Once upon a time way back when Mama Earth was young and frisky, there were three bears. They were not a papa bear, a mama bear and a baby bear, as you might assume. They were three sisters, and they lived together in great harmony in a delightful cave on the western side of the awe-inspiring Sierra Nevadas, which then were ultra new and sharply edged. The bears' cave overlooked a secluded green valley, which contained hives of wild bees and everything else a bear's heart or stomach might desire. The three sisters were Dreamers—visionaries and seers. They were known far and wide as the best and most accurate of oracles.
One day, an old coyote came into their peaceful valley. He was footsore and weary, for he had traveled mile upon mile over mountains and desert, across sharp rocks and hot dry sands and tumultuous waters. He had come to seek the oracle bears.
They foresaw his arrival and thought he must have a really important question to have come such a long, wearisome way. This shows that even the best of oracles make mistakes. It's that kind of 'thinking' that does it.
When Coyote at last reached the cave, panting heavily from the long, steep climb, he scratched politely on the rock beside the entrance. Eldest Sister Bear was home alone because she had the flu, and her sisters had gone to consider the bees and perhaps do a little fishing. However, she got up out of her bed and came to the entrance of the cave. There she lay down, her nose toward Coyote. She regarded him thoughtfully with half-shut eyes, and finally she invited him to lie down in the shade, and to tell her why he was there and what he wanted.
'I heard tell somewhere that you're an oracle.'
'Yes,' murmured Eldest Sister Bear.
'I don't know much about oracles,' he muttered, looking at his toes, 'but I'm very interested. Perhaps you could tell me about oracling.'
'What would you like to know?'
'Oh, I dunno. About oracling, like, and all that.'
'Oh Great Bear Goddess of the West' she thought, 'why me?' Aloud she said, 'Perhaps if you could be a little more specific, I could be more helpful. Just what is it you want to know?'
'Oh, I dunno. Oracling. You know.' He gazed at her with limpid golden eyes, in which there was great friendliness, a slightly perplexed look, but very little intelligence. 'I'd like to know about oracling.'
'Do you want to learn how to be an oracle?' Eldest Sister Bear asked patiently.
'Well, I dunno,' Coyote replied, looking vaguely into the distance.
Eldest Sister Bear put her paws over her eyes for a few moments. Then she rolled over onto her back and gently paddled her back paws in the air. 'I'm not well,' she said plaintively, 'Perhaps you had better come back when my sisters are home.'
Coyote apologized for coming when she was ill, but he didn't go away. He just put his nose between his paws and whuffled gently. After a bit Eldest Sister Bear realized that he was asleep, and she thought she might as well nap too.
When Eldest Sister Bear woke up again the sun was low behind the trees. Coyote was still asleep, but she could hear her sisters coming up the trail. She coughed gently to awaken Coyote—well, she meant to cough gently, but the cough got away from her and was more like an explosion of loud barks. Coyote whuffled backwards, awakened with a snort, and sneezed.
'I hope you're not catching my flu,' Eldest Sister Bear said gently.
'No, no,' Coyote said with alarm, 'wouldn't dream of it. Know these are your hunting grounds. Wouldn't catch anything.'
Eldest Sister Bear sighed. This was going to be harder than she thought. Well, Little Bear always thought that she was so clever—let her solve this one then. Just at that moment the two younger bears arrived at the cave. They were each carrying a fish for Eldest Sister Bear.
'Thank you, sisters,' said Eldest Sister Bear faintly. 'Please, give one to our guest.'
When the two fish had been eaten down to the last bone, the two younger bears waited politely to be told what was going on. Eldest Sister Bear rolled over on her back again and waved her paws feebly. 'He says he wants,' she said, 'to find out about oracling.' She closed her eyes, and turned her back to all of them.
Her sisters were surprised. It wasn't like Eldest Sister Bear to be rude, but they put it down to the flu, which was an especially horrible one with fever and chills and aching bones and a nasty, deep, racking cough.
After a lengthy conversation with Coyote, they better understood Eldest Sister Bear's behavior, but they still didn't know what Coyote wanted. Little Bear took it upon herself to tell Coyote how the three sisters had become oracles. She told him what an oracle did and how she did it. She even gave a few case histories of their more notable successes and famous clients.
Little Bear was charmed by Coyote. She seldom had an audience who was prepared to listen until she was through talking, and Coyote seemed willing to listen forever. However, when, at the end of her monolog, Coyote just said, 'Ye-ess?' and waited for her to go on, even Little Bear had to admit that something was amiss with her audience.
The two younger sisters conferred with each other. Reaching no conclusion, they asked Eldest Sister Bear for advice. Eldest Sister Bear's patience was exhausted (and if you'd been listening to Little Bear somewhat inaccurately telling things you already knew for the last five hours, you'd probably have exhausted your patience too, especially if you were only bearly patient to start with). 'You're oracles,' she said shortly, 'so oraculate.'
The two younger sisters promptly went into identical trances.
'You were meant to be intelligent,' pronounced Middle Sister Bear in hollow tones.
'But you turned out foolish,' pronounced Little Bear in nearly as hollow tones. 'This can be fixed. Do you want it fixed?'
'Ye-ess?' asked Coyote hesitantly, confused by this sudden strange turn of events.
'Right!' said the two younger sisters in unison. 'Eldest Sister Bear is the First Shaman. She'll make you smart.'
Eldest Sister Bear got up and went over to Coyote. She spanked him and spanked him until he smarted most sorely. At last the smarts took hold, and Coyote ran away, yapping, 'Enough, thank you! Enough! I'm smart enough. Thank you! Enough!'
Ever since then Coyote has been very smart. He knows all sorts of things he didn't know before and is constantly learning new things as well. This irritates some people because they thought he was more manageable (and therefore more likeable) and a better listener when he was still foolish. However, Coyote is keeping his smarts. He keeps his tail well fluffed out so he even looks smart. Although many people do not like a smart ass, Coyote is keeping his to remind him why not, just in case he ever feels tempted to be foolish again.
Coyote is clever now and something of a maverick. He likes to do things his own way. Reality therapy is working well for him, and he would like to share these bits of his wisdom with you:
Make certain you know what your question is before you ask it.
Be sure you really want what you're asking for before you ask for it.
Don't annoy Eldest Sister Bear, especially when she has the flu. The results are unpredictable.
This fable originally appeared in Otherworld Arts, 1995