Book Review: Don Coyote

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Don Coyote: The Good Times and the Bad Times of a Much Maligned America
I’d never seen or heard a coyote until I lived until New Mexico. Until I was in my 4os, my sole experience with coyotes was Wile E. Coyote from The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show. But when I spent three summers and parts of two winters in Northern New Mexico, and heard coyotes and sometimes even saw them.

During my first winter in Northern New Mexico, I found a copy of Don Coyote: The Good Times and the Bad Times of a Much Maligned American Original by Dayton Hyde in a free box. I read the book and learned more about coyotes than I ever thought I’d know

One night, while reading , Don Coyote I had the pleasure of hearing real live coyotes yip, yap, and howl in the distance. I thought this book and that far off canine conversation might be as close as I ever got to a coyote.

Dayton Hyde has been up close and personal with coyotes. Don Coyote is the story of how he befriends a wild coyote, then has friends in the East send a captive mating pair to his Oregon cattle ranch. Hyde ignores the necessary coyote permits and finds himself in possession of eight coyotes when the female gives birth to a litter. Since his plan is to tame the pups “to the point where [he] could release them on the ranch and observe their everyday life without their being concerned about [his] presence” he snatches two of them from the parents before their eyes open. Days later, when the pups’ eyes are opened, he steals two more from their family and brings them into his human world where they stay until each decides to move on into the wild. (Strangely, from that point, he never again mentions the parental coyotes, and the reader is left to wonder what happened to them.)

By the end of the book, Hyde is a rancher and naturalist, but he was not always both. This book chronicles not only his fascination and love of coyotes (the ones he tamed to varying degrees as well as wild ones), but also how that love and fascination caused his transformation from a person who tried to mold nature according to his human whims into someone who observes nature and notices that often the natural way is the best way. As he stopped fighting nature, he began to feel more of a responsibility toward the earth and all nonhuman creatures.

Hyde writes, “What made me so different from my neighbors was that they figured we humans had dominion over the land while I felt we had a responsibility for it—for the soil; for every plant, bird, and animal that shared this planet with us; for the rivers, and for the air.”

Hyde’s writing style is accessible, although his vocabulary is sometimes of an age prior to the book’s 1986 copyright date. He’s a thinker and not just a doer, and his prose is lovely and evocative.

This book came to me via a free box, and I’m glad to have read it. It is a must read for every environmentalist and for anyone who thinks killing predators is a good idea.

About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

3 Responses »

  1. I’ve just put request in to my library for that book. It sounds great.

    Back in the 1970s, a rancher came up with the idea of using ‘aversion therapy’ to train the local coyotes from killing his lambs. He was smart enough to know that if you had a family of coyotes in your area, killing them off is pointless, because another group would move in. (Which point makes him smarter than most ranchers.) So he added lithium chloride to some butchered lamb meat, wrapped the meat with lamb skin, and set them out. The coyotes ate the lamb, and almost immediately started vomiting — quickly enough for them to associate the nasty bout of vomiting with the lamb. He said they stopped eating lambs and went back to eating their natural prey (mostly rodents). They didn’t leave the area, they just stopped eating the lambs, and if I recall correctly, they taught their pups to avoid the lambs, too. While remaining in the area, because they are territorial, they also chased off other coyotes they attempted to move in. The final effect was that the coyotes ended up protecting his sheep from other coyotes.

    Many studies on this technique have occurred since them, with varying results. Some people say it doesn’t work, some say it does.

  2. p.s. An additional thought to the above post: To outsmart coyotes, I suspect that you have to be smarter than the coyotes, which probably limits what most ranchers are capable of. I suspect that shooting, poisoning and trapping them suits their testosterone-riddled decisions.

  3. I’ve been reading Don Coyote, and just finished chapter 5, where Don Coyote is killed by an asshole. I’ll stop there. Patience is not any of my names. That rancher sure is a gutless wonder, isn’t he?

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