SKYWATER by Melinda Worth Popham


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A group of coyotes goes on a quest for a mythical land--as Popham (A Blank Book, 1974) deftly uses southwestern landscapes and incorporates enough human interaction to keep the narrative plausible and engaging. Albert and Hallie Ryder, friends since childhood, have lived for 40 years in the Sonora desert--and by now are so familiar with local species that the coyotes have even been named (""Sometimes he [Albert] thought that coyotes knew more in their bones than he did in his head""). When the two discover, however, that nearby copper mines have poisoned the groundwater, they foul the cistern to protect the animals. Albert and Hallie leave, and so do the coyotes, who are led by Brand X. Gifted with Boy Scout virtues, the survivor of the violent death of his siblings at the hands of humans (""the stench of dangerous wrongness""), he ""held undisputed sway."" His band of five other coyotes sets out with him for the mythical Skywater, leaving their territory (beyond which ""It was not home ground. It lacked meaning"") to follow dry trails on a dark journey of the animal soul. The coyotes deal with poisonous compounds, with autos, with shotguns, and even with heavy weaponry as they make their way across the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, irrigated desert farmland, mountain ranges, and dunes. At one point, they're also hunted by helicopters when the locals mistakenly believe that the band has dragged away a child; and, in another instance, one Coyote, Dinty Moore, jumps into a pickup track to rescue female Chieka. Finally, then, they meet up with Albert, who has buried Hallie (her brief letters appear here and there throughout the story)--and discover that Skywater is both more and less than they had hoped. A worthy novel whose spirit of place is seldom marred by the obvious trap of sentimentality--and whose eloquent vision of humanism is ecological rather than materialistic.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1990
ISBN: 0595184499
Publisher: Graywolf