I am inspired by places. Simple yet remarkable things might happen in one place that you won’t see anywhere else. The place I know best is wher I live, Tucson, surrounded by the mostly undomesticated Sonoran Desert. I love the wide open space, and in the uncluttered landscape I often see or hear coyotes.
Or I just notice their scat, usually precisely in the middle of the trail, meant to be noticed. As I inspect that chunk of undigested berries, detritus, and fur, it seems like part of a conversation meant for me. In dog language, it might mean, “Hey, just so you know: we were already in this place. This is what is on the menu around here.” I acknowledge that. Sometimes the interaction seems more thoughtful, a logical refutation of what I was thinking. “I shit on that idea.” I still haven’t come up with a good counter argument to coyote shit. The conversation usually ends there. It’s part of the dialogue of the West.
Coyotes and the other species that are common here are what makes this desert feel like home. They belong here and nowhere else. As I recently learned, they still belong here, but they are also migrating to other places, new and unfamiliar environments, like green eastern forests, places I’ve never been to.
That’s the thing about coyotes—they can adapt to almost any place and seem to always push boundaries. They can’t be contained by our science or philosophies, possibly because they don’t know about them. Or don’t care.
So when Barbara and Lily asked me to draw and paint pictures for “Coyote’s Wild Home” and offered me a stay in their cabin in the Appalachian woods, I said yes, of course. The coyotes clearly have found something interesting in this new unfamilar place. I wanted to know this place.
On my way to the airport, bound for western Virginia at 4 am, a lone coyote ran across the my path—just two blocks from my house near downtown. I slowed down, it looked back at me, and then disappeared. I took it as a sign: somehting unexpected was about to happen and it’s best to suspend value judgements as to what’s good of bad.
The story is simple, a day’s walk in the woods, with two humans and two coyotes. They never meet, but each knows the other is there.
To me it was about the details of that new place. Every image in the book came from those woods and open fields around the Kingsolver farm. Barbara and Steve, her biologist husband, took me to the exact spots that inspired the scenes in the story. It was like scouting locations for a movie or screenplay. Making a picture book is a lot like making a very short movie or composing a simple piece of music. There is the same time element. The images are sequential, each building on the others, like notes in a song. And when they come together just right, I swear I can head a harmonious chord playing silently in my mind. That’s when I know the piece is finished.