the rains have created floods. No one knows where it leads. Some say the third trail ends nowhere. Others say it is no trail at all, simply a path to the unknown. I, being a Coyote, never bothered to find out more about this trail, because trails are of no use to me.”
Coyote cackled, then hopped up onto a log and let out a howl, which frightened the travelers. He raised his snout to the sky and exclaimed: “Now is the Time of Choosing!”
There was a general commotion as small groups debated, argued, moved this way and that. Some cried out in despair, some set their their faces in resignation.
Soon, about half the people began wandering off down the wide, well trodden road, and the remainder began shuffling down the trail with the signpost.
Coyote watched as the two groups began to grow smaller in the distance. Then he noticed a young woman standing next to him. He rebuked her sternly: “You must choose your trail, traveler! No dawdling! There will be more along soon and I can’t have stragglers wandering around the crossroads!”
The young woman, who carried only a small knapsack and a thin walking stick, smiled at Coyote: “I have chosen, but before I go, I wish to ask you a question.”
“A question?” Coyote was taken aback by this slight of a girl, no taller than a fencepost and no wider than a rail.
“Yes. Which trail would you choose, Coyote?”
Coyote paused. He decided to answer with an enigma, as is typical of coyotes.
“The destination of a Coyote is the place he already stands. There is no choice for us.”
The girl pondered this a moment, then replied: “I see. Which means no matter what you choose, you are always trapped. Home and away are the same thing to you.”
The coyote bared his teeth and snarled, showing his yellow fangs.
“Then tell me, girl, what trail you have chosen?!”
The girl pointed her walking stick at the third trail.
Coyote squinted at her: “Why do you choose that one?”
“Well, because it is the only trail that leads somewhere. The trail to the left shows the same number of millions upon millions of footsteps going away as I have seen on the way to these crossroads on our journey. So, no matter how far you go in that direction, some part of you will end up here again. Perhaps not you, but certainly your children or perhaps their children’s children.”
Coyote began to grin. The girl was clever. “And why not the trail with the sign?”
“Well, because it too only leads to one place, a place that reads — ‘ I am your destination.’ Which is here. Although the trail may take many twists and turns, it revealed itself as a circle on its own. One only need hear the message behind the words.”
Coyote was enjoying the girl’s company. He thought a moment about inviting her for dinner, but realized he only had one small rabbit for the stew and got back to business.
“So. The third trail.”
“Yes…” The girl sighed and adjusted her little knapsack. “Although I cannot know the destination, I know the journey will be a true one. And for people like me, it can be the only choice.”
Coyote turned his ears: “What do you mean, ‘people like me’? What are you?
The girl smiled at Coyote: “ I am a storyist. We believe that each life is a unique story and that in order for the story to be told, we must become the authors of our own story. Only then can you learn to see the true nature of the trailheads before you.”
Coyote quizzed her one last quiz: “And what of the others? All those who have chosen the other paths?”
The girl frowned a bit: “No one has told them yet that they can live and choose their own stories. They have never been told that the true meaning of stories is to help one choose. They can only follow what has been laid out before them. But I will keep trying to tell them, one at a time. Perhaps the day will come when more people will choose the third trail.”
Coyote saw that the sun was beginning to set over the distant hills. “Well, I will surely be here, and I will surely be asking the people to choose. Oh, before I forget….”
And with that, Coyote transformed into a towering totem of plenty. Foodstuffs, sweet wines and cakes, colorful blankets for tents and sleeping wraps, fine leather for walking shoes, woven hats and warming gloves for cool desert nights. The girl was overwhelmed.
She heard Coyote’s high voice cry in the desert: “Because you had the courage to choose the third trail, all this bounty will follow you throughout your journey. May it lead you to incredible destinations. Forget not me in your story!”
A full moon then rose over the painted hills to light the girl’s way on the trail, and she embarked, humming a tune she had learned from her mother, the earth, long ago. As she travelled along, she told everyone she met the story of the Place of Choosing and the sly, magical Coyote.