by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix
Foxes, raccoons, rabbits, and Canadian geese are regulars in our suburban neighborhood, which is just off a heavily trafficked boulevard. But now a coyote may reside here as well.
The not-so-daily coyote
Sitting in our car one dark night, engine idling, my husband and I gawked at a rangy wild canine with toothpick legs and long, pointy ears. It stood 20 feet away and calmly stared back at us. In that moment, fascination trumped our fear for the safety of all the pets in the neighborhood.
Just a few weeks before, my husband had scared off a fox that was stalking our brave—but blind and deaf—miniature poodle. What havoc might this newcomer create?
My emotions were mixed since I had just finished reading Shreve Stockton’s entrancing book The Daily Coyote, A Story of Love, Survival, and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming.
The Daily Coyote is lavishly illustrated with Stockton’s art-quality photos. Her shots became wildly popular on her website of the same name, which is based on Stockton’s life with a coyote named Charlie. The finely detailed, emotionally warm photos create a you-were-there kind of feeling.
But something didn’t feel right to her when she returned to her beloved New York City. Wyoming called to her spirit of not wanting to be fenced in.
Early in the book, Stockton explains that she falls in love with places more than people. So she turned west again and found a place to love—tiny Ten Sleep, Wyoming.
“I felt magnetized to the land, to the red dirt and the Bighorn Mountains and the wide-openness I had no idea still existed in this country.”
New setting, new skills
Stockton has a humorous way with words. “If someone had told me, even three months prior, that I would move, willingly, to a town of three hundred people, I would have told them they needed some Windex for their crystal ball.”
This city girl might have told them they needed a new crystal ball altogether if they had predicted all the things she would learn in the Rocky Mountain west. These included irrigating crops, feeding cattle (she stood in the back of a pickup truck while it was rolling and tossed bales of hay to cows), dosing a wild animal with antibiotics, and sawing legs off dead deer.
Ten Sleep was where Stockton met her friend, Mike, a rancher and a coyote hunter for the Bureau of Land Management. And it was where she discovered a motherhood of sorts when Mike gave her the most inexplicable gift—a baby coyote whose family was dead and who he couldn’t bring himself to kill.
A life-and-death choice
As she held the baby coyote, Stockton said, “I was flooded with the ramifications—if I did not take care of this pup, he would die; if I did, my life would dramatically change and be governed, in large part, by the coyote, for as long as he was in my care….A choice confronted me in the softly breathing form of the coyote in [Mike’s] palm. I either had the death of this baby on my conscience or a wild coyote pup to raise, in my cabin, with my cat.”
Although Stockton tamed Charlie to a large extent, she also sought ways to allow his wildness. Hence, the deer-leg treat.
Learning to become an animal “whisperer” of sorts, Stockton researched coyotes in depth, then analyzed and out-psyched Charlie in order to teach him who was the alpha in their household. This was an emotionally and, at times, physically painful process.
Income from her website has made it possible for Stockton to run an electrified fence around her sizeable yard. The fence protects Charlie from those who might shoot him and it protects the community from Charlie, who is too accustomed to humans to be safely released in the wild.
Charlie the calendar coyote
Stockton is a graduate of California’s Brooks Institute, which specializes in training professional photographers and filmmakers.
When Charlie entered her life, Stockton began emailing a photo of him each day to her grandmother, family, and friends. That’s how her website began.
That’s also how Charlie became one of America’s wildlife sweethearts, commemorated each year in a calendar illustrating his antics and growth. Copies are available for sale on Stockton’s website.
The neighborhood coyote
Tonight, as I drove up my street in the dark, I thought about Charlie again, and I looked for our local coyote with curiosity and concern.
He’s made a choice that is just the opposite of Stockton’s by choosing our city-like neighborhood over the country. I wonder whether he will feel like this is the right place to be.