Reviews and Publictiy for Comeback Wolves (so far)
New West Magazine, Nov. 28, 2005
Last Monday in the Old Main Chapel on CU Campus, editor Gary Wockner and writers Pam Houston and Laura Pritchett discussed their contributions to the new book Comeback Wolves, in which fifty Western writers explore the idea of reintroducing wolves into the wilderness. According to Wockner, wolves have been reintroduced in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona. Colorado policy makers are currently contemplating bringing the animals here. Wockner, who holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Geography from CU and is a research ecologist at Colorado State University, said he organized the collection with the “goal to create a forum for writers to speak out on the issue of wolf reintroduction.” He said that we usually hear from “journalists, scientists, and policy makers” on this subject, and “don’t often have a chance to hear from storytellers.”
Laura Pritchett, a fiction writer who grew up on a Colorado ranch and currently lives outside of Ft. Collins, offered the rancher’s perspective on the issue of wolf reintroduction. (For a review of Pritchett’s most recent novel, see Sky Bridge by Laura Pritchett). Pritchett said that she feels part of her work is to “try to bridge the gap between environmentalists and ranchers.” She believes that “ranching is mainly a good thing if it’s done the right way,” because the big open spaces that ranching requires contribute to biodiversity. It’s important to encourage ranchers because “if ranches are economically viable and don’t go out of business, they are much less likely to go into development or be turned into ranchettes.” She read from her essay in Comeback Wolves, reflecting on the idea that a rancher’s main job is to husband the animals. Pritchett’s mother once demonstrated this commitment by administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to save a cow. She said that she’s seen an evolution her parents’ attitudes toward wildlife over the years. “Fox, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and prairie dogs used to be shot,” she said, but they aren’t anymore. “When a bear tore apart the beehives, my mom seemed a little happy for the bear.” But all ranchers share a deep need to protect their livestock and “a suspicion of the things that can come in and hurt.”
Pritchett said that many ranchers have mixed feelings about programs that offer compensation for wolf-killed livestock. “Many ranchers are mainly concerned that they’re losing good genetic material—when a calf dies it’s worth much more than the price it could bring at a sale.” She believes policy makers should come up with a “compensation formula that reflects this.” She also pointed out that some ranchers feel they’re treated with resentment, called “welfare ranchers,” when they approach administrators for compensation for wolf-killed livestock. Pritchett believes that if the compensation were offered with a “warmness” in a spirit of genuine apology for the ranchers’ losses, “things would change quite a bit.”
Pam Houston, whose views fall squarely in the wolf-lover camp, said that “for a writer, an artist, and maybe for a human being, the most important thing you can do is to pay strict attention. When I am in the wilderness with predators, it’s a requirement that I pay strict attention, which I think is probably how we’re meant to live.” Houston spent many years as a Dahl sheep hunting guide in Alaska, and she read from an essay about her first trip to Alaska in 1987, called “Opening Day on the Denali Highway.” Houston went for a drive on the highway after it had just been plowed for the spring, and said that “animals came in right behind the snowplows and used the road until June when the tourists came.” She saw a variety of animals that day, including a moose, a trumpeter swan, a wolverine, a porcupine, and a flock of ptarmigans, but the sight that made the deepest impression on her was that of the first wolf she’d ever glimpsed in the wild. She wrote of the black-furred wolf: “He was so much a dog, and so much more than a dog. He was a dog raised to the 9th degree.” Houston said that “my impression was that Alaska was one of the healthiest wilderness environments I’ve ever seen, and I believe it’s because they have predators.”
Houston told a funny story to illustrate her point about the importance of predators. She divides her time between Colorado and California, where she directs the creative writing program of UC Davis. “I’ve tried to love the Sierras, but I’ve failed because I’m a Rocky Mountain snob.” She said that “when hiking alone in Colorado, about one out of a hundred encounters makes me nervous, and when hiking alone in California, that number is one in three.” She described a hike in California on which she passed “crystal meth shacks, guys in prison suits, and a guy in a wife beater” who shouted rude comments at her. The last man approached her and dropped his pants. “I didn’t want to run because it would attract predators, but I moved at a clip, then started to trot, and all of the sudden a very large mountain lion jumped out in front of me.” Houston said she tried to hold her ground but not challenge the animal, and the mountain lion went around her and walked up the trail. “I like to think,” Houston said, “that the lion went after the naked man.” She summed up her story with a conclusion: “If you’re going to die, how much better to die at the hands of the mountain lion than at the hands of the naked man.”
Wockner discussed the current status of the reintroduction of the wolf in Colorado. He sat on the committee that came up with a Colorado migratory wolf management plan, and all on the committee agreed that wolves from other states should be allowed to migrate into Colorado. The discussion of reintroduction was more “contentious,” but Wockner believes that wolves will be reintroduced here within three to ten years. He believes that Coloradoans for the most part support wolf reintroduction, because “there’s more of a ‘new West’ atmosphere here, and more people are interested in contributing money to the cause.” He asked the audience to participate in drawing the wolves to Colorado. “In Boulder we have a lot of dumb, tame mule deer that could use some re-wilding,” he said, then asked everyone in the audience to howl like wolves to draw the animals forward. Most people obliged.
All the royalties from Comeback Wolves go to the Defenders of Wildlife's “proactive carnivore conservation fund.”
Johnson Books: 224 pp., $15
In June 2004, a gray wolf is found dead on I-70 in Colorado. She is "Wolf 293F," a 2-year-old from a pack in the northwest corner of Wyoming.
She has traveled more than 500 miles in search of a mate and territory
to form a new pack. Wolf 293 appears throughout this anthology heralding
the reintroduction of wolves to Colorado and the Southwest.
Seared with passion, beauty and prejudice, the book examines the historic and mythic complexity of wolves as their silent gray shadows begin once again to lope toward the lighted cities.
While many criticized the spot for using scare tactics to drum up votes, Wockner focused on a different, but no less political, theme: the image of the wolves. A member of the Colorado Wolf Working Group, Wockner had been working to protect the animals the ad vilified.
"The TV commercial faded away, and I sat with my mouth agape," he wrote recently. "I finally said, 'Oh for gods sakes. I can't believe it.' "
More than year later, Wockner has more than a slack jaw for a response.
Wockner's recently released book Comeback Wolves: Western Writers Welcome the Wolf Home (Johnson Books, $15), co-edited with Gregory McNamee and SueEllen Campbell, is an anthology of poems and essays that celebrates the reintroduction of wolves into Colorado and the Southwest. It features a host of notable writers, including Rick Bass, Mary Sojourner, Mary Crow, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Pam Houston, Kent Nelson, Laura Pritchett and John Nichols, all of whom discuss wolves in their own ways.
Their work, Wockner notes, is about more than the mammals. "Wolves, it turns out, are mere vessels and symbols of wildness in the West, of redemption for our society's past mistakes, of the idea that we humans might be able to restore something rather than continue our doomsday destruction," he has notes on the book's website. The writers' work is "ultimately about hope."
The presidential campaign is a memory now, but Wockner is still at work promoting wolves. Monday, he joins authors Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness, Waltzing the Cat) and Pritchett (Hell's Bottom, Colorado, Sky Bridge) to talk about the book.
The free event takes place at 7 p.m. at the Center for the American West in Old Main Chapel at the University of Colorado, Boulder. A book signing precedes the event at 6:30 p.m. Information: 303-492-4879.
Writers examine, celebrate return of the wrongly reviled wolf
By Clay Evans, Camera Books Editor
Comeback Wolves: Western Writers Welcome the Wolf Home edited by Gary Wockner, Gregory McNamee and SueEllen Campbell. Johnson Books, 207 pp. $15.
Before wolf "293F" was found dead and broken at the side of
I-70 west of Idaho Springs in June 2004, nobody had seen a wolf in Colorado
(at least officially) since 1935. Unofficially, a wolf was killed by a
trapper in the Conejos Valley in 1945.
Historically, Canis lupus thrived in all or part of 43 states (Hawaii and the Deep South were the exceptions). Today, even after much-publicized reintroduction efforts in Yellowstone, wolves can be found in just eight states: Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Mexico and Arizona.
But that list, of course, neglects 293F, a young female who had been tranquilized and radio-collared as a pup in Yellowstone in January 2003. A year and a half later she was found, her belly full of deer and her legs broken, some 500 miles from home.
The moral to 293F's story: Wolves have gained a new foothold in parts of their former range, courtesy of human intervention, but they've done so well that they may do the rest of the "reintroduction" without assistance.
"No one knows (293F's) whole story, of course, but there are enough fragments to feed the imagination, and so, practically overnight, for many Coloradans, she became a symbol of her species' possible return," writes Gary Wockner of Fort Collins, co-editor on the new book, "Comeback Wolves," published by Boulder's Johnson Books.
Most of the contributors to the book of essays and a few poems, in fact, hail from Colorado — and most celebrate the prospect of the wolf's return. But the controversy over allowing one of the state's native carnivores to return pervades the collection. Ranchers, hunters, and people steeped in false lore about the viciousness of wolves (Note: there are no verified cases of wolves attacking humans in North America) object to the whole notion.
Northern Colorado novelist Laura Pritchett describes her conversation with a "liberal" rancher (anti-Bush Kerry voter, the whole bit), who doesn't doubt how his fellow stockmen would respond if they saw a wolf:
"'... The three S's?'
"I try to make a joke of it — this rancher lingo for 'shoot, shovel, and shut up' — but he doesn't smile and he doesn't blink an eye when he says, 'Yep, pretty much.'
"... 'Like, how many ranchers are going to take that approach?'
"'Like around Craig, about one hundred percent.'"
But even as stockmen fear the return of wolves, and small towns fret that wolves will compete with hunters who bring in revenue each fall, contributors to this collection note the many advantages of reintroduction. Among them: In Yellowstone, wolf predation has allowed ungulate-damaged willow and aspen stands to recover, which has in turn brought back various native bird species; Wolves also tend to keep coyote populations down.
Most of the writers here believe that wolves soon will return to Colorado. The trick will be finding a balance to satisfy both those who view wolves as depraved predators and those who value them as symbols of wild America.
But in his introduction, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall argues that such a balance can be struck.
"'Management' and 'sustainability' are the key concepts that should guide us through this new era," Udall writes.
Most of the 50 short pieces are full of passion and heart, quite different from the necessarily tempered words of an elected official (who wants to run for U.S. Senate).
Fort Collins writer John Calderazzo makes a case against irrational fears — of volcanoes, killer bees, terrorists, wolves.
"Maybe our terror of human evil gone wild has morphed into fears of the natural world lurching violently out of control," he writes.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes of Denver, author of the famous book "Women Who Run with the Wolves," unabashedly celebrates wildness among wolves and humans alike. She says wolves and the human soul are the most "maligned image(s) in our culture."
"The soul, like the wolf, has been erroneously reputed to be ungracious, innately dangerous, and ravenous for any form of life," she writes.
Other writers are more political. Rob Edward, who has labored long and hard with Boulder-based Sinapu in the cause of bringing wolves back to Colorado, offers cold facts to those who choose to fear wolves.
"Held up to the mirror of fact, these myths crumble," he writes. "Where wolves and livestock share the land, wolves kill less than one in ten thousand cows and sheep each year. Weather kills scores more livestock in those same areas each year. Canada never eliminated wolves, yet the nation's hunting and ranching industries continue to thrive."
Aside from a few poems that feel tossed-off, "Comeback Wolves" is a howling good assembly of short pieces about wolves and their likely return to Colorado. The book would make an excellent holiday gift for those who love wolves — and who quietly hope more will follow 293F to our state.
Fifty Western writers just published a collection of essays and poems in praise, and sometimes protest, of reintroducing wolves to Colorado
By KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
SUMMIT COUNTY — Local writer John Fayhee’s essay is just one of the rousing stories in a collection of 50 Western writers’ views on reintroducing wolves to Colorado. But it’s a zinger.
Like many of the writers in Comeback Wolves, he talks about
the female wolf that died trying to cross Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs.
I suppose some readers might find Fayhee’s acerbic opinion offensive, but I couldn’t help but laugh.
And that’s how reading Comeback Wolves is. The essays and poems satisfy both the emotional and intellectual realms; each author has crafted the pieces so the writing could stand up in any literary anthology, all the while painting pictures of the big bad wolf or the wolf we need to reconnect us with our wild nature.
Some authors, such as Laurie Wagner Buyer, address the argument against wolves. She married a fourth-generation cattle rancher after she developed a fondness for wolves.
“My environmentalist-preservationist attitude came smack up against the reality of a life lived close to the bone, to a livelihood dependent on keeping predators at bay to prevent stock losses,” she writes in her essay, “Where There Are Wolves.”
Other contributors, such as George Sibley, show another side of a weighty issue. Yes, wolves sometimes kill cattle. But what is the absence of wolves in Colorado doing to people’s psyche, Sibley asks.
“(Wolves) don’t just know things, they feel,” Sibley writes in “Never Cry 293F.” “And why would I say we need that kind of knowledge from wolves? Because it is so clear that we are far, far out of touch with any balanced relationship with the universe, and maybe wolves are better at that than we are. Why else would we be inviting back fellow large predators that we’d earlier killed off, if not for some kind of consultation?”
The Western writers range in experience with wolves, from those who have never seen or heard the wild animals to those who have seen “the glint of his gold eyes” and those who work on wolf restoration projects. Sections of the book review the power of legends and our culture’s lingering fears and hatred of the “big bad wolf”; the need to update the destructive myths with new ideas; the wolves’ wild howls that transport us to primal fears, as well as to a deep yearning for a restored world; ways we share the spirit and wisdom of wolves; and the practicalities of restoring wolves to Colorado.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves, considers how humans share many of the same characteristics as wolves. She says like wildlife, the wild soul is an endangered species. “It is not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own wild and soulful natures fades,” she writes. “ ... It is not too late to save the soul — the individual soul and the soul of the world.”
In a sense, all of the writers of Comeback Wolves are howling
to save something deeper than simply an endangered species. They are telling
their stories to save much more, and their calls are powerful.
Wolves once roamed wildly in Colorado," says Gary Wockner, Colorado State University wildlife ecologist and editor of Comeback Wolves, a new collection of poems, stories and essays.
As many as 39,000 wolves might have wandered Colorado in the mid-1800s, before the state enacted a wolf bounty and collected thousands of pelts for cash. By the late 1940s, "they were almost surely gone."
The reintroduction of wolves, now an endangered species, into the wild is "probably the most provocative wildlife issue in the Unites States right now," says Wockner.
The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, three of the largest environmental organizations in the country, have dedicated large segments of their public policy recommendations to wolf reintroduction.
The International Wolf Center of Ely, Minn., is dedicating its fourth annual International Wolf Conference to wolf reintroduction issues, and has located the conference in Colorado Springs this year.
Opposition to reintroduction comes largely from cattle growers whose herds graze the open range in the West and, therefore, are vulnerable to wolves.
"The West has a long history of severe contentiousness about this issue," says Wockner. He adds that in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where wolves naturally colonize along the northern peninsulas and ranchers tend to graze their cattle on closed, more protected lands, there are several thousand wolves and far fewer political arguments over the issue.
In Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced during the Clinton administration, interesting data has emerged that fuels the interest of ecologists like Wockner.
"There is a ripple effect that we've noticed in Yellowstone," says Wockner. "The primary thing that wolves do is chase elk. And when elk are forced to run away, they don't get to just stand there and chew on the vegetation forever. What we've seen happen is, the grass grows again. Willows grow again. Beavers come back into wetland areas because there are willows. Songbirds come back. When you restore wolves, you restore ecological processes that have disappeared."
The same elk problem exists in Rocky Mountain National Park, where the reintroduction of wolves has been considered but has not yet been approved by the state of Colorado. Wolves have been reintroduced in recent years in New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The idea for Wockner's book came about as a way to reach out and educate the public with a different voice.
"Most of the stuff the public hears about this issue is from scientists, policy makers or journalists," says Wockner. "I thought it would be interesting for people to hear from poets and writers."
Wockner and fellow editors SueEllen Campbell and Gregory McNamee invited friends, acquaintances and writers whose work they knew to contribute. Comeback Wolves includes pieces by Rick Bass, John Nichols, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Kent Nelson, Pam Houston and many others.
The result is an eclectic assortment of essays and poems addressing a range of issues from "Invocations to the Return of the Wolf" to "The Voltage of Legends" to "Landscapes with Wolves."
"Our purpose," says Wockner, "is to try to sway public policy more favorably toward wolves in Colorado and the Southwest."
An acquaintance of mine, a lifelong La Plata County (Colo.) ranch dweller, swears she has seen a wolf regularly near her very rural homestead for years. Everyone thought she was-ahem, "mistaken," until a car-killed she-wolf, radio-tagged in Yellowstone Park, was found along I-70 here in Colorado last year. Now she’s got some people thinking.
Folks have been thinking of ways to get the wolf back into the southern Rockies for a while, but it now appears they’ll come whether planned for or not. Reintroduction no longer seems to be the issue. The issue is making the wolf welcome, or perhaps tolerated. That’s the idea behind this collection of short essays and poems composing Comeback Wolves.
In fact, nature lovers Gary Wockner, Gregory McNamee and SueEllen Campbell state that the purpose behind this work is three-fold: to display word art, to arouse emotion and to move people to action. Now nature lovers come in all manner of garb: author, hiker, poet, hunter, activist, biker, artist, biologist, you and me. We would like to open some kind of direct communication with the wild, wouldn’t we, to explore the how of it? The contributors to this volume have tried that and they came up with the very word art the editors were looking for.
Who are the writers? Authors Susan Zwinger, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, John Nichols, Mary Sojourner, Michelle Nijhuis, Charles Bergman, Rick Bass, Laura Pritchett and Craig Childs lead the list of some 50 contributors to this work. Of these 50, 29 have published over 250 books, collectively. Of the remaining we find 14 poets, nine teachers, five editors, four essayists, three students, two guides, and an activist. All are enthralled with wolves, though not all have met one.
Not all of us might enjoy meeting a wolf, either. It all depends. Something happens to people in their youth, or in utero: some learn to trust, others to fear. Some develop rigidity, others flexibility. Some have sympathetic natures, while others are angry at everything. While this book may appeal more to those who favor wolves as part of healthy ecosystems, the editors hope to influence those hard-hearted pragmatists and economy junkies-the politicians. Judging by the rapaciousness with which politicians currently in power view nature, it will be a steep climb. If political hearts are hardened against our killing of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children, all for the sake of oil or some principle (giving ones own life for freedom is different than killing innocents for it), it is unlikely the book will encourage them to accept the wolf with open arms.
It is also safe to assume that many whose economic welfare stands a chance of being affected by wolves will not be happy about their reappearance. This is a genuine sentiment, probably justified, and the authors do not shy away from this topic. Many grew up on ranches and some never left. These writers provide unique and valuable perspective, a perspective that will prove especially insightful for readers who are all-out gung-ho pro-wolf. For example, Laura Pritchett writes of a conversation with a friend, a "notoriously liberal rancher," worried about losing cattle:
"…you lose animals to lightning," [Pritchett argues].
"I can't control the lightning, wolves I can," Jay says. "Look, I’m willing to put up with a few dead animals. Accept it as part of the bargain, part of the gamble. But more than that, no way." Laura outlines Jay’s thoughts on depredation compensation, all of which sound reasonable to me.
M. John Fayhee, former editor of Mountain Gazette, argues that perhaps wolves won’t fit in the "New Colorado." "This is a state populated by folks who think they’re tough because they ski The Basin and climb fourteeners. But, as soon as there’s news of a few poodle disappearances in mountain lion country … then people start showing their true fearful colors by calling the Division of Wildlife and demanding that Something Be Done …"
He is right. He thinks people move to Colorado instead of Montana or Alaska because of the absence of large carnivores. "We are Wild Lite," he says. I see Fayhee dressed up, a la Jack Nicholson, as an Army officer: "The wolf? The wolf? You can’t handle the wolf." But he likes the idea of wolves here because it disturbs the comfortable-albeit Lite-wild that is Colorado. The gentry may have to "buy a gun, in case Wild [meaning a large carnivore] decides to pay you a close-encounter-type visit."
Speaking of large carnivores, the image of a great photo in the Anchorage Daily News from a dozen years ago comes to mind. An imposing grizzly stands in a Denali Park road a short distance from two mountain bikers. They have skillfully positioned their bikes between them and the bear, which was no doubt helpful — a close encounter-type visit that ended well, and that may well be repeated some day here in Wild-Lite.
We wolf sympaticos constitute a choir, and this book is a well-written, entertaining and didactic hymnal. Your 15 bucks will provide royalty money, not to the authors or editors, but to the Defenders of Wildlife Proactive Carnivore Conservation Trust. This, according to the editors, is "the best thing going to protect wolves and other carnivores while also preserving ranches and open landscapes they require."
Clarissa Estes, a well-known and widely admired psychotherapist, writes that among her clients, dreams of lions and tigers and bears — and wolves — vanished over the course of the three decades. Replacing wolves in dreams, she says, are images of "gigantic stomping splints and walking piers of glittering mutant metal." This means that even our unconscious has lost its wild mooring. So what does it mean to be human, having lost our dream connection to the wild?
Let’s bring the wolf back, and back into "our own wild and soulful nature," as Estes writes. Its resurrection-sure to be augmented by this book is a heavenly idea.
Wockner, an environmental writer and ecologist living in Ft. Collins, invited a large number of western writers to marshal their thoughts on what amounts to the relationship between wolves and the meaningful life. Fifty writers responded with essays and poetry, and Wockner got Colorado State University environmental literature professor SueEllen Campbell and environmental journalist Gregory McNamee to help edit this collection of original pieces.
The result, “Comeback Wolves,” enters the world primarily as a political act intended to stimulate dialogue furthering the reintroduction of wolves into the Southern Rockies, through action steps described by Wockner in his introduction. But it is also an interesting and often beautiful set of meditations on nature, and on the evolving culture of what might be Earth’s first species to consciously start contemplating the fate of its own competitors in the Great Food Chain of Life.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I am one of the 50 participants in this book — but I can balance that by also noting that I am a little more skeptical of the wolf reintroduction project than many of the other participants, and have a question or two to raise later here about the political purpose of the book.
But first a look at the book itself. The Table of Contents reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary western writers, laden with names like Craig Childs, Pam Houston, John Nichols, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Rick Bass and Hal Clifford, and a number who will be familiar to readers of this rag – B. Frank, Michele Murray, M. John Fayhee and yours truly. And with few exceptions, there is no sense that any of the writers are recycling something from their rejects drawer; most of the writing feels fresh and focused. And all these people who write for a living, or at least part of a living, have also consented to let all proceeds from the book go to the Defenders of Wildlife’s “Proactive Carnivore Conservation Trust.”Wockner did a good job managing this pack.
The essays and poems in “Comeback Wolves” are divided into five sections: “Invocations to Return the Wolf,” which is about what it sounds like; “A Howling from the Belly,” which explores the diverse strong passions (including negative ones) that the wolf provokes in humans; “The Voltage of Legends,” which looks at some of the stories we Americans and other peoples have told ourselves about wolves; “Becoming Wolf,” which takes a stab at imagining the situation from the wolfish perspective; and “Landscape with Wolves,” in which writers try to imagine what it will be like to live with wolves again and what it will take to get there. There’s also an appendix with information about all the “wolf support groups” in the Rockies.
There are at least three themes or threads that seem to run through all five sections — images, events, even specific statements that recur again and again.
The most subtle but still recurring thread is a linking of wolves and terrorism — mostly with a disjunctive intent, to distinguish wolves from things that are more legitimately terrorizing. But a couple of writers made specific reference to the television ad the Bushites ran late in the fall 2004 campaign, which attempted to use some really rather beautiful wolf images to suggest the presence of terrorists among us, requiring constant vigilance, et cetera, et cetera, which only Republicans would be tough enough to carry out, et cetera, et cetera.
What I found myself wondering when I first saw that ad — after my initial kneejerk “This is going to be exploitive!” reaction — was whether this might not have been one of those instances where television’s direct appeal to the eye undermines the aural message the medium is trying to deliver. Or, more plainly — did no one else find themselves wondering how those beautiful pictures of those beautiful animals (no slavering jaws, no “fierce green light,” no tearing at carcasses) could possibly have anything to do with something like 9/11? Are there Americans that are still so stuck in a Little Red Riding Hood sensibility that that ad actually worked on them as intended?
Personally, I thought the ad’s visuals could have been used as an effective advertisement for wolf reintroduction, or for sympathy for terrorists for that matter, and that the ad therefore probably did more to confuse viewers than convince them of anything. But it’s a book by writers: Maybe writers listen more than they look in such instances.
A second element that recurs frequently throughout this book is Wolf 293F — the female wolf found dead by Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs in June 2004. The whole book is, in fact, dedicated to Wolf 293F, who had reintroduced herself to Colorado all the way from one of the Yellowstone packs. Again, however, the double message implicit in the presence of Wolf 293F in Colorado seems to have been missed by most of the writers who “used” her. A good news/bad news kind of message: The good news is that the wolves probably won’t wait around for humans to shepherd them into new places; when they approach the carrying capacity of one place, the young will move on (or be driven on through internal pack pressures) to inhabit new places.
But the bad news delivered via Wolf 293F is that Colorado might not be ready for wolf reintroduction due to the presence here of phenomena like Interstate 70, not to mention several million residents and visitors wandering all over most of the good wolf habitat. Those opposed to wolf reintroduction — not a major presence. in this book, except as reported in the third person in some of the essays — could more easily use Wolf 293F as their “poster wolf” than could those favoring reintroduction.
Along with the irony of the mixed message in the Bush ad, this is another irony that is largely missed in the book, and I will confess that that bothers me a little. I do not want to convey the impression that I go around with a perpetual sneer, looking for ironies, but an awareness of the ironic in our own beliefs and actions strikes me as our only real defense against the earnestness and seriousness of the “true believers” that is so easily exploited by political and commercial factions like those now running the country.
The third thread that runs (more like a rope) through so many of these essays and poems is the longing — the longing for those “wild and hoped for wolves,” the longing for wildness in our world, period. Many of the essays begin (or include somewhere) a disclaimer that the author has never seen or heard a wolf in the wild, and most of those end with the expressed desire to see or hear a wolf in the landscape around them. “I’m a Coloradoan, living in a place where soon, I hope, I’ll be seeing wolves close to home.” And another: “Recalling the sounds of the Little Piedra River, where I once howled my hopes to the wind, I wonder how near the day might be when I might finally hear an answer to that howl.” Beautiful poetic expressions of hope and longing.
I share this hope and longing deep in my soul — but not up on my realpolitik level ... and I think we have to do more than just express these deep feelings; we have to dig down into ourselves a little and see where the feelings come from. Who are we ultimately wanting this reintroduction for, anyway? “For the ecosystem” is the correct answer, but a lot of the most poetic and beautiful writing in the book makes it sound like we might be doing it mostly for ourselves, to satiate our longings for a wildness that our ancestors removed from our ecosystems (assuming we would be grateful).
So — if we are doing it for the ecosystems, and not just to give ourselves one more titillating bedtime thrill when we’re out camping, I think we do need to do a kind of a personal cost-benefit analysis of the ecosystems of which we are a part — which is practically all ecosystems (like it or not).
In one of the most thoughtful essays in “Comeback Wolves,” Hal Clifford quotes Barry Lopez (author of “Of Wolves and Men” and a notable absence here): “Ecology is the study of the coherence of community.” Up in the vasty, more empty country north and west of Yellowstone, we are actually seeing how the reintroduced wolf is making a community formerly trashed by swarming elk more “coherent” — aspen and willows coming back, bringing beavers, songbirds, et cetera — this litany of ecological improvement is stated several times in the book.
But what about those larger ecosystems that are mostly trashed by us in our “swarming” phase? Are we going to start “rewilding” the things that are most disruptive to ecosystems (and destructive to wolves) — like Interstate 70, to cite the extreme example? Are we going to develop the legislation or incentives programs or whatever to begin eliminating our own self-indulgent sprawl into our vanishing semiwildlands? And nastiest question of all maybe: What are we going to do to start “thinning and improving the health” of the human herd, swarming so out of balance with everything ecologically? Wolves work with swarming elk (newborns and slow ailing seniors first), but it’s hard to imagine our increasingly anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia society embracing that as a way of helping to bring coherence to our communities.
The base fact is: The wolf cannot be the cause of more coherent community in settled Colorado, as it is up in Yellowstone; the wolf can only come in here successfully as an effect of us first causing more coherence in the ecological communities we so thoroughly dominate. And thus I think we have to ask: Until we actually make some serious starts on changing that, do we deserve to hear the howl of that wild and hoped for wolf? Or would that just be yet another diversionary indulgence to make us feel good, despite the roadkilled wolves and ranchkilled wolves and those shot by cops for attacking small children and slow seniors in the exurban sprawl?
Those who tried to address these difficult questions about ourselves in “Comeback Wolves,” like Clifford, myself and a few others — we all mostly chickened out at the end with a piece of circular reasoning: Maybe if we bring back the wolves, they will help us learn to get our own act together. Dancing with wolves to save ourselves, to paraphrase one writer’s conclusion.Well — maybe. But the responsibility such a reintroduction imposes should be considered as much as — if not more than — the aesthetic joy these writers anticipate.
But anyway — it’s an interesting book, with a lot of good writing, that, like all well-written interesting books, leaves one thinking about the book it suggests be written next. Does it make the case that we’re really ready to “welcome the wolf home”? We hope; you decide.
Contributing editor and Western writer George Sibley lives in Gunnison, Colorado.
©Mountain Gazette Publishing 09/01/2005
The Gray Wolf (canis lupus) is a predator shrouded in myth, legend, and sometimes glamour. Since 1947, the wolf's howl has been silenced in the Colorado Rockies, and long has his integral role in the Southern Rocky Mountain ecosystem been denied.
Colorado State University's Dr. Gary Wockner has edited a new book, wistfully titled, Comeback Wolves: Western Writers Welcome the Wolf Home, documenting the hopeful reintroduction of the wolf into Colorado. The book includes many prolific writers such as Rick Bass, Pam Houston, George Sibley, and Sinapu Carnivore Restoration Director, Rob Edward. Along with the assistance of Gregory McNamee and SueEllen Campbell, Wockner has pieced together this compilation of essays and poems dedicated to the return of an endangered species to the American Southwest. Both Gary Wockner and local author George Sibley were kind enough to spend some time with me on this book and the issue of bringing the wolf back.
Throughout history, the wolf has been demonized as a vicious, barbaric murderer. The wolf has been trapped, poisoned, hunted, and brutally tortured to death to the brink of extinction. In 1973, wolves were granted protection via the Endangered Species Act. Wolves began making a strong comeback in Northern Minnesota and other Canadian border states. Now, extensive scientific research has come a long way to absolve the wolf's reputation.
Simultaneous with the development of Sinapu in the early 1990s, a surge of interest has been developing in Colorado for wolf restoration. 1995 was a banner year for environmentalists, as a pack of wolves was released in Yellowstone National Park. Dr. Wockner is quite enthusiastic about a successful comeback in Colorado as well.
With this new book, he was overwhelmingly swamped with writers eager to contribute, so there was plenty of material to choose from in putting this project together. When I asked Gary why he felt it was so important to put wolves back into Colorado, he cited three reasons. First is the ecological importance to the landscape; second was the fact that wolves are an endangered species; and third, stated oh-so-eloquently by Dr. Wockner, “wolves are beautiful.” Wolves will also help keep deer and elk herds healthy and strong by weeding out the sick and injured animals.
There are also reasons to consider not having the wolf come back to Colorado as well. Besides obvious concerns from ranchers, the growing population of this state is a big factor to consider, as wolves need extensive wilderness areas in which to live. George Sibley has some interesting thoughts on the subject: “We want to bring back the wolf, but did we ever ask the wolf what it wanted?” When Gary Wockner was confronted with the same question, he used the country of Italy as a comparison, as it has approximately the same landmass as Colorado. “Italy has sixty million people and supports about four hundred wolves. Colorado only has four and a half million people, so I believe we can support the wolf as well.”
Wolves are a major missing chapter of our Rocky Mountain heritage. It
is our responsibility to make sure that if they are returned by relocation
efforts or if they return on their own, the wolves will have adequate
protection. In these times of economic and environmental desperation,
we need the wild things and we need the wilderness. The wolf is a vital
element of what lurks wild within all of us, and its lonesome howl is
a needed soundtrack in Colorado's wilderness areas. The book will be released
September 1, so be sure to check out Comeback Wolves at a local
bookstore, or online at www.comebackwolves.com to learn more about this
Making room for wolves
Comeback Wolves: Western Writers Welcome the Wolf Home. Photo: edited by Gary Wockner, Gregory McNamee and SueEllen Campbell, 207 pgs, softcover: $15. Johnson Books, 2005
What do you get when you ask 50 people only a handful of whom have actually ever seen a wolf to write about new ways to "think about (wolves), imagine them, and welcome them home"? There are the inevitable odes to friendly wolf-dogs, and some wild stuff about kids suckled by volcanoes. But a lot of the writing in Comeback Wolves is pretty surprising, and a lot of it centers on the problem of how we make space for the real wolf snarling, pooping, and lounging in sunshine in our world and our minds.
Its been a decade since wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone and the Southwest; wolves have turned up in Colorado and Utah. But it is clear that we are still utterly unprepared for their reappearance. In this world made wild again, as Jana Richman writes, "the wolf has to play by our rules." And M. John Fayhee, the former publisher of Mountain Gazette, points out that those rules dont leave much room for wolves: Running a new ski lift to the top of the Continental Divide can drive a wolf into Interstate 70 traffic.
Splat. And, as Fayhee writes, "tough noogies."
Theres also a lot about possibility and hope, and that may be the point: We are all still sorting through the psychic implications of bringing back the wolf. "I can debunk wolf myths chapter and verse, using Barry Lopezs Of Wolves and Men as hymnal," writes B. Frank. But no amount of imagining can prepare us for meeting a wolf face-to-face. Laura Paskus, HCNs Southwest correspondent, points out that for those of us in the West, such an encounter could happen in any of our lives, at any time of the night. "Whether you hate wolves or love them," she writes, "any one of us would wake with a start, a pounding heart. What you do next is up to you."