Book Review: American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

41078131 American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee is the most recent read in my effort to get through all the books I irresponsibly got via NetGalley last year and never read. Essentially, it’s the story of the wolf in America, focusing on “recent” events since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The book follows the lives of the wolves, as chronicled by a handful of avid (or obsessed?) wolf-watchers in the park over many years, as well as the political, cultural, and societal factors that impact wolves’ survival in the American West.

The most gripping parts of the book are Blakeslee’s reporting on the life of O-Six, a female wolf born in 2006 in the park. He succeeds in telling a gripping story of life and survival for wolves as they face both natural and man-made threats. It reads almost like a novel, and definitely paints a vivid picture of wolf society. I learned so much about wolves, the evolution of individual wolf packs, and the social interactions of what are clearly very intelligent and emotional animals.

Woven into the story is the political, societal, and legal context in which the wolf reintroduction and population management unfolded. It was interesting to read about the events through the 2000s and to understand how events I lived through (sequestration and the 2011 threat of a government shutdown, followed by an actual shutdown in 2013) impacted things across the country. It’s disturbing and yet unsurprising, especially having lived my entire adult life in the DC area, to read of the political nonsense–riders circumventing legal protections for wolves tacked on last minute to a must-pass spending bill in 2011, for example.

I couldn’t help but root for the wolves as I read the book, while I understand the legitimate concerns of residents of areas surrounding Yellowstone as they coped with rising wolf populations. I’m glad I read the book, and sorry it took me so long to actually pick it up to read. I give the book 4 stars, only subtracting one because I feel it starts out a little slowly and took some effort to get into. Persevere, though! It’s worth it!

4 stars!

NatGeo Highlights: April and May 2016

It’s been a while, but I’m back with my quick thoughts on National Geographic Magazine for the past two months. April’s issue introduced “The Photo Ark” and May’s issue was a special issue focused entirely on Yellowstone National Park, our nation’s oldest National Park.

April: The highlight for me in April’s issue was by far the Photo Ark. I was impressed, actually, by the article and the pictures. The cover calls the photo ark “one man’s quest to document the world’s animals, one picture at a time.” What fascinated me in the article was the backstory of how the photographer, Joel Sartore, started the project in the first place. Essentially, he had been traveling the world photographing all sorts of things for his career when in 2005 his wife was diagnosed with cancer. As a result, he spent the next year at home – the article says he “had no choice” but to stay home and give up the traveling, but there’s always a choice. Sartore made the respectable and admirable choice to stay home and care for his wife and three children, sacrificing his career goals for that year. As a woman who has relied on her husband through several years of cycling illnesses, I know this is no small step for a man to take and I have a profound respect for spouses who give like my husband has given to me – with true love and devotion. In any case, I guess what I’m getting at is that I like Sartore’s work even more knowing his story. Which is that he hatched the idea for the photo ark during that year at home – his first photo for the project was of the naked mole rat, which he photographed at a zoo near his home. He found a way to pursue his work AND be there for his family, which is pretty awesome. His goal for the photo ark is also admirable: “photographing the world’s captive species and making people care about their fate.” It seems like he has a good shot at achieving that goal – his photo spread in April’s issue is my two-year-old’s favorite page of the magazine 🙂

Picture of a naked mole rat
Naked Mole Rat – Joel Sartore

May: I feel like I should have a lot to say about May’s Yellowstone issue, but I don’t. I learned SO much from it, and I found it really fascinating. That said, what stands out to me the most after having read it is this photo from one of the last pages of the magazine by Louise Johns:

Picture of a young girl near Yellowstone chasing a ball near her family's ranch
photo by Louise Johns

The caption reads:

Four-year-old Elle Anderson chases a ball and a future near her family’s house on J Bar L Ranch in Montana. ‘A hundred years from now,’ says Hillary Anderson, ‘I hope this place is a thriving ecosystem full of everything that should be here – wolves, bears, humans, livestock.’

You can see the picture a lot better if you click here. What I love about it: the scene pictured here is drastically different from where I live in a townhouse neighborhood in suburban Virginia. But, in true four-year-old fashion, Elle Anderson is chasing that ball wearing…an Elsa dress. No matter how different their day to day lives may be, this four-year-old and my four-year-old are a lot alike 🙂