I’ve never been much for a meander. I prefer a walk with purpose. But the purpose of most of our family walks these days has more to do with preserving our sanity than anything else. Lately, instead of our regular basic loop through the same old neighborhoods, we’ve been walking to visit the new public art sculpture by Travis Stewart, “Coyote,” which has taken up permanent residence in the roundabout where Northwest Baker Creek Road meets Northwest Hill Road.
If you’re looking to get out of the house and experience something without endangering anyone, I can think of nothing better right now. Constructed in cedar and steel, “Coyote” is a 14-foot figure of forged steel with a stoic, carved cedar face. Its filigreed arms are raised high. A second smaller face, possibly the moon, sits at its navel. A giant red hand print covers its mouth. It is a work that the artist says makes reference to the many myths of the trickster coyote figure prominent among many Native American cultures in North America, one that draws on stories we might know at the same time that it presents ideas we have yet to decipher.
The Tiny Travelers got to meet Travis Stewart a couple of months ago when we visited the Chachalu Museum of Art in Grande Ronde, where he has his studio and is an interpretive coordinator. There, in a large space filled with video production equipment and tools used for forging and shaping metal, he showed us a prototype of the sculpture he would later call “Coyote” and install in the space in the roundabout. It was small and wouldn’t achieve the kind of grand statement as the artwork, but it had the air of trickster wisdom about it, like it was challenging us to find the meaning in it.
When we visit the sculpture, I always ask my children why the artist put a handprint over the mouth.
“Maybe people didn’t like what he had to say,” said my 7-year-old, Griffin.
“Maybe he couldn’t figure out how to do the mouth so he just put red paint on his hand and made it that way,” said my 10-year-old, Dashiell.
We already loved Coyote before this pandemic. My children loved it for the surprise of something so big rising incongruously in an area of sculpted yards, lush valley, and rows of hazelnuts. They like the way it has become a directional marker — turn left at the sculpture. They like the way it makes tangible their home’s connection to its Native American past, something they have mostly encountered only at school.
But now that we are all inside, the world out there spinning and changing against the challenges of our time, and a trip to visit “Coyote” is more than just a walk around the block. We remember that once Hill Road was just an old two-lane farm road with a 175-year-old oak tree as the only inhabitant. We remember a time before sidewalks. It all changed so fast — the roundabout came, the homes springing up in the area where geese overwinter. Honestly, we were ambivalent about all of this change until the art came.
We are stuck at home and are the lucky ones who have nothing but time on our hands, but time might be the true trickster. You thought you knew the world and its challenges. You thought you knew the path, that your story was just your own. Maybe you even thought you could just go about your business and remain unchanged.
But this moment requires fresh eyes. What are you afraid to voice right now? What are the ideas that we haven’t, today or anytime, dared to speak? What are you doing today to find meaning in all of this?
Some have noted that people driving in the roundabout sometimes miss their exit because they want to take a look at “Coyote” again. Maybe we are just getting used to the roundabout but I think it’s a pretty great thrill to be rapt in a cheeky little art vortex for a moment before you go on your way.