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What I Learned During My Week As Coyote

By Dominick Bonny

Last week was the David Thompson Experience week and the Museum was bustling with a constant stream of area schoolchildren learning about the life and times of David Thompson – one of the Pacific Northwest’s most famous and prolific explorers, cartographers and fur-trappers. The kids got to paddle a canoe on the Columbia River with the Wenatchee Row and Paddle Club and afterward, they would stop by the Museum for a presentation.

That’s where they would be greeted by Coyote – usually me. 

They would pile out of a bus or turn the corner and see me and stop in their tracks. There I would be, clumsily waving Coyote’s giant hands, which were perched on the end of bamboo sticks I worked from within the apparatus. Clad in great long strips of khaki-colored cloth, a giant paper mache Coyote head was perched on top of mine, swaying back and forth as I lurched forward to greet the children.

No matter what their age they would almost uniformly stop and hesitate a moment before approaching this lumbering behemoth. Yet once the initial surprise of seeing a 8-ft-tall coyote-man wore off the kids would high-five me with wary curiosity and twitter amongst themselves about the gargantuan K 9 dancing on the sidewalk in front the Museum.

During almost a week of donning the costume a couple times a day I learned a few things:

1. Middle schoolers can be kinda mean.

The elementary school children were pretty much uniformly delighted by the sight of the gangly Coyote. They would run up to high-five my dinner plate-sized model hands but middle schoolers weren’t so eager to show interest. They hung back ,usually taking in the sight through half-lidded eyes while murmuring amongst themselves.

One girl asked me, “Do you feel like a loser?

To which I replied, “Not until now.

2. It’s nearly impossible to dress as Coyote without help.

When I got the email asking if I’d volunteer, the Museum’s education coordinator, Selina Danko, said I should probably bring someone along to help me put the thing on – as it is pretty much a two-person job.

I thought to myself, “I’m a big, strong guy. I can handle it.

I was wrong.

The Coyote and Beaver costumes are mounted onto what can only be called chassis, metal frames over which the cloth and costume are tethered, and the whole thing is worn like a backpack.

It’s such an unwieldy apparatus there’s no possible way one person can carry the costumes, let alone sling one over his head and securely fasten the clasps and everything alone.

Because of that, and the fact I rarely had someone to accompany me midday to aid me in dressing in a basement … I had to resort to dire measures.

I would crouch and crawl my way up into the cavity of the great beast – slithering my way into the thing as I tried to balance it upright against a wall or the dumpster behind the Museum. Then once I had nearly dislocated my shoulders trying to squirm into the straps of the backpack I would fire the muscles in my legs and dart upward, simultaneously grasping the frayed belt in front and, sucking in my gut, attempt to tie it quickly.

By the time I finished wrestling into Coyote’s internal workings I was a sweaty mess and nearly always a few minutes late to meet the kids.

So I would bound, running as fast as I dared around the Museum on the sidewalk – much to the amusement of local motorists and officers in the police station parking lot across the street.

Once there I would stand, huffing and puffing, sweat dripping off the end of my nose underneath the burlap-colored mesh of Coyote’s chest, and ham it up for the kids.

Even though I sometimes felt foolish and getting into the costume was a pain in the neck the most important lesson I learned was this:

3. Volunteering in your local community is a rewarding experience.

These days it seems like everyone is always talking about what they saw on TV last night. I think that’s probably because they don’t have any interesting stories of their own to tell. Which I view as a profoundly saddening thing.

If for no other reason than to have an interesting anecdote to relate to friends I would advocate volunteering for a community organization like the Museum. You have new experiences, learn new things and most importantly –  meet new people in your community.

And when it comes down to it, life is all about the communities in which we live.

If you would like to volunteer at the Museum or contribute to our blog, contact Public Relations Coordinator Chris Rader at [email protected].

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