This reading group guide includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Shreve Stockton. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
On a cross-country trip from San Francisco to New York City, Shreve Stockton falls in love with the beauty and desolation of the Wyoming landscape. After a week of confusion and sadness in New York City, the promise of Wyoming beckons to Shreve, so she rents a house in the small town of Ten Sleep and settles into her new life. She meets and begins a relationship with Mike, a local trapper who gives her a baby coyote that changes her life.
In The Daily Coyote, Shreve details her evolving romance with the coyote, nature, and Wyoming. Readers will delight in the insight, reverence, and joy Stockton uncovers in this surprisingly riveting page turner. With her honest and reflective voice, Stockton invites us to reconsider our own relationships with nature, speaking to the wildness within our individual hearts.
Questions for Discussion
1. What does Shreve mean when she says “animals kept me accountable in a way that was all too easy to skirt when living alone or interacting only with people”? Provide specific examples of the ways that animals keep her accountable. Why do you believe animals rather than people have that power over Shreve?
2. Shreve’s beliefs about death differ markedly from Mike’s and impact how they each approach life and its challenges. Explain the differences you perceive. Is one of their approaches comparable to your own? Why?
3. Why do you believe that people subscribed to “The Daily Coyote”? What did Shreve learn about these subscribers when Charlie became ill? How do their feelings about Charlie contrast with Shreve’s own recognition of his value to her? Would you subscribe to The Daily Coyote? Why or why not?
4. Describe Charlie’s development under Shreve’s care. How do his developmental milestones both parallel and challenge Shreve’s personal struggles with freedom and safety? How does Shreve’s understanding and appreciation of the costs of freedom evolve over the course of the book?
5. Identify the contradictions inherent in Mike’s life as a coyote hunter and a hunting guide. Why is he increasingly disillusioned by the hunters he takes on hunting trips? What do you think Shreve’s dichotomy of urban versus rural living reveals about Mike’s struggles? Do you agree with Shreve’s conclusions about urban and rural living? Why or why not?
6. Shreve initially believes she has found a breakthrough in countering Charlie’s increasing aggression towards her. What does she believe underlies Charlie’s progression from affection to anger? What lessons does she believe she needs to learn in order to make Charlie’s life and her own life better? Is she successful? Why or why not?
7. How do you feel about Shreve adopting and raising a wild animal? What might you have done differently?
8. “Risking discipleship” is one of the quotes that Shreve notices on the church’s reader-board in her drive from town. What do you think this quote means? How does it relate to Shreve’s own struggle to deal with her sudden notoriety? What do you believe are the risks and benefits of her online exposure?
9. Shreve finally turns a corner with Charlie’s aggression when she becomes an “energetic alpha” for Charlie. Describe what she means by this term and how it impacts her overall approach to living her life. Do you agree with her rationale for why she was able to affect change in Charlie? Why or why not?
10. According to Shreve, there are “gifts of the dead” that can help humans become stronger. What do you believe are the gifts left by Tracy for Mike? Have you received your own ‘gifts of the dead’? If yes, what are they? If no, why not?
11. Consider the relationship between Eli and Charlie. How does it evolve as the story progresses? How does Shreve’s relationship with each of them differ? What does the evolution of their relationships reveal about nature and our potential place in it?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read the following quote from Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet:
"For a long while I have believed...that in every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as "natural" a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity. And not only by that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainty, change, have erected powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers' seal of approval. But the truth leaks out in our dreams...: alone in our beds (because we are alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee.”
-- Why do you believe that quote resonates with Shreve?
-- Do you agree with Rushdie that these feelings of not belonging are as natural as feelings of belonging? Why or why not?
-- Do you ever have occasion to feel that sense of not belonging? If yes, identify when and under what circumstances. If no, why have those feelings escaped you?
-- Would Shreve concur with this sentiment at the end of her story? Why or why not?
2. Consult the www.dailycoyote.net. Join the mailing list for your book club and receive daily pictures while you read the book. When you meet with members of your group, discuss the following questions:
-- How does it feel to be a part of this online community? Why do you believe that members have gravitated towards this community?
-- Has your understanding of Charlie and Shreve’s relationship been enhanced by these daily emails? If yes, why? If no, why not?
-- Have you been able to apply any of the lessons and insights Shreve has shared with you in your own life? If yes, explain.
-- What do you believe is the value of developing a relationship with an animal typically considered to be a predator?
A Conversation with Shreve Stockton
1. You say that you have never felt roots, have never felt connected to family, religion or any societal group. Has your sense of being rootless changed since you settled in Wyoming? What do you think is at the heart of your sense of not-belonging?
I don’t think there was any event or series of events that caused me to always feel like a “floater”. I think it’s just one of those traits I came here with from birth. It’s allowed me to have the past that I’ve had, and it helped train my eye as a photographer & writer – since I didn’t have allegiances to any particular group or “pack,” I wasn’t as governed by subconscious preconceptions or “loyalties” and could immerse myself in such a great range of experiences.
A part of this has changed, mellowed a bit, in the past few years. Charlie has much to do with that, grounding me; and what I’ve learned from living so close to the land and to nature has given me so much clarity. I certainly run outside of the normal parameters of society, still, but I am more centered in myself than I ever was before.
2. Why do you believe people responded to your daily pictures of Charlie? What do you believe he or your relationship with him represented for your email followers? What surprised you about the group?
I was amazed how quickly and solidly people - strangers - became emotionally invested in Charlie. I think because of my background in photography and my relationship with Charlie, his energy and personality has been able to come through, so clearly and lively, in my photos of him. And people can connect to that – to that life and energy. He definitely provides different things for different people, but if I had to put it into one word, I would choose the word wonder. Charlie brings wonder. And wonder carries with it a soft hint of trust in possibility, and hope.
3. One of the great pieces in your book is the daily meditations that you encounter on the Methodist Church reader-board on your rides home. What did these sayings mean to you? How did they serve to connect you to a larger story in the great expanse of Wyoming?
I love the readerboard messages because they were (are) so wildly creative, and they pushed my mind to see all the possible angles of what was being said in just a few words. Seeing all angles, all sides of a thing, has been a rich and important part of my experience here in this tiny town in Wyoming. I came, essentially, as a foreigner. I have been able to learn and grow so much by stretching my perceptions and not fixating on what I was used to or what I expected.
And I must share this aside here: a few weeks after my book was published, I drove by the church to find the readerboard proclaiming “Shreve – We Love Your Book” I was so incredibly honored!
4. As you struggled to pinpoint Charlie’s increased aggression towards you, you tended to look mostly inside of yourself. Why?
I suppose I looked inside myself because if the cause was inside me, I would be able to change it. If it were an external cause, there would be less of a chance that I would be able to fix it. And I have always had a deep conviction that the events we are presented with in our life are tailored to us – that they come in for a reason for growth or betterment, even if it’s too devastating to see in the moment. And so I believed that Charlie’s aggression, which was incredibly difficult and devastating for me, was something that was showing up in order to show me something about myself that I had been ignoring.
5. How has your relationship with Mike evolved?
Mike is so inspiring to me. He continues to push himself and his own boundaries and comfort-zones, continues to actively strive to become stronger and more conscious, and continues to define what that means for him. In working on ourselves side by side, we work together, and our relationship becomes even more intimate and dynamic.
6. When you conquered your battle with Charlie’s aggression, you termed the change you embodied, “energetic alpha.” Tell us more about the state this term designates and its characteristics. How might we apply this phenomenon beyond the human-animal relationship?
By energetic alpha I mean a solid, unwavering conviction in oneself. One that cannot be broken by intimidation from outside sources. It was essential for me to make this leap in myself so that I could project this conviction with every move and posture while working through Charlie’s aggressive behavior. Humans can be fooled by words, but animals aren’t. I had to have it in my very being.
Energetic alpha is a combination of confidence and grace, and this translates seamlessly to every area of life – personal and business relationships, even our attitudes regarding work and the personal trials – and manner in which we move through life.
7. How do you answer critics who believe that you do not fully appreciate that Charlie is a wild animal who will eventually act true to form and hurt someone, possibly you?
I never forget that Charlie is a wild animal. In fact, I have never referred to him as my pet. Keeping Charlie safe from others as well as keeping others safe from Charlie is a responsibility I take incredibly seriously. There are several posts on my website (www.dailycoyote.net) where I discuss this in depth.
8. How has your online community continued to evolve?
Sharing my life online is an ever-changing experience. I’ve learned a lot about tolerance and grace from being on the receiving end of some rather hideous negativity, and have been blessed with “meeting” many inspiring, talented, authentic individuals that I probably would never have connected with otherwise.
9. Why did you feel compelled to write this book? What do you hope a potential reader will take away from reading The Daily Coyote?
Connection. Hope. Awareness. Self-awareness. Respect for the world around us.