by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!
Some wildlife species at Wintergreen are familiar friends containing few mysteries. Chipmunks, whitetail deer, black rat snake, even bears are commonplace amid our forested community and most Wintergreen residents feel comfortable with them as they go about their daily lives. Few noises or sightings change that comfort level quicker than a pack of coyotes emitting a round of vocalizations close by or a coyote eyeing us as it wanders the woods edge. This Nine Minute Naturalist will feature a review of the book Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History written to explore the interface of coyotes and humans.
The desire to read up on the “wily” coyote hit me after an interaction on Crawfords Knob this winter. Upon reaching my destination, I hoped off the ATV and removed my helmet. Unbeknownst to me, I had driven into the middle of a coyote pack. Although I could not see them, multiple coyotes were discussing my rude interjection into their lives via loud vocalizations all around me. It was a fascinating experience that got me interested in delving into the coyote topic. Later that week while listening to a favorite podcast of mine, the book Coyote America by Dan Flores was recommended so I took the bait and quickly read it. Upon finishing and reflecting on my thoughts on this book, I decided I would use it as my first (and maybe last) book review on the Nine Minute Naturalist blog.
With the book Coyote America author Dan Flores weaves the mythology, biology, and geography into a somewhat linear history of the coyotes’ interactions with humans. The beginning few chapters make the reader quite clear that this is not a biology textbook but instead is an account of the evolving relationship between humans and coyote. This story telling jumps from Native American mythology and spirituality to coyote to biology and back again. While entertaining, the flow is a bit erratic and at times the subject matters border on the inappropriate (some of the mythological stories are a bit sexual in nature). Each chapter brings something unique to the book and makes for an overall product that keeps the reader invested.
The most fascinating aspect to me was the presentation of historical interactions and attitudes about the coyote in contrast with present day viewpoints. Dan Flores fascinatingly spends quite a few words illustrating how Native Americans and early European hunters viewed this ubiquitous hunter. This contrasted with the introduction of coyotes in the social narrative by the likes of Mark Twain describing coyotes in a less than flattering light. I also was enthralled by the study into coyote genetics that helped clarify some gray area on hybridization with dogs and red wolves.
The book had negatives that kept my appreciation for this book subdued. In addition to the erratic changing subjects listed above, it also lacks a bit of the focus on the coyote physiology and lifestyle that would have helped my appreciation for the animal. The author also did not allow me to come to my own opinion on certain subjects but instead basically instructed me how to feel, especially in regards to historical figures and political viewpoints.
Despite the negative aspects of the book, I would recommend Coyote America. It will make you think differently about an animal that makes us a bit uncomfortable. It expanded my knowledge of the animal and its place in the ecosystem thus performed its purpose well.