‘Going Along’ with the Coyote Conquest

The Twentieth Century was not a great time for territorial conquest and overt annexation. The most successful nation of that century engaged in a far more sly method of co-opting its targets, while the next most successful power of the epoch, the Soviet Union, largely inherited its extra territories from its predecessor. The old colonial empires crumbled from their height to nothing in that time. The vast majority of new overt conquests were undone in the course of a single decade. A few outlasted this. Only things like Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara and Israel’s rule over the Palestinian territories, where the power imbalance was geographically immediate and overwhelming, seems to have truly lasting power. And those are still incomplete and contested takeovers. The Twenty-First Century seems even less promising, with few trying and those that do, such as Turkey in Northern Syria and the U.S. in Iraq, entering the most convoluted and embarrassing situations possible. The present disposition of forces has not been friendly to this type of direct takeover since the territorial swapping of League of Nations mandates showed clearly diminishing returns on the annexation project. The largest scale attempts to try to give it another go were touched off by Japan, Italy, and Germany and led to their total ruin.

This is, of course, only talking about the human world. Sure, we all know diseases and bacteria are the same as they ever were with Spanish Flu, AIDS, and Covid continuing in the path of Bubonic Plague, Smallpox, and the like. That is normal and to be expected. But in the Anthropocene, the time of unquestioned human dominance, it is interesting to note the larger animals that are not just succeeding but rising to dominate in a way that they didn’t before. I am not just speaking about the obvious candidates like rats and feral descendants of domestic pets, i.e. animals you would expect to increase in numbers as the human-heavy ecological imbalance teeters from growing cities, suburbs, and more anthropogenic land use conversion. Humans, domesticated livestock, and agricultural crops have become a truly disturbing proportion of terrestrial biomass. And we know the effects of it are extreme losses in biodiversity with resulting negative impacts on environmental sustainability. The general view is that wild mammals in particular, and the larger variants especially, are all on the wane.

But there is a big exception to this. More than one, in fact, but right now I am going to concentrate, as per theme of this site, on the most obvious and most tricksteresque one. The true troll of North America in mythology and real life, Old Man Coyote himself. Since human conquest started slowing, coyote conquest increased. Not only that, but it also seems to be happening at a far greater rate than most human expansion in the prehistoric era was, at least as far as we can tell from archeology. A species that normally stuck to the Great Plains and the Southwest has exploded in every direction, moving to the north and east coast and then down in an inexorable southern march since about 1900.

Taken from here

What is even funnier is that humanity at least partially caused this current colonization. The migration of coyotes out from their traditional ranges was greatly accelerated by attempts from farmers and ranchers to kill them off in huge numbers with traps and hunting bounties. It caused the species to scatter far and wide and adapt to new environments with great vigor. The eastern branch of this migration seems to be diverging from the norm and growing in size, likely due to admixture from breeding with both wolves and domestic dogs. The path of this side of the family tree went up to Canada, where the wolf admixture was likely introduced, and then into Maine. Since then it has been coming southward steadily and now if firmly entrenched in the southeast.

Coyotes set up shop in forests, plains, deserts, suburbs, farmland, and cities. They can ride the metro. They can go from pack animal to solo to small family units and back again depending on circumstance. The eastern ones even provide a valuable service by introducing a large predator to our over-populated deer problem, giving us the first chance in generations to see a proper return to flowers and flora in our stripped-bare-by-the-hooved-menace forests. They can live anywhere, they can live in any kind of social group or none, and they can eat anything. Truly, in a time of accelerating environmental and demographic changes, a species to look up to. As Darwin said, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the one most responsive to change.’

I grew up with a large amount of Native American folktales in my childhood. The ubiquity of trickster figures in those cycles was postulated by Paul Radin to be a response from the first people to populate North America as they reacted to a land where the weather behaved erratically, earthquakes were frequent, thunderstorms and tornadoes massive, and the rapid growth and melting of ice age glaciers in that migratory period caused sudden flooding and bizarre microclimates. This implied that the gods were mercurial and fickle towards the fate of humanity. Coyote is by no means the only one of these figures, but he is the most common in tales translated into English. And it is the species that inspired him that is currently the most ubiquitous of these trickster totemic animals out in the real world.

Coyote tales are the true chaotic neutral worldview distilled. There are stories which can be within the same tribe’s cycle of Coyote creating fire, saving the world, dooming humanity with mortality, embarrassing himself or getting himself killed due to foolishness, and defeating monsters through trickery and guile. He might boon the human race either intentionally or unintentionally. He might trick a mother into believing he is a reliable babysitter so he can eat her children. He might even eat a talking plant that says ‘He who eats me will defecate!’ on a dare thinking, ‘well, I am too strong, I will not defecate,’ and then be launched into the sky on a rocketing tower of his own feces. This is why the animal that provided a model for the mythological figure succeeds. It rolls with the times but is never merely of the times. Rebellion and adaptability rolled into one. Failures and even death do not seem to weaken or stop it in the long term. In one century, a whole continent fell to this expansion after the U.S. government instituted its most brutal and sustained wildlife killing program in history. It most likely took the first Native Americans longer to traverse the continent. We know for a fact it took four hundred years for the Europeans to become truly endemic across the land. And that’s with steel, gunpowder, compasses, and maps. They were still beaten by The Tricky One.

Coyote is the chaos agent. He exists to remind us that all the planning in the world cannot adapt to random circumstance. Stories about him often begin with the phrase ‘Coyote was going along…’ and sometimes they end with, ‘and Coyote went back to going along.’ Motion is perpetual, but it is not headed to any particular place. The destination might be as random as the outcome of running into such a figure. Perhaps it works because the way to adapt to an uncaring world is to cultivate a sense of bemused aloofness in turn. As Dan Flores, the author of the book ‘Coyote America’ put it:

‘But what, no moral code in these stories? No promise of eternal life, no salvation from death? Coyote stories offer up none of these things…It ought to be said that Coyote stories are not really for visionary dreamers who expect to change the world. Coyotism is a philosophy for the realists among us, those who can do a Cormac McCarthy-like appraisal of human motives but find a kind of chagrined humor in the act, who think of the human story as cyclical…Coyotism tells us that while we may long have misunderstood the motives of our behavior, we’ve also known how human nature expresses itself. And who better to illustrate that than self-centered, gluttonous, carnal Coyote?’

It is theorized that this current expansion of the coyote might not be the first time this has happened. The Red Wolf of the southeast might be a remnant population of coyote-wolf hybrids from a pre-recorded time. If so, it means the east was theirs before. But even if not, it is theirs now.

The part of Pennsylvania which I am currently based has had coyotes for decades now, but you rarely see the signs. My knowledge of their presence until recently was merely word of mouth and indirect indications. But last week I took a walk outside around midnight in this tree-shrouded hill country far from the desert origins of the coyote. Echoing in the darkness from a patch of thick woods around a creek valley not more than a mile to the southeast came a chorus of yips and howls from a pack of coyotes. Their calls bathed the trees in an echo not heard in these parts for possibly thousands of years, if ever.

That particular pack stayed for only a few days as it turned out. But it was obvious that the land is now claimed. There will be more.

The Black Longhouse

“You’re feeling the oppression of Christian hegemony in conflict with native animism,” he said. “Self-righteous, puritanical men seized this land. You’re also feeling the eyes of the vultures evaluating the sweet texture of your skin. The eyes of many animals. Animals endure.’

~Laird Barron, ‘Worse Angels’

What follows is a symbolic manifesto of sorts. Take from it what you will.

In a world built on bones there is an entire hemisphere that is especially shattered by abrupt displacement. On the northern continent of that hemisphere is the seat of a degenerating world-empire. Within that empire are a people unmoored from the reality of the ancient land beneath their feet even as it dies because of them. They cling to the ideologies of a failing state despite these very beliefs having brought them to this point. The universal idealism of a simple moralistic world and one set of values to make sense of it has not just failed them-it has made everything worse for everyone. The ubiquity of their communications networks brings what was once left at the pulpit of the puritan into an unceasing daily bombardment of affirmation for collapsing monoculture.

But there was a time that lasted far longer before the coming of Christ and Cotton Mather when these lands had no such grifters. Tribes existed and fought each other as humans always do, but had no concepts of messianic religion, ‘biological’ race, or the glorification of victimhood. These many diverse peoples were wiped out by an unprecedented hemisphere-encompassing apocalypse where smallpox and plague took the majority as a prelude. Then came shattered bands of survivors still alive in a time where the recently dead outnumbered the living by multitudes and were forced to respond to an alien invasion of technologically advanced extremists. They went down in a hell of a fight that took centuries and their descendants are still live today, despite the odds.

In their place came a civilization that broke all contact with this past and rushed to fill the vacuum with their own inheritance…but not all these things were a sensible fit for the new locale. Despite the cultural disconnect of most of its inhabitants, its earthy chaotic gods sleep much closer to the surface than the long-buried and fully domesticated pantheons across the sea. This is not a land of mellow meadows and shires, but of earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, and towering thunderstorms. This is a land that scorns weakness.

The newcomers could breed to the point where they were immune to native syncretism-avoiding the natural fate of conquerors. This further cut off the northern reaches of the hemisphere even beyond that of the rest. We live in their world now. But now, in the early 21rst Century, we see their world view cracking under the strain of its own hubris and excess. The opportunity to build something new is opening before our eyes. Something that fits this place better. Something that can at least bridge some of the gap between the incongruous ideological imposition of today and the natural state of a beautiful and terrible land.

There are those of all backgrounds and persuasions who find no tribe amongst the degenerating postmoderns of our time. They find the amplification of faddish superficial issues a distraction, the busybodies of the commentariat and consumer as the front for a past-prime ruling class in crisis. Witch hunts are everywhere as the fearful and ostensibly secular descendants of those original puritan settlers and conquistadores blame heretics for their own inadequacies.

Those who reject this status quo may find themselves walking in the woods as they travel apart from the trends. Let us say in the northeast or Great Lakes region-though it could be anywhere. The new growth forest of the woodlands hacked down and re-grown is filled with underbrush and small trees. Ticks lurk everywhere as un-predated deer strip the biodiversity as they spread like locusts.

Eventually these travelers make their way to a place deep in the woods. Giant ancient trees tower above in the old growth grove. Here, the underbrush is lighter. Flowers bloom again. Sharp unseen eyes raise their hackles as they know the deer tread lightly in this place for fear of predation. At the center is a longhouse. Those redoubtable large bark clad structures that could house many people and supplies. But this longhouse is different. It is jet black and angled as only a modern construct could be. It draws from the forgotten past but is no slave to it. It would seem incongruous to those who came across it accidentally, but not to our band our travelers.

On the inside they find the interior lit only by the fire pits. The shadows cast about imply a structure far larger than seems from the outside. There wait for them masked figures-wooden shamanic grotesques with distorted and leering features. Beneath this they wear well-tailored suits. They tell the travelers that to accept the uncertainties of a new future is to draw strength from a different past. The pipe is passed around as the masked ones speak of a land people belong to, and not a land belonging to people.

‘Mankind sought the death of Coyote, an animal once confined to the plains and Rockies. His attempts to kill it made it breed and migrate outwards. A century after this campaign began it has unintentionally spread the animal over the entire continent. Here, in the east, it has bred with Canadian wolves up north before moving south. It has thus grown in size and pack mentality.

‘The coyotes were misfits, but they came together to survive and perhaps for revenge. Now, they thrive while we decline. Be like this beast. Adapt to the new by breaking old bonds of safety. Your mouth must be red with venison for the flowers to bloom again and the ticks to recede. Face your fears directly and make them your allies against your foes. Come together at decisive points in time and scatter when countered. Always help to sabotage the complacently powerful and their defenders.’

These travelers realize their personal differences do not need to be ironed out-the diversity strengthens them. Here they can debate the most taboo subjects openly, shrouded from view of the puritans by the walls of the Black Longhouse. They have something more important now: common enemies. The missionary, the financier, the complacent monoculture that upholds them all.

As the travelers dance around the fire they revel in being both distinct and as-one. They know that their odds are low but that such difficulties only increase the glory of the fight. The future they want is yet un-defined but by taking the first step away from a failed consensus the mere possibility to building something new has been created. All of them now carry the Black Longhouse inside them.

The travelers walk out of the old growth region, through the moat of the striplings, and back into the roar of modernity. But rather than be sad as before, they see now that within this degenerating world is an abundance of new opportunities. Every decaying town is a chance to rebuild not in some nostalgic way for what it once was, but a new way to that leans forward and draws from a different and much neglected past. Many peoples, gods, and cultures united against a common old order and its increasingly hysterical defenders. What were the covenant chains of past entities on this land before colonization but the agreement that difference and divergence was fine, and could all serve a struggle against a common enemy? Such was the thought of people who lived in older longhouses. Already, one can hear the sounds of this new synthesis of forgotten old and dynamic new if one listens.

Somewhere inside a tacky suburban home at night, a clergyman (either of faith or of human resources and professional management) spots something outside the window. He peers through the glass to see the leering face of a coyote with wolf-like dimensions. The lights go dark and he screams, fumbling to bring them back on. But against one who sees in the darkness as if it was its own form of light…

In a time of monsters be the biggest baddest monster of all. And bring your friends. This ancient land demands no less of you.