Friday, December 11, 2015

HOWL: Guest Post by Susan Imhoff Bird

My guest blogger, Susan Imhoff Bird, is the author of Howl: of Woman and Wolf. Commemorating twenty years since the wolf’s return to the American West, Howl explores the passions and controversies surrounding nature’s most fascinating predator, while also delving into the reality of being human in today’s world.

My Alaska, My Wolf.

I dream Alaska. Immense, white. Fanged, feathered, furred. Hooded and gloved and without question, booted. Mukluks, Juneau boots. Huddled homes, expansive shorelines, seventy shades of blue to be discovered in sky and lake, river and ocean. Great and ferocious predators, thickened by fur and hardened by lot. Bears—black, polar, brown—wolverines and lynx, foxes, wolves. And the winged: bald and golden eagles, hawks and osprey, ravens and owls—great gray, northern hawk, and boreal—the fantastically named gyrfalcon, curving a path high above them all.

My Alaska is massive, resplendent, its edges blurring into towering, snow-sculpted mountains, bereft of trees. But if you peer closely, large paw prints traverse the slopes, dissolving into shadows cast by boulders, by landslide, by earthen tumult.

When I started studying wolves, I went on a late spring day to a valley that had, a month before, watched its snow melt into the ground and drip from banks into its rivers. I saw but one wolf that sojourn, though I’d hoped for more. I stood with a bevy of others, squinting into scopes, and watched the solitary wolf tear sustenance from the carcass of a bison calf. The Lamar Valley was well-filled with bison, cranes, and coyotes, while eagles spiraled above and a grizzly family pawed through a rotting tree trunk on a far hillside, but of wolves, I glimpsed only the one.

I returned to Yellowstone five months later, arriving the day after a blizzard, and learned to search for wolves on snow-dusted sage plains, on rocky outcroppings, on ice-laced creeks and tree-dotted buttes. Alaska, I thought, is more like this. I saw wolves—two who circled within forty feet of where I stood on frozen boots, two more a hundred yards away, and a family of eight who lounged atop a ridge, brought to near life-size by a powerful scope, whiskers flicking, eyes blinking, an exchange of paw swipes by two black cubs. Another morning, a pack of wolves was so far away that in my scope, they were lumps of gray-brown upon a rocky hill of gray-brown. Still others I tracked as they ran through winter-stiff grass and across ice bridges, only to disappear again in the shrub.

Soon I began to dream a wolf. She travels sloping mountain flanks, she sniffs for fellow and foe. She looks upon the world through eyes of gold, which glow on moon bright nights. Life is spent in snow and sun and rain, in pursuit of elk, caribou, moose, that routinely elude and escape. She sleeps curled nose to tail, she naps while the sun is high. She partners for life. She howls to bring her family close, and she howls to warn others away. She is guided by hunger, by instinct, by love, which are often one and the same. Her coat is a hundred shades of time-worn granite. My wolf is wild in every way, with a spirit so wide its edges blur. Into mine.

In my Alaska, live wolves. In my wolf, lives Alaska.

Find out more about Howl and Susan Imhoff Bird at