In my last post, musing upon the writing process that seems to work for me, I mentioned having spent years researching before actually writing my first book.
I also mentioned my affinity for wolves, and a long-standing desire to write about them, demystify them, somehow change most people’s reaction from fear to acceptance.
So it should come as no surprise that I’ve been researching wolves for some time.
I have a folder on my computer where I stash PDFs, quotes and various ideas (in short Word docs) when I stumble upon them. Within that folder I have one document simply titled Research and Notes. It is now 84 pages and almost 29,000 words long (yikes!), a years-long compilation of things that have caught my eye and references I want to have easy access to when I finally write my book.
Clearly I do better with research than writing. Now, though, the time for writing about wolves has arrived.
It’s also clear to me that I’ve mentioned my obsession with wolves and their survival in the wild landscape to friends over the years, perhaps ad nauseam.
One such friend – one of those dear friends every writer needs because they always encourage your efforts – recently sent me a book she found in a bookstore.
If I had a scale I could tell you how much it weighs. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to lug it too far across a college campus. It’s a textbook, coffee table size, 350 pages without the extensive references and index included. Very detailed with lots of technical statistics about wolves. It’s pleases the historian/nerd in me. Published in 2003 by the University of Chicago Press, it could use some updates, however, especially in terms of wolf behavior, since much of what was “known” at that time was based on observations of captive wolves and thus inaccurate as applied to wolves in the wild. Much as been observed and learned about truly wild wolves since then, especially those in Yellowstone. Which is why I have my Research and Notes document.
Here are some other books about wolves on my shelf, all of which I would recommend if you’re interested in the subject. I’m no good at book reviews, so the following are just brief descriptions and some impressions of the books.
Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez gives the big view of wolves and their role in various cultures over the millennia. He explores how ideas about wolves have evolved and been shaped by mythology and misunderstandings. Hint: the plague in Europe around 1350 explains a lot! Originally published in 1978, Lopez added an afterward in 2004 that touched on the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995 and the conflicts created with ranchers (and others who still believed the old myths) as wolves migrated outside of the park.
Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat. A classic, published in 1963, with an updated preface by the author in 1993. Mowat describes the summer he was sent alone, by the Canadian Wildlife Service, to observe wolf populations in the frozen tundra. Despite being fed the usual myths about wolves of that era, he came to develop a deep affection for the real wolves he observed, realizing they were no threat to wildlife or humans. He noted much of their diet consisted of small rodents, which made complete sense to me as I’ve watched my Malamutes expertly hunt voles in my yard.
Wolfland, by Carter Niemeyer. This was a harder read, knowing that the author, by his own admission, paid for his college tuition by trapping animals. He also trapped and killed wolves as part of his work as an employee of government agencies engaged in wildlife management. His views about wolves, and wildlife management, evolved, however, to the extent that he ultimately helped reintroduce wolves to the northern Rockies in the 1990s. (I sense guilt for his role in killing wolves, although he never really states that clearly.) Niemeyer strives to find a middle ground today regarding “management.” I’m not down with that; I don’t believe humans can ever successfully manage wildlife to suit human needs, and I don’t believe ranchers running livestock on public land need or should ask government agencies to kill predators to protect their stock.
Into the Temple of Wolves, by Rich Lamplugh. The author has spent uncountable hours observing Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley wolves, taking amazing photos and watching them interact with their landscape. You’ll be transported to that magical landscape when reading this book. Search for Lamplugh on Facebook, YouTube and other social media; he freely shares what he’s seeing and his thoughts about wolf recovery. He also has a blog.
I’m so serious – and excited – about writing about wolves that I’ve added “Wolves” as a category to this blog.
Alrighty then, enough about research. Write on!
Featured photo: wolves in Denali National Park, courtesy of National Park Service.