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The Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival, and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming Paperback – Bargain Price, November 3, 2009
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About the Author
Shreve Stockton is a writer and photographer currently living in Wyoming. She received her bachelor's degree in photography in 2001 from Brooks Institute of Photography. She is the author of a cookbook, Eating Gluten Free, and of two weblogs, Vespa Vagabond and The Daily Coyote.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The jewels in this life are the events we do not plan; at least that is how it has always been for me. The plan was to move back to New York City -- my city of screeching subways and underground jazz clubs; city of grit and noise and flower vendors on every third corner, of low-lit restaurants and Brooklyn graffiti, dirty martinis and expensive jeans; where music exits every doorway and window and car. New York, where the city lights under cover of clouds give the night sky an orange glow; where eight million people swarm just inches from one another.
I had left New York, the city of my passions, for two years in San Francisco, a transition so stressful, it triggered severe abdominal pain and debilitating depression, which, after six excruciating months, I finally diagnosed as gluten intolerance. After healing physically and emotionally and learning how to cook, I decided to write a book about this common, misunderstood condition to fill the void of resources on the market at the time.
The week I got my book contract, the apartment building I was living in burned to the ground after someone poured gasoline through the mail slot in the front door of the building next to mine and lit it. The fire destroyed both buildings and killed two of my neighbors that night. I spent two weeks sleeping on the floor at a friend's house while looking for a place to live, then moved to an obscure hilltop neighborhood and, because my new home sat far from public transportation, bought a Vespa scooter with the money I was saving on rent. I wrote my book in a tiny garden apartment overlooking the city, taking daily trips to the grocery store and farmers' market on my Vespa, inventing the recipes that would fill my book. When Eating Gluten Free hit the shelves, I knew my time in San Francisco was nearing an end. The time had come to return East.
A wild hare grew into a wild adventure as I pondered how to get my Vespa to New York City. Acting on a daydream, I decided to ride my Vespa across the country and have my belongings shipped once I got settled in New York. Despite nearly everyone in my life urging me otherwise, I set out alone, on the first day of August 2005, to cross the United States on my 150cc Vespa ET4 -- a trip that lasted two months to the day and covered six thousand miles.
On my ride across America, I took a sweeping path through Wyoming and fell in love at first sight, love at the very border. 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. The landscape around the Bighorns is like an ocean on pause, rolling with the subtle colors of rust and sage and gold, stretching to every horizon. These mountains are unlike other mountain ranges. While the Tetons are fangs of stone and Rainier is an ice cream sundae, the Bighorns are sloped and subtle, built of some of the oldest exposed rock in the world; rock that has existed, in its current form, for over three billion years. There is exquisite power in their permanence.
I crossed the Bighorns in awe, in reverie, and camped at their base for a night. As I rode east the next day, toward South Dakota, a violent debate raged inside me. I longed to stay in Wyoming, and was tormented at the thought of leaving it behind. I considered ending the trip then and there, going so far as to stop at the Sheridan library to read the local classifieds. But I continued on. I assumed I would click back into New York City, my city, the moment I arrived.
I didn't, and I knew within days that I wouldn't. The country had put its spell on me. One lazy, late fall morning, a week into my confused and disillusioned reunion with New York, I took a friend's laptop to a nearby coffee shop, needing to dream. I searched the internet for Wyoming rentals. The Bighorns held my heart, and I typed in the names of the tiny towns that lay scattered around them. I found one house listed, a furnished four-bedroom on seventeen acres in Ten Sleep, a town that lay just south of my route across Wyoming. Though I'd not been through that particular town, I contacted the owner and met with her daughter, who happened to be living in New York, and a week later, I mailed a deposit for the rental, sight unseen. I bought a one-way ticket to California, bought a Ford with more primer than paint from two gangsters in San Jose, filled it with all of my belongings that fit and gave the rest away, and in the blustery, pale days of early November, started driving toward my new, unknown home.
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. It was a drastic move, one not based in logic, security, experience, or anything other than unignorable desire, dictated solely by my passion for Wyoming's land. I fall in love with places the way I fall in love with men. Actually, that's not the precise truth. I fall deeper, more ardently in love with places than I have with any man, and will give myself over to a place in a way I have never given myself to a person.
I've never felt roots, have never felt conventionally attached to family or religion or any societal group. In one of his novels, Salman Rushdie wrote a great passage about "those born not belonging," and I've had it framed on my desk for years -- not only is it exquisitely written, it is the only thing I've ever totally identified with. I've identified with a piece of paper more than any person or place? I raise an eyebrow just writing that, it's so stark and sad and a little romantic, but more than all that, it's true. I have spent my life running by myself, for myself, and this is the way I got myself to Wyoming.
My family and friends responded to my move in every way possible, from a shaking of the head and writing it off as frivolous irresponsibility to support and a keen jealousy. Yet most of the people who knew me well chalked it up to "what else would we expect from Shreve." In high school, I was voted Most Likely to Wake Up in a Strange Place, and not entirely because I was a straight-A delinquent often under some influence. I have always roamed; always seized every opportunity to take off and explore, whether it was wandering the woods in the dark as a child, traveling down the coast of California on the Green Tortoise bus when I was fifteen, or jumping in my car and driving, somewhere, anywhere, until I had to be back to school or work on Monday morning. My travels were never attempts to escape; the goal was to explore, to go, because I could. Great unknowns were out there to be seen, felt, experienced; this was what life meant to me, this was what life was for. And nothing meant more to me than my freedom.
I moved to a speck of a town in an area where I had only spent one day because I knew it was the only way I would be happy. Logistics did not enter into the equation -- I didn't know how I'd make a living, but I knew I would, somehow, because I had to. I arrived in Ten Sleep with a small amount of savings; royalty checks from the cookbook had a habit of showing up in the mail at the precise moments when I desperately needed them. Though my overhead was much lower than it had been in the city and though I had a few freelance graphic design clients I continued to work for from a distance, generating steady income was an issue I needed to address rather immediately.
To be honest, I was filled with trepidation when I got within fifty miles of Ten Sleep. I had no idea what I was driving into. I knew no one, knew nothing of the town or even the landscape of that particular area. I hoped to love it, hoped it would turn out to be as right as it felt, and it was. The house was much too big for me but the rent fit and the location was ideal, two miles out of town, in a rural wonderland where not even telephone poles were visible in two directions. The seventeen acres of pasture and red dirt draws bordered the BLM, untouched public land regulated by the Bureau of Land Management, accessible only on foot or by horseback. I had a handful of nearby neighbors, all of whom were shockingly kind and understandably curious. They wondered what I was doing here, and just how long I would last.
In moving to Ten Sleep, I felt like I had moved to another planet. It was more common to see cows on the road than vehicles; it was a sixty-mile drive just to buy a piece of fruit; the only radio station played Top 40 country; and most of the men wore cowboy hats and had more guns than a city girl has shoes. "Ten Sleep" is the English translation of the original Native American name; this spot had been halfway between two large Indian camps, and from here, it was a ten-day's journey to either of them -- each camp was "ten sleeps" away. The town was three blocks long, but Ten Sleep extended for many, many miles to the North and South. This was ranching country, sheep and cattle. Ranches dotted the county highways; the land between them wide, devoted to livestock.
It's hard to stay hidden in a town of three hundred people. Ten Sleep was filled with a little bit of everything as far as demographics go, and age did not seem important to anyone as far as defining friendships. There were retired couples, young families, middle-aged singles, and a smattering of people my age. I met people easily, at the library, the post office, the coffeeshop, the gas station, and the saloon. Which pretty much covered all the establishments in town, not counting the eight churches. The Methodist church, a burgundy steel building that sat at the edge of a sheep pasture, was on the route between my house and town and boasted a readerboard which inspired many of my daily meditations. "Soul Food...More Lasting Than Fast Food," it read when I first drove into Ten Sleep.
It was winter when I moved to Ten Sleep, and often it was so cold my truck wouldn't start so I'd walk the two miles to the library or the post office. I followed the tarred cracks up the center line; for the most part, the road was my own. I got to know several of my neighbors thanks to these walks to town, fo...
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But this is a REAL book! The photographs -- of which there are almost enough to satisfy MY cravings for pictures -- are beautiful and breath-taking and give an idea of what Charlie's and Eli's and Shreve's lives are like in a place I've never been.
And the narrative is so rich -- it's clear that Shreve's decision to take in Charlie opened up a lot of unexpected pathways as they learned to live together while accommodating each other's natures. The book definitely doesn't encourage anyone to make the same choices (raising a coyote among humans) but does bring up questions that we all can address at one time or another in our lives.
It's rare that a book is all that you hoped for and more. I think this may be one of those books I give to all my friends, whether they're animal people or not.
Charlie is not an easy companion. Personally I would be totally weirded out to watch this cute little puppy grow into a coyote. While I can't say I admire Shreve's persistent and dangerous efforts in asserting herself as the alpha in the relationship, I do respect her methodical approach in observing Charlie's reactions to certain situations, the measures she takes to protect herself, and the fact that she does consult others instead of assuming she can figure it out by herself. I can't help it, though, there is a voice inside me that says this alpha dog stuff is people-talk and an animal will behave as it will regardless of people's attempts to categorize or describe its behavior. I think there is a wildness in animals that can come out at any time, and I hope Shreve never feels completely safe around Charlie.
I would definitely read the next chapter in the Charlie Saga.
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