I have the best commute in the world. I travel nearly daily from Napa Valley through Sonoma County to Marin County, CA. There are spectacular views of the upper San Francisco Bay wetlands, across the lush Carneros region with vineyards for miles, the coastal Mayacamas Range, Mt. Tamalpias, and Mt. Diabo. As pretty goes, it’s off the charts. The only other commute I’ve had to match it was 20 years ago along the Pacific Coast Highway from Long Beach to Newport Beach, with the blue Pacific practically at my fingertips.
I started a new commute three weeks ago. I had just come off a lovely, lazy summer vacation. I was about as Zen as I’ve been in years after spending four months meditating daily, taking long walks, adopting a puppy, and generally finding ways to revel in happy. Weirdly, the day I suited back up and started commuting to work, I stepped right into the old habit of taking myself Very Seriously. I drove fast. I cursed red lights. I started driving like a maniac on the devil’s raceway. It’s embarrassing to admit, but every other driver on the road was either a) stupid, b) blind, c) ignorant of my supreme mission to arrive at my very important place in the world. I couldn’t get where I needed to fast enough, or efficiently enough.
And then, gratefully, before I got too out of control and gave myself an aneurism, I recieved a cosmic thump on the head. I was driving to work one morning last week, raging against every slow driver between me and the Golden Gate Bridge. The line of traffic was (finally!) moving swiftly along, we had gotten a green light through a three-way intersection near an abandoned dairy in Sonoma and were picking up speed for an uphill climb. Suddenly, out of the overgrown bushes of the ghost dairy on my right, a beautiful golden coyote darted toward the far side of the road and to my horror, leapt straight into the grill of the car in front of me. There was not time for the driver to even slow, much less react. Impact was a foregone conclusion. I watched, horrified, as time slowed and the scene played itself out.
The driver did not stop. Traffic did not stop. We swerved and eddied around the carnage, but we did not stop. I reached for my phone and made a lifeline call. I called B, my friend, crying and shuddering. “Pull over,” she said. As soon as I could, I did. I did not see anyone else pull over. Bless her, B helped me through those first few minutes, until I could breathe and continue driving.
Later that day, I called her and we talked. “Coyote is known as the trickster in Native American legend,” I told her. “It wasn’t funny.”
“There, there,” she said to me, “There, there.”
I know enough about stuff to know that seminal events like my catastrophic commute are never about what they seem to be about. They are always about something deeper. That night, while on the phone with B, I sat at my computer and did a Google search for “coyote totem.” The page I found said that the message from Coyote is “to not take things too seriously, to remember to have fun.” I was stunned. I looked at my behavior leading up to the incident of the commuter coyote, and I was indeed taking the world waaaay to seriously. It was as if the spirit of Coyote had orchestrated the whole show just to get my attention, as if to say, “Really? REALLY?”
Since that awful day in Sonoma, something has shifted in me. I’ve decided that ten minutes one way or the other doesn’t matter. Slow cars don’t matter. Rude drivers don’t matter. What matters is how in-tune I am with my soul, and nothing is important enough get in the way of that. Period. I show up for my commute, and whatever happens, happens. Sluggish cars, silly drivers, et al.
A side benefit of my tragedy/epiphany is that I have been dumbstruck by my travels. I am lucky enough to get to traverse some of the most beautiful natural scenery on the Pacific coast. It is lush and dreamy and fecund in a hundred ways. It is splashed by farm ponds that turn silver and reflect the rising winter sunrise. It is dotted with working barns that have withstood wind and rain and sun. My route is part of the original El Camino Real, the path driven by faith, one that Padre Junipero Serra took through Alta California more than two hundred years ago to bring God to a wild land. I didn’t see that before. In my rush to be important, I had ignored this amazingly beautiful place. Coyote, in his wily wisdom, knew that, and brought it to my attention in a way that was impossible to ignore.
So now, I am reminded of Ram Das’ famous admonition: Be Here Now. Thankfully, I am. Here. Now. And the view is amazing.