One late afternoon this week I was sitting in my combination study/ kitchen/ bedroom/living room staring absently through the open window at the desert haze when I felt a familiar tingling in my head, followed by the (telepathically transmitted) sultry voice of Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess, aka The Trickster. Her purpose was to alert me that humans living in Los Angeles and the surrounding sprawl are behaving in a way she has not seen before in thousands of years of monitoring our species.
Harry, she said in my head, everyone has withdrawn to their shelters and are coming out as little as possible. Schools and businesses are closed and people are facing financial ruin.
A virus called the corona has appeared and is stalking humanity.
Oh yeah, I read about it. Has it become a major killer?
There is potential that it will.
Betty, I'm always interested in your findings, but I can't say I "care" about this in the conventional sense.
Harry, your indifference to your own species is sad.
It's not indifference; it's hostility.
That's sad too. You only dislike your species because it is currently out of whack, disorganized and confused.
Once you humans get your act together, you'll be awesome.
Thanks for that thought, Betty! In your opinion are people overreacting to this virus?
It's hard to say, but the most remarkable thing, Harry, is that people are complying with the drastic orders.
Are they complying because they are afraid of the virus?
In part. The story is alarming: A virus leaps from a bat to a human and is expected to continue leaping, killing many in its path, until it has deposited its progeny in humans everywhere. There is no natural immunity to the virus and no antibiotic for it.
Yeah, scary. Also there are plenty of conspiracy theories, like that it escaped from a lab, or is a weapon of some group against another. Betty, as a deity, can you tell me what this virus really is?
It's more than one thing, Harry. One thing it is, is a virus. Its origin, though, is varied. Whether it came from a lab, or from evolution, or from a deity- it wasn't me, by the way....
We chuckled telepathically.
...wherever the virus came from, it also came from your own human minds, your own need, which beckoned it into existence.
Betty, that's a tough sell. Are you saying we wished for the virus?
No. I'm saying you wished for some force that would impede you, that would slow down your lonely mindless march. The virus heard your need and sprang forth.
Betty, you are never going to win the Nobel prize for science. How many people have died from the virus in L.A.?
I thought about that for a moment.
Given the current low death rate, Betty, I'm surprised too at the widespread compliance with sheltering in place, abandoning of businesses and schools. Is anyone resisting, from any demographic?
There's some resistance from financial interests, religious groups and beachgoers, but society at large is compliant.
That's a conundrum!
It sure is! Betty called out as she sailed through the open window, landing at my feet and calmly sitting on her haunches.
Hi Betty, I get the feeling you have something planned for us.
I do. Is you car working?
Betty was referring to my 2007 Camry hybrid, which waits patiently in the dirt beside my house for weekly trips to the Family Dollar Store.
Where are we going?
Los Angeles. I need to do some readings in the field.
Within minutes we were heading south on the 14, planning the jagged route of freeways to downtown L.A. Traffic was light due to the statewide confinement. Betty sat on the front seat, using a bit of her "magic" to create a dog aura that disguised both her coyote and deity aspects. I use the term "magic" in quotes because, although the things Betty can do are as mechanistic as anything we understand, since we can't understand them, they're magic.
We transitioned to the 5 south and soon crossed the 210 and were surrounded by vast urbanity, the creosotes replaced by palm trees. Betty sniffed the air from the partly rolled down window. After a few minutes she said:
Harry, I'm already getting the information I need, but I guess it's de rigueur to park and walk around.
You already know what you need to know?
Pretty much. But let's park someplace and walk around, just in case I missed something.
The sun had set behind the Griffith Park hills to our west. I got off the freeway at Los Feliz, turned south on Riverside and drove randomly for a while, until we ended up in Atwater Village, a cross-hatch of railroad tracks, warehouses and a thriving artistic community.
I parked on Glendale Boulevard. Betty and I got out and walked past empty shops that were usually bustling.
So Betty, what are you learning? Why are people so compliant with the radical requirements? It can't just be because they're afraid of the virus.
No, it's not.
We approached a young mother wearing a face mask and pushing a baby in a stroller. The mother veered a few inches away from us, and I felt Betty amp up her dog aura (she can also create the illusion of a leash). When the sidewalk was empty again, Betty resumed her thoughts.
Harry, people are segregating themselves into small units, whether familial, tribal- whatever is the smallest denomination of belonging they can find in society. They do this in compliance with authority, but they also want to do it.
Humans are afraid of the gigantic civilizations they have built, because they are unstable structures, fashioned in a hurry by unstable humans. Dealing with other people has become fraught, since the context for human relations is increasingly unclear. Going forth into civilization is dangerous. People like the idea of hiding from the "world," like a coyote in her burrow.
What do you mean, that we are "unstable"?
Betty paused, considering, I guessed, how to soften her words for me.
Humans evolved to deal with extreme instability. Unlike deer or tortoises or butterflies, you did not adapt to a specific environment. The human environment has been a kaleidoscope of change since the animals pushed you out of the motherland. Your real ambition is to get back in, though you go about it in strange ways.
Imagine!, I exclaimed, marvelling at the ironies of life, I'm walking down Glendale Boulevard with a coyote who is lecturing me about human instability. Betty, why can't we make a stable environment and make ourselves be stable?
Your difficulties are understandable. You've had no opportunity to evolve; it's been one disaster after another, whether self-inflicted or otherwise. Humans need a break.
I don't think we're about to get one, I sighed as we got back in the Camry.
I'd have to agree, Betty said. In summation, then, people are in the mood to shelter in place, thus the compliance. How long they remain in that mood is a question.
That's a question alright, I responded with a lack of brilliance and insight that effectively ended the conversation. Thirty minutes later I parked on my dirt driveway and we said goodnight.