In Coyotes of Canaan, we experience the day-to-day behavior of an extended family of coyotes, and are rewarded with an insightful, unique, and in-depth glimpse of their lives.
This historical novel shows with great empathy how coyotes and wolves live, take care of each other, and nurture their offspring.
Dr. Michael describes how coyotes hunt, their highly developed social bonds, their connectedness to the ecosystem, their interactions with humans, and, despite huge odds—their ability to thrive.
Coyotes were not present in West Virginia until 1950. Now they play a vital role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem throughout the Central Appalachians.
This book gives an excellent understanding of coyotes as well as the habitats of Canaan Valley.
This historical novel might well have been titled, The Canids of Canaan, in that it details events involving not only coyotes, but also wolves, coywolves, coydogs, domestic dogs, bear hounds, bird dogs, and foxes.
We also gain an understanding of the complexities of the ecosystems of the Central Appalachians and the diversity of wildlife that exists throughout the region. We learn about the sordid role humans have played in attempting to eradicate the coyote, the most successful of all wild mammals in North America. We then glimpse what the future could hold for these fascinating apex predators, which will play a vital role in maintaining balanced ecosystems throughout the 21st century.
The Coyotes of Canaan
by Edwin Daryl Michael
Quarrier Press (Charleston, West Virginia), 2021.
On a sunny June morning in Upstate New York’s Adirondack State Park a large male timber wolf is watching a pack of five helpless pups who are playing near their den. Only a week before a golden eagle had snatched their smallest female sibling. Now this apex predator is “stealthily inching toward” them. Four of the pups scramble for their den. The fifth, the largest of the male siblings, is distracted behind a downed log and doesn’t recognize the danger he is in.
Thus begins Edwin (Ed) Daryl Michael’s novel of survival about a much maligned but now ubiquitous North American species—one so new it has no scientific name, known only by its cross-species designation, Canis lupus X Canis latrans. We call it the “coywolf.”
The timber wolf in the first chapter of Michael’s The Coyotes of Canaan proves to be the pups’ sire, a “strong dependable parent.” His mate, a female coyote, is half his size and a year older. The wolf hunts throughout the day, while the female stays in the den to nurse and nurture their young coywolf offspring. The oldest male pup is named Adirondus. By the time he and his siblings are four months old, weighing nearly thirty pounds, they are hunting with their parents. We follow them throughout a summer as they become adept at killing beaver, rabbit, squirrel, and even porcupine throughout their fifteen-square-mile territory. Working as a pack that winter they drop a full-sized doe. The following spring there is another litter of pups and Adirondus and his siblings help care for them. But, in the fall Adirondus and his brother Aldonis follow “a new urge” that takes them across New York and Connecticut then south, down the Appalachian chain, through Pennsylvania and into Tucker County, West Virginia.
Some will ask is fiction or fact?
This is fact-based fiction—a delightful genre-bending mix. We gladly empathize with our “protagonist” and his chosen mate, his “family,” and their “adventures,” while learning the natural history of their adopted home in Canaan Valley. Michael, a wildlife biologist, an observer with the imagination it takes to truly understand the constant forces under which individuals of every species in our forested environment survive, does not spare us our sensibilities. This is not “Bambi”, no moralistic Disney tale of cute creatures in a made-up world.
Chapters like “Coyote-Wolf History” come off as straight text-book explanations of the species’ recent arrival across North America. Interspersed are chapters in which we imagine Adirondus experiencing “the feel and flavor” of his first kill, his first time crossing an interstate highway, the pain of a “OO” shotgun pellet in his left hip, the constant never-ending struggle to survive. Michael is adept at adding vital statistics—distances commonly traveled by North American predators, the geology and hydrology of the Allegheny Front, and the life cycles of other species with which Adirondus comes into contact.
By the time he reaches Dolly Sods Adirondus is a one-hundred pound adult ready for a family of his own. His mate, a coyote, is called “Alghena” and their first litter is born in early April. What follows is a year in the life of a coywolf/coyote couple in and around Tucker County. We learn of the pairs’ mating habits, their offspring’s den habits, the rate of maturation in a healthy coywolf, and their hunting habits in microenvironments throughout the county.
You may learn about some unfamiliar species, like wood frogs and “fairy diddles,” who live in the valley. You will certainly be surprised at the extent of the coywolf’s diet; they are true omnivores, eating everything from fruit to frogs to geese to insects. I was surprised to learn that the Canada goose is flightless during the month of June. And I was interested to learn about the impact of logging in the valley at the turn of the 20th century (it’s not all bad!)
There is some much needed myth busting in Coyotes of Canaan. If you think coywolves don’t hunt in packs, think again. What is true for coyotes of the American South West is not true of the coywolf. Hunting in family packs is vital for their survival, possibly a learned habit from the wolf line. If you are a deer hunter who believes that the coywolf is decreasing the number of available kills, if you are a farmer who believes that coywolf are after your livestock, read up and learn some interesting twists to those fables.
Michael has lived and worked in and around Canaan Valley for more than thirty years. He estimates that coyotes and coywolves are recent residents in the valley, arriving somewhere around 2010 or 2015. In the last three years a family pack has taken up residence in and around the Timberline Resort. They are illusive creatures. Their voices tell their tales. About three years ago Michael attached an external microphone to his indoor speaker system. He talks of their vocalizations as if from some nearby far-off place. Yips, barks, howls, whines, songs eerily echoing around Sand Run Lake.
It is hard to get a good photo of a coywolf. Folks have sent him shots of individuals crossing the road in front of their cars. Just recently someone sent him a picture of five traveling together in a pack. Confirmation mostly comes from tracking, best in old snow. There has never been, nor will there ever be, in Michael’s estimation, a formal DNR census—“too difficult and expensive.” The only way to count individuals is to extrapolate from the number of pelts sold every year, but that number is complicated by the variable price per pelt.
Michael did not want to write a “cute little story” about coyotes. He wanted to catch his readers’ attention, to entertain them, while giving them the facts of life for a coywolf. He does not leave us with a nice red ribbon wrapping up a happy ending. There is a conundrum, some questions left unanswered. Just like real life.
Michael uses his knowledge as a wildlife biologist to create compelling characters, giving them the ultimate task—survival. He uses story-telling techniques to help us understand how and why a new species became, “an opportunist and survivor without peer.” This is a valuable book—a little fiction with a lot of fact. Michael includes a bibliography of books and scientific articles for further reading. The Coyotes of Canaan will be of interest to biologists, naturalists, or visitors who might be curious about those voices they heard last night rippling across the refuge.
Review is from the “Timberdoodle” — Newsletter of the Friends of Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Martha Wolfe if the author of The Great Hound Match of 1905: Alexander Henry Higginson, Harry Worcester Smith and the Rise of Virginia Hunt Country.