From Chapter 6: What Coy-Wolf Taught Me
We live in a forested area of Vermont, not high in the Green Mountains but in the flatter Champlain Valley Clayplain. There is as much farmland as forest in our area. It is ideal habitat for deer and other wildlife that like living on forest-meadow boundaries where biodiversity flourishes and protective cover can be quickly found.
A relatively recent arrival in this habitat is the Coy-Wolf. Just a few decades ago the appearance of such mammals was discussed in terms of the rising population of “coyotes.” However, wildlife biologists soon began to take note of the size of these predators and observed characteristics not typical of coyotes. For example, their larger skulls and teeth more resembled those of wolves than coyotes. Then, more recently, with advances in genetic research, it became possible to unravel part of the mystery and migratory history of this new addition to New England wildlife.
It is now recognized that in the 19th century, white European settlers virtually exterminated wolves. With wolves gone in the northeastern United States, coyotes from the southwest slowly migrated northward into this abandoned ecological niche. In the second decade of the 20th century, a coyote and one of the remaining gray wolves in southeastern Canada interbred on or about the site of the current Algonquin Park in Ontario Province. From there, offspring of this new “half-breed” slowly migrated east until they reached Vermont, where a significant population has been established. Many wildlife naturalists consider this coyote-wolf hybrid to be one of the most adaptable species that they have ever studied. Coy-Wolves survive, even thrive, in an extraordinarily wide range of natural and man-made habitats, kind of like Native Americans.
I first encountered Coy-Wolves around the turn of the new millennium, as we began staying in a small cabin on our land while our house was built. We were often greeted at night by the howls of what we then understood to be “the coyotes.” It never occurred to us that the night visitors were actually greeting us, and reminding interlopers whose territory this was. We knew that coyotes communicated with one another, but we did not yet know how to listen, to really listen.
Everything changed with my mother’s death and the kind mentoring and guidance of cousins more versed in our tribal culture than I. Consequently, more recently we were prepared both to listen and to understand our encounters with Coy-Wolves as part of a process of awakening.
On a moon-lit night in January 2018, we were watching a segment of a video-course on Native Americans. The documentary’s historical segments resonated most deeply as they dealt, in depth, with our Potawatomi tribe and its history in the upper Midwest, its forced evacuations and deadly marches westward, its legacy of countless broken treaties.
This kind of intellectual-emotional onslaught through story-telling was leaving us drained every night after watching each new episode of the history series and reflecting on its meaning. The narrator, Professor Daniel Cobb, repeatedly claims that Native Americans have not disappeared. He argues that despite continual miserable betrayals and ignominious defeats and slaughter, Native peoples found ways of adapting and maintaining some continuity, even as many of their lands and cultural practices were taken away, even as they intermarried with whites and assimilated elements of European culture.
Each night this historical conundrum of devastation and revival returned to me in the form of profoundly personal questions and reflection. As we ended our most recent viewing, Carolyn and I went downstairs to play cards in an attempt to get our minds off the perplexing questions, and to regain our composure.
No sooner had we dealt the cards than we noticed the howls. THE HOWLS. Even on a freezing Vermont winter night with doors and windows buttoned-up, the sounds of our visitors came through the walls. The Coy-Wolves were closer than ever. Our visitors demanded attention. But, “What were they saying?” I wondered. The howls continued for quite some time.
Somewhat shaken, I went to bed reflecting on the documentary and the visitations. Then, as is so often the case, the answer came in the middle of the night. It was as if a message buried in the historical documentary’s storyline had clarified, had then been downloaded into my consciousness, and was churning, seeking expression. It hit me. I am a “hybrid” like the Coy-Wolf. And like the Coy-Wolves in Vermont, I am many generations removed from my “pure-blood” ancestors. Like the Coy-Wolf, I am not a lesser being for the dilution of my ancestral blood lines. I am an evolutionary manifestation of adaptation.
And then another personal and intimate connection emerged. I began to visualize the migratory routes of southwestern coyotes as they slowly moved north-eastward in the 19th century, in the exact opposite direction, and in the same time frame that many of my ancestors were being physically driven out of their homelands and off one temporary reservation after another. I also saw the paths of those small numbers of Potawatomi who had escaped from these forced death marches and who had fled to Canada, where their descendants live today. Then, I wondered if the spirits of my ancestors forced westward, of those driven into the desert, had journeyed northward, back home, and then to Canada? Had they cleverly done so in an animal form that no white man would recognize as human, and in a manner that no soldiers could prevent? Were the Coy-Wolves outside my door the embodiment of my ancestors’ wandering spirits?
I think so.
I now hope that I will be worthy of more visitations. I hope that I will be better able to listen to the wisdom they bear. I hope that like Coy-Wolf I can be the conveyor and restorer of my dual heritages, made stronger, not lessened, by the blending.