Monthly Archives: January 2018

AMERICAN WOLF : a true story of survival and obsession in the West

Wolves arrived in Yellowstone National Park via truck on January 12, 1995.
NPS photo

a true story of survival and obsession in the West


“When the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, there were perhaps as many as two million wolves on the continent. Most of the early colonial governments, eager to make their settlements safe for livestock, paid bounties for wolf hides. . .

By the 1920s, the wolf had been all but eliminated from the continental United States except for a small population in northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Why did our ancestors feel they had to root out every last wolf, and why were hunters still so eager to shoot them in the few places they remained? “
Nate Blakeslee, American Wolf

CROWN PUB | 17 Oct 2017
322 pages


Click for National Geographic Interview with Nate Blakesley


Around 1845, the migration of religiously driven pioneers believing in Manifest Destiny rapidly sped across America ripping apart the lives of native human populations and destroying predatory wildlife habitats.  As homesteads and ranches filled the land, the natural range and sources of food for the large predators shrank leading to incursions in farm fields and leased grazing areas. Inevitably the two worlds clashed head-on and the losers were the predatory animals -specifically gray wolves (Canis lupus).  By 1929, the massive efforts to eradicate gray wolves was achieved.

But there were consequences and conflicts as a result of this extermination.  Not everyone agreed that nature should be so radically altered. Quoting Sir Isaac Newton  – for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. 

Advocates for preserving portions of the decreasing wilderness and restoring the balance of the natural world prevailed and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant and Congress created the world’s first national park in what was then the Territories of Montana and Wyoming – Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone Act provided, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, protection for the wonders such as its geysers and hot springs but also stated:

[The Secretary of the Interior] shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction . . . . .

In time, researchers discovered the role that large predators play in a healthy ecosystem. In 1995, after years of planning, 31 wolves from Canada were released in the Yellowstone National Park sparking a new battle between true believers on both sides of the wolf issue.


Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Thanks to Disney and the Three Little Pigs, I can’t get that song out of my head. How about sayings like “wolf in sheep’s clothing” or he’s a ‘lone wolf”? The wolf as predator has been getting a bad rap for thousands of years. After reading, American Wolf, I am not sure who was/is the greater predator these days – the 4-legged or the 2-legged kind.

Flip the cover and begin. Hear the wind whistle though the trees and over mountain tops. Watch and feel the snow as it falls in white sheets. Note that the cold is so intense that the myriad wolf watchers standing in long lines on the roadsides of the park appear frozen in freeze-frames images. Suddenly a wild-eyed elk bursts out of the trees trailed by a blur of snarling fur and the crowd comes alive.


I’ll set the stage here. The book follows one crowd popular alpha female (including her various mates and off-spring) famously known around the world as O-6 from birth through her death. It will be impossible not to admire and respect her strengths, loyalty, and prowess as a mother and leader of the pack. O-6, having just given birth to her third litter, was shot by a poacher when she trespassed just beyond the Yellowstone boundary. The identity of the shooter remains a secret and is identified in the book by a fictional name. His story is played against O-6’s throughout the book thus providing the negative views of the wolf re-introduction project.

O-6’s death set off a world-wide firestorm, and raised public awareness to the plight of the Gray Wolves. I cried when she died. Yup. If you don’t cry when she dies, you will when you read how her mate reacts.

Ranger Rick McIntyre

Digging in more specifically, let’s take a seat beside Ranger Rick McIntyre as he begins his day peering through his spotting scope. He spots a new den site for a local pack and he leans in to see the new pups as they tumble outside for the first time. We will experience his compulsive need to see his wolves every day. What we see often thrills us, sometimes makes us turn our heads away, and sometimes leaves us haunted. It is no wonder that McIntyre has no other social life; he is unable to leave the park. This is wildlife interacting with the natural world oblivious to cell phones, sit-coms and stock market prices.

Yellowstone, this designated wilderness, the place where a wolf can be a wolf. Where a beaver can make slap happy sounds on ponds. Where ravens elbow around grizzlies for foraged meat. Yellowstone, where lucky visitors shoot only pictures. But this safe harbor exists solely within the unseen boundaries of the park. Trails that lead back thousands of years transect the park leading wildlife through unprotected terrain; into rifle scopes not viewing scopes.

We do leave the park occasionally and head to town to tip a brew with the locals and hear their side of the story. A story often lost in the shuffle about ecosystems and states’ rights – just families and small businesses trying to make a life in an inhospitable environment. We find that the wilderness sanctuary isn’t an island. Its edges rub up against civilization and the two are always at war. Guided elk hunts, ranchers and homesteaders sit on one side of the see-saw with wolf advocates, environmentalists, and biologists on the other. The battle for life and death rages through these pages; some as God intended and others at the hands of man for sport, food, or revenge.

This book is a wonderful read that doesn’t reach an amiable conclusion. The battle between sides continues to this day.

Blakeslee has painstakingly researched this topic and will provide the reader with a balanced view of the see-saw riders. The reader’s bias will have them sitting on their favorite side of the see-saw but hopefully with a better understanding for the opposition.

Highly recommended for nature lovers and wilderness seekers.

RIP O-6.

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The Book Of Ralph: a novel



Paperback: 416 pages
Review Source: ARC from Edelweiss


Publisher’s Blurb

A message appears on the moon. It is legible from Earth, and almost no one knows how it was created. Markus West leads the government’s investigation to find the creator.

The message is simple and familiar. But those three words, written in blazing crimson letters on the lunar surface, will foster the strangest revolution humankind has ever endured and make Markus West wish he was never involved.

The message is ‘Drink Diet Coke.’

When Coca-Cola denies responsibility, global annoyance with the beverage-industrial complex becomes indignation. And when his investigation confirms Coca-Cola’s innocence, Markus West becomes one of the most hated men on Earth.

Later, five miles above the White House, a cylinder is discovered floating in the night. It is 400 feet tall, 250 feet in diameter, and exactly resembles a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. Nearly everyone thinks the cylinder is a promotional stunt gone wrong, just like the lunar advertisement. And this is exactly what the alien in the cylinder wants people to think.

Ralph, an eccentric extraterrestrial who’s been hiding on the moon, needs Markus’s help to personally deliver a dark warning to the White House. Ralph has a big heart, a fetish for Andy Warhol, and a dangerous plan to save the world.

Looking upon the cylinder, Markus realizes we are not the ones in control. The unexpected guest becomes the host, and somehow humans never belonged: “We are the homeless orphans peeking through the banquet window. We are the frills of the universe gazing upon something unspeakably more central than ourselves.”

Blogger’s Review

 An alien landing at the White House in a 400 foot tall Campbell’s soup can was not the way I envisioned “first contact” would happen but it sure captured my attention. So despite my aversion to sci-fi, satire, and dark humor, I knew I had to read this book. In the end I rated the book 3 -stars and that decision rested more on my unfamiliarity with this genre. It would be like asking a kindergarten to tell you how to play a game of chess.

The first chapters were filled with quirky humor as the Earthlings try to rationalize what was happening with an irrational situation. The sideshow alien, Ralph, has been holed up on the moon for 10 years scanning Earth records and transmissions devising a lighthearted way to arrive on Earth thus avoiding panic. (Ten years not even a decimal point in time to a 19,000 year old.)

Ralph’s continued juvenile and giddy responses when pressed about an impending alien invasion began to bug me. Excruciatingly slow in my opinion, Ralph shares his message with his new “Earth brother”, Mark West. Rather than concentrating on character development, the author concentrated on convoluted references to Biblical passages and lectures on philosophy and Freud’s theory of the ego that confused me along with the protagonist, Mark.

About 75% of the way through the book, the story picks up a little steam leading to an interesting conclusion. Sorry. No spoilers.

Switching to a more positive note, I enjoyed a good part of the book. Much like raising children, there are days you could pack on them on an ice floe and send them out to sea but overall you want to treasure their time with you. So, I’ll end by saying this – if you like quirky mindless sci-fi with a tinge of violence and satire this book is for you. Personally I am going to stay away from apocalyptic alien invasions; we Earthlings are doing a fine enough job on that topic by ourselves.

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The Trouble With Goats and Sheep

I don’t understand, whispered Tilly.
How does God know which people are goats and which people are sheep?

I think that ‘s the trouble, Grace said,
it’s not always that easy to tell the difference.




Hardcover: 353 pages
Review Source: PERSONAL COPY

1st Published in UK in 2015


In the midst of an extraordinary heat wave enveloping England, ten-year-old Grace leans out her bedroom window hoping for a breath of cool early morning air and overhears a neighbor tell his wife, “Margaret Creasy never came home last night. Perhaps she finally buggered off.”

She stumbles downstairs for breakfast sharing the news and sets off a tremor that shakes the neighborhood’s complacency. Thus begins a tale about community secrets buried in the past that now begin to bubble up to the surface, one by one, in the blistering heat of that 1976 summer. The story’s lens never leaves a small middle class England neighborhood where it focuses on the ten or so homes tucked into the curl of a cul-de-sac.

What really happened in 1967? Who knows the truth? Has that nosy Mrs. Creasy figured things out? What has happened to her?

Our narrator is young Grace, a budding ten-year-old, teetering between adolescence and childhood. With her feet still glued in the world of friendships and games, she has begun to view life outside her home as something to explore and challenge.

After attending a local church service, where the Vicar lights a fire in her mind, Grace enlists the help of her best friend, Tilly to investigate Mrs. Creasy’s whereabouts and the reasons for her abrupt departure.  She knows what she must do to help. Assured by the vicar that the lost can be found when they find God, they set out to find God.

How do you stop people from disappearing?
You help them to find God.

How do you find God?
You just have to look.
And if we find God, everyone will be safe?
Of course.
You know that the Lord is our shepherd, Grace. We are just sheep. If we wander off the path, we need God to find us and bring us home.

Oblivious to the buzz in the adult stratosphere, Grace and Tilly set off on their myopic quest of finding God inside the various homes on the Avenue disguised as Brownie Scouts seeking a way “lend a hand”. Through their journey through the neighborhood we see things about each resident that the girls do not.  The rattled adults toss clues to the girls left and right that just fly over their heads, at first, but gradually, the more astute Grace begins to see discrepancies in the neighbors’ stories about Mrs. Creasy and others. They take their little investigation up a notch often to the consternation of everyone, at times jeopardizing their safety.

Those expecting this to end with some explosion of horror will be disappointed. This cozy mystery amuses at the same time offers insight into the dangers of discrimination, innuendo, malicious gossip and the potential for mob violence.  Layered at the girls’ level are lessons on friendship and the frailness of life. The lesson I learned, sometimes it is better to be a goat than a sheep.

I rated the book three stars but do note that it is a good read.  I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest this book to my friends. As a matter of fact, I had received an e-reader advance copy from Edelweiss a while back and forgot; then purchased my own copy that will now be available in my local library. I’ll leave you with my two favorite quotes:

People tend to believe things just because everyone else does. . .They don’t search for proof, they just search for approval from everyone else. [Walter]

I still hadn’t learned the power of words. How, once they left your mouth, they have a breath and life of their own. . . I hadn’t learned that, once you have let them go, the words can then, become the owner of you.” [Grace]

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ENDURANCE : Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of
physical combat, and there is no escape. It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.

― Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage



282 pages

Review Source: 2014 ed. /Basic Books
358 pgs with photos


The first time I read this book I was probably in my mid-30s and struggling with some major life issues. I yearned to lose myself in an unfettered wilderness and turned to adventure stories to transport myself to a different place and a different time. Undoubtedly distracted at the time, I enjoyed the story and appreciated the trials but never truly identified with the men and the strength of character displayed by Shackleton.

Now 40 years later, my book club has chosen Endurance as our first read of 2018 and with the wisdom of age and experience, I felt the cold and isolation deep in my bones. We have already read about the unlikely Holocaust hero, Schindler, and look forward to future reads about the courageous Harriett Tubman, or Japanese prisoner-of-war hero, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey (Bridge over River Kwai).

This year we chose Sir Ernest Shackleton; a man hard-wired with courage, resiliency and loyalty who led The British Imperial Transatlantic Expedition (1914-1916), a crew of 27 men, to attempt the first crossing of the Southern Polar continent from sea to sea. A feat, even today, with all our advantages of communication, motorized equipment, and high tech camping equipment, is not guaranteed.

Legend has it that an ad was placed in the London Times that read:

shackleton wantadMEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.Ernest Shackleton, 4 Burlington Street [London]

Although the authenticity of this London ad has been debunked, the sentiment and reality of the dangers did exist. Anyone volunteering or recruited for the expedition could reasonably assume they were placing their lives in mortal danger. The legacy of previous Antarctic exploration by Shackleton and the stories of his interest in conducting another expedition published in the London papers provided enough attention to garner men willing to tackle the challenge.

The Endurance, a triple masted barquentine (similar to today’s tall ships) was perhaps the strongest wooden ship ever built for Arctic conditions; designed to maneuver well in loose pack ice. She departed her last port of call at the whaling station on the island of South Georgia on December 5, 1914 heading to Vahsel Bay where the crew was to begin the overland journey across Antarctica by dog sledge. By January 15, the Endurance had arm wrestled her way through loose pack ice to within 200 miles of their destination. A “perfect storm” arose resulting in the Endurance becoming frozen in place as solid as an almond in chocolate. 

Endurance, now one with the ice, drifted for months beset in the ice in the Weddell Sea; the men hunkered below deck waiting for warming conditions that would break the ice pack and hopefully allow them to complete their expedition. When the Antarctic spring arrived, it brought grinding forces that splintered the ship eventually pulling her under – abandoning the men, supplies, dog teams and three life boats on a ice flow drifting north at the mercy of the currents.

Thus begins Shackleton’s incredible journey back to safety and home. The opening lines of Lansing’s book reads:

The order to abandon ship was given at 5 p.m. . . There was no show of fear or even apprehension. They had fought unceasingly . . .and lost. . . 

They were simply too tired to care. . . . The date was October 27, 1915. . .[The ship was] deep in the icy wasteland of the Antarctic’s treacherous Weddell Sea, just about midway between the South Pole and the nearest known outpost of humanity, some 1,200 miles away.

Shackleton’s mission now changed from exploration to delivering his men safely out of the Antarctic. He wrote in his diary – I pray God I can manage to get the whole party safe to civilization.

Thanks to the crew diligently maintaining daily diaries and the remarkable presence of a photographer, incredible  considering the hardships endured in the harsh conditions, a record of the journey exists. The book’s dialogue may seem a bit stilted as the true facts are enough. There was no need to create sensational scenes or to interject opinion or supposition; the diary statements tell you everything straight up.

We learn of their deep trust and loyalty for the “Boss”. We feel the humanness of Shackleton’s faults and deep sense of duty he felt for his men. The diaries reveal so much about the indefatigable nature of the men facing food shortages, and the indescribable living conditions.

There were times I had to turn my head when the men had to make choices that would leave emotional scars. Some scenes, necessary for survival, made me cry. Others made me smile. Throughout it all, I leaned into my experience with long winter days and nights spent on long distance wilderness backpacks to try to imagine the perpetual cold and wet conditions they endured. In the end, it was unimaginable.

There is a reason that the story of Shackleton and the Endurance are considered heroes still today.  These men set the bar for overcoming the impossible.

HIGHLY recommended.

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