Notes from Windward: #67


Koh-yoh-teh and the Twelve Hundred

a bit of Windward mythology

     If you spend any time at Windward you'll hear references to Koh-yoh-tey and the Twelve Hundred, and something happened today that moves me to take a few minutes and tell you about what we're talking about. Communities develop their own bits of short-hand that describe the things they deal with--here are two of ours.

     The Twelve Hundred are mischevious demons that exist solely for the pleasure they get out of confounding humans. They're the ones who hide your car keys, or set up coincidences that no self-respecting author could pen without risking reputation. When the Twelve Hundred strike, and they do often, the best one can do is grin and bear it knowing that they'll soon get bored and move on to messing with someone else.

     Koh-yoh-teh is something entirely different--the spirit of malevolent fate that lurks in the shadows ready to take advantage of some careless comment or thoughtless act in order to inflict real harm. At a place like Windward, where we regularly deal with everything from chainsaws to high-voltage electricity, it only takes a moment's inattention for real harm to result. I'm very glad that we've maintained a very good safety record over our years as a self-reliant community, but part of that is because we try to never forget that Koh-yoh-teh is watching, that we're playing with sharp tools and heavy objects all of which can cause real and lasting pain.

     That isn't to say that Koh-yoh-teh hasn't struck close by--indeed, Koh-yoh-teh's shadow has come and come again over the years. Some years back, the man who sold us this land went on to develop another piece of property, and since it was summer, he hired on his best friend's high-school son to help him buid a plank fence. The 17 year old was making a cut with a hand-held power saw when he slipped and the blade took out his femoral artery. He was dead before the ambulance got there.

     Our neighbor to the south was going hunting, and when he got out and bent down to change his front axle from 2WD to 4WD, something caught the trigger on his holstered gun. It went off and shot through both his thigh and his calf leaving a leg so damaged that the medical recommendation was amputation. He fought and kept the leg, but it was a long struggle.

     The man we'd been buying hay from for some six years was the third generation of his family to put up hay in this valley, and he himself had been a cutting and selling hay for more than forty years. One day, as he was securing a load to the back of the truck, his tractor slipped itself into gear, slid forward and fatally crushed him against the truck's back bumper.

     So while Koh-yoh-teh may not be real, the name is a useful way to remember that no matter what we plan, nature always bats last and has no patience for sloppy, careless play. Sometimes you get your wrist slapped, and sometimes it can be much worse.

     Sometimes Koh-yoh-teh visits us in animal form and many is the cold winter night filled with yelping as the coyotes come in close to see if there's anything they can snag and run with. Last winter they were able to break into the duck pen and make off with our India Runner ducks. That's one reason why we're building a new duck enclosure as part of the mini-aquaponics system. We were sad to lose old friends, but that sort of hit and run by the coyotes is part of life on the edge of the Cascadian wilderness.

     But when Koh-yoh-teh strikes, it's worse, and it hurts in a different, deeper way. Here's an example:

     We noticed a few days back that Suzie's lamb was no where to be seen. Suzie didn't seem especially concerned, so we figured that the lamb was just taking a nap while momma chowed down on the morning's hay. But when a couple of days went by without sighting her lamb, we had to conclude that it was lost. In spring, a mother coyote will take a lamb in order to feed the curds in the lamb's stomach to her own kits to help them make the transition from milk to solid food.

     Today, when I opened the gate to the summer pen so that Snowy and her ewe lambs could enter, I found that it wasn't a flesh and blood coyote that claimed Suzie's lamb, but rather that we'd been paid a visit by Koh-yoh-teh.

     The gate for that pen is ten feet wide, but that's a foot short of filling the actual gap, and so last fall we started on the project of installing a railroad tie to (1) serve as the latch point for the gate and (2) fill up the remaining space. For a couple of reasons that project got sidetracked, so when it came time to move Brownie and her boy into the summer pen, I rolled a half-full drum of diesel fuel over the hole to seal it off.

     Unfortunately, I didn't get the drum squarely over the hole, and there was just enough room for a lamb--trying to squeeze his way out of the pen--to slip through and drop his two front legs down into the hole. With both legs down, there was no way the lamb could free himself. Some of our ewes would have been screaming their heads off demanding that one of the two-leggers get down there and rescue the lamb, but Suzie's just not that bright.

     If you want to see a picture of Suzie's lamb as we found him, Click Here.

     I'm kicking myself for not having taken the time to finish that project, since if the railroad tie had been cemented in place, there wouldn't have been an empty space for the lamb to get caught in, but that's part of how Koh-yoh-tey does his work--he looks for that situation where you just didn't pay enough attention, just didn't go that bit extra, and uses that as the stage for his tragic play.

     So if you're here working with us some day, and you start to do something which holds the potential for personal harm, you may hear me remind you to remember Koh-yoh-teh. It's not that we actually believe in malevelent spirits, but true or not, it's something to keep in mind any time the potential for harm, and even death, is inherent in what we do.

     As a form of pennance, I'll make sure that the rail road tie gets installed in the very near future--just wish the reminder hadn't cost us a lamb.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67