Before I tell you about the coyote, I want to share some good news on the publishing end. This week, I have the cover story at the OC Weekly. The piece is called “Notes From the Underground Economy,” and it’s a story I’ve been working on for months. Really, since about September. I’m proud to share this piece, and it was an amazing learning experience. Working with Gustavo Arellano — editor of the OC Weekly and voice of Ask a Mexican — was a great honor. Also, last week, I had a piece come out at the LA Weekly that seemed to be received well. It’s about losing and rediscovering the California Dream while driving on Route 1 and features Joe Clifford. It was awesome to write, and I was so pumped the LA Weekly ran it.  It’s one of my favorite pieces I have written in the last few months, because it felt true — to me at least. Check it out: Route 1.

So now to the coyote story…

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One of my favorite spots to go hiking in Southern California is El Moro Canyon in Laguna Beach. First, the drive to get there is extraordinary. When I want to head to El Moro from Long Beach, I take the PCH, passing through Seal, Sunset, Huntington, and Newport Beach. I love driving along the ocean and listening to music. Well, this time I decided to use the ride to listen to an audiobook. And for some reason, I felt like listening to “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu.

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Well, I found this “read” fascinating, as I’m sure most people do, because of the ideas of “stratagem” — winning a battle and conquering a kingdom while appearing as if you did nothing.  Never appearing weak — and if you appear weak, let it be a simulation to disguise your prowess. It was fascinating. I loved the idea that if you’re a general that receives praise or criticism, then you’re doing something wrong. You should accomplish your goals perfectly, and you should win the battle in a way that allows you to win from afar — to allow the enemy to defeat itself (though it was really you).

So I got out of my car at El Moro, and the wind was just whipping cold air. Sun Tzu was running through my mind, and I figured I would meditate a bit on the lessons of Sun Tzu and how I could apply them to my life. I started walking up the trails, and I could see the white-capped ocean off to the West. I was running the ideas through my mind, and I started to think about how to give  the impression of quiet confidence. I remember hearing a line about appearing like a hawk: calm until the moment of attack. Once the attack comes, then you must act decisively.

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Clearly, I’m trying to think about these ideas in abstract ways. How would I react to a threat? That’s when I realized how alone I was in the middle of a canyon. There was no one around me, and I remembered seeing a video of a mountain lion attacking a man. Of course, mountains lions don’t really want to bother with humans, but the fear gave rise to the image in my mind. And I recognized this fear as weakness.

I kept walking in the trails, and I watched the birds fly in and out of the trails. A couple passed me, and they said hello. It was peaceful. I was watching jack rabbits hop out of the brush. Then I came up to the difficult part of the hike. A steep and long incline to the top of the mountain. It was too cold to sweat.

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Finally, I got to the top — a long even stretch that overlooks Laguna Beach and the Pacific Ocean. I yelled out to the quiet expanse of the hills. In a few steps, I noticed a guy walking from the other side of the mountain. He stopped and told me: “I just saw coyote about 50 yards away. He was just looking over the hill. Thought you would like to know. He’s a big one.”

Well, he left, and I have to admit this: I debated whether to keep walking. I was a little bit intimidated by this giant coyote. In my mind, the coyote took on gigantic proportions, foaming at the mouth, waiting behind a cactus to tear me a part. I started to think about how I was going to defend myself. What about all that shit from “The Art of War.” Fuck that, I thought, what can I do against a giant coyote?

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I was scanning the brush and the trail, and then something jumped out at me…a jack rabbit. Man, I was losing my composure. Then I saw an old woman, maybe about 75, approaching from the opposite direction with two walking sticks. I stopped and tried to extend to her the same courtesy as the man I passed earlier.

“There’s a man back there who just told me about a giant coyote coming this way,” I said

The old woman looked at me and smiled. “Coyotes in the daytime?”

“That’s just what some guy said.”

“I’ve seen them at night,” the old woman said, “but I’m not scared of them.”

Then she just kept on walking, maybe even at a faster pace than me.

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I walked back to my car the rest of the way amazed that some old woman was less scared of a coyote than me. It’s amazing how fear can manifest in our minds, control our reactions, and if there is anything I still have to learn is to not let fear control my emotional state. I feel like this is an important lesson for a writer…somehow. Maybe just for a man.