Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Daily Coyote (A Review)

Back in November, shortly after the election, I blogged about The Daily Coyote, a website I had read about in a recent issue of People magazine and fallen in love with. Shreve Stockton is both an amazing woman and a highly talented photographer. Add that to a hunky cowboy boyfriend and an absolutely loveable menagerie of animals – Eli (cat), Charlie (coyote), and Chloe (dog) – and the result is irresistible. It's the ultimate off-the-grid fantasy. A book deal was inevitable.

The Daily Coyote, Internet version, definitely gives the impression of interspecies harmony of epic cuteness proportions. (A cat that bosses a coyote! Cuddly puppy! SQUEEEE!) There is a brief note of unrest, nevertheless, that comes in around February 2008, when Stockton briefly noted that Charlie's growing maturity had called upon her to become stronger and more assertive in order to maintain her alpha status. Also intriguing is the identity of the "MC," or My Cowboy, who is frequently mentioned as a coyote expert and dog owner but remains otherwise mysterious. And although Shreve is first and foremost a photographer, the written portions of the website – which originated as a blog here on Blogger – have always hinted at a strong writing ability as well. So what the book The Daily Coyote does is to basically fill in the cracks and answer everyone's burning questions, such as: Just what led a city girl to a Wyoming town of 300? What happened to the rest of Charlie's family? Where did Eli and Chloe come from? How did Shreve and MC meet, and what exactly is their relationship?

Actually, Shreve's prose gets a bit "purple" at times over the course of the book but the overall result is nevertheless a truly wonderful memoir that is as much about its authoress, the surrounding "big sky" West, and the hardy folks who live there as it is about Charlie. For the first several chapters, the story is wonderfully human and endearing; especially once Shreve acquires that tiny orphaned coyote who can barely open his eyes. The ensuing events will be familiar to anyone who's read the blog, but the book enables Shreve to go more in-depth, not only with regards to Charlie, but also her relationship with Mike ("MC") and his tragic past. Even when she actually incorporates written blog entries (such as this one) into the narrative, the surrounding context fleshes them out, whereas previously they were isolated islands on a photography-oriented site.

And obviously it is the photographs that are just the apex – so much so that having a pet coyote suddenly seems desirable. In fact, this was doubtlessly an issue of no small concern to those more familiar with wild animals. But that is really where the real value of the book comes in. I've mentioned that I more or less fell in love with coyotes thanks to Charlie, but finally reading The Daily Coyote was like a dash of cold water. Because Charlie grew up and became, well, a wild predator. In last week's live chat on Blog TV, Shreve stated that the January chapter was the hardest for her to write because it meant reliving such a difficult time in her life. And it is indeed acutely heartbreaking, even though the reader already knows that everything turned out all right.

But it also makes Eli seem all the more totally awesome. We already know that Charlie has never, ever challenged him for status, but reading about his troubles in that arena with Shreve seriously drives the point home. I was always one of those dog people who hated cats, but Eli has forced me to reevaluate that opinion. Now that cat is EPIC.

I was none too fond of memoirs either, nor was I ever one of those people ever to be inspired by another human being. (I'm kind of misanthropic like that.) But Shreve changed that for me. That woman is amazing on so many levels and I strongly recommend listening to this interview she did with motivational speaker Sue Thompson. Equally impressive is how understanding and respectful she is of the ranchers in her area, with regards to their feelings about the coyotes who eat their livestock. Her boyfriend (MC) even kills sheep-preying coyotes for a living! But definitely the general theme of The Daily Coyote is the holistic interconnectedness of nature, something that cannot be understood until one is forced to confront the elements and endure the hardships that come along with living on the edge. It's powerful stuff.
We romanticize that wild animals enjoy an idyllic life of freedom, when really, they are fighting to survive, for food and shelter and safety and against the infringements of man. Death serves in nature. The soil is fortified by the bones; animals and birds and bugs live off the carcass. In nature, there is honor in being eaten. To me, the poached deer was beautiful in providing its body to the living animals that were trying to survive. And I believe this works on a human level as well, although it is somewhat taboo in our society. I believe we can learn to use death, and let the gifts of the dead help us to become stronger. Our society responds to death by mourning, and usually, mourning is the stopping place. It is not the stopping place. I believe there is nourishment and strength to be found, if only we were not so afraid of it.
The book closes, however, to the tune of rebirth, in April, as Shreve considers acquiring a puppy-sister for Charlie. That is not, of course, the end, and there will hopefully be no end for a long, long time. Even after the reading is finished, there will always be more photos on The Daily Coyote to look forward to! Do, do, do read this book!

Also recommended: Hope Ryden's God's Dog: The North American Coyote as a companion book.

Note: Shreve's photographs on The Daily Coyote are copyrighted, so I am not going to reproduce them here. You will have to visit the website.

can however, give you this wonderful video of Charlie and Chloe playing!


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