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American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

In 2006, a wolf was born in Yellowstone National Park. Named O-Six, she would grow into a fierce fighter, doting mother, and merciful leader. She’d be beloved by the park’s wolf watchers and a favorite of tourists who flocked to the park hoping to catch sight of her. Upon her death, she would be celebrated in the New York Times as “the most famous wolf in the world.”

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by award-winning journalist Nate Blakeslee is a riveting account of O-Six’s life and untimely death. It is also the story of humanity’s timeless attempt to bend nature to its will, no matter the cost.

The backdrop of American Wolf is the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, beginning in the mid-1990s. It was a move heralded by scientists and conservationists and loathed by the hunters and ranchers who hunt and farm in the communities surrounding the park. In a case of unintended consequences, the reintroduction project was made necessary by a campaign begun in the 1800s, to kill off the country’s wolves, a campaign so successful that by the 1920s, the wolf population in the continental United States had been decimated. The last two pups believed to be born in Yellowstone were killed by park rangers in 1926.

This mass slaughter occurred in the name of wildlife management, a science that, Blakeslee writes, was in its infancy at the turn of the twentieth century. Park officials believed—inaccurately it turned out—that killing the wolves would preserve the park’s prey population. “They didn’t realize that wolves and elk had coexisted in Yellowstone for thousands of years, that the two species had in fact evolved in tandem with each other—which explained why the elk could run just as fast as the wolf but no faster… The massive size of the moose, the nimbleness of the white-tailed deer, the uncanny balance of the bighorn sheep—the architect of these and countless other marvels was the wolf.”

With wolves absent from Yellowstone, the park’s ecosystem was thrown off balance. “[The] ungulate population in the park exploded, and the quality of the range quickly began to deteriorate. Over grazed hillsides eroded, and stream banks denuded of woody shrubs began to crumble, damaging prime trout habitat. Elk browsing at their leisure, undisturbed by predators, decimated stands of young aspen and willow. Too many animals on the landscape brought starvation and disease.”

The goal of the Wolf Project was to restore the park’s ecosystem, and it has—beyond even its most ardent advocates’ expectations. But through the years, the debate over the wolves’ presence hasn’t abated. It has grown more vitriolic as wolves, wandering beyond Yellowstone’s borders, prey on ranchers’ livestock and kill the elk hunters prize. Wolves, Blakeslee writes, had become “one of those polarizing issues like abortion or gun control or war in the Middle East, about which the country [can] not seem to reach a consensus.”

It is in this hostile environment we meet O-Six and the wolf watchers who, dawn to dusk, 365-days a year, chronicle the lives of Yellowstone’s wolves. Among the watchers is naturalist Rick McIntyre, the park’s unofficial wolf expert and the person who has likely watched more wolves than “anybody in the history of humanity.”

McIntyre, along with several other wolf watchers, shared with Blakeslee more than a decade’s worth of notes on generations of Yellowstone’s wolves, notes that capture every aspect of wolves’ lives from their personalities to their way of life—a way of life that, McIntyre has come to believe, makes wolves more like humans than any other species on earth. From these notes, and dozens of interviews with people on every side of the issue—including the hunter who would come face-to-face with O-Six in 2012—Blakeslee has crafted a sweeping multigenerational narrative that will have readers holding their breath, reaching for tissues, and rooting for the wolves.

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Readers who would like to see photographs of O-Six and many of the wolves whose stories are recounted in American Wolf, are encouraged to visit the website of award-winning wildlife photographer Jimmy Jones.

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Submission window is now open for the 4th annual Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature

Now in its fourth year, The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature is now open for submissions of published and unpublished manuscripts, including novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essay collections..

The 2017 prize will be judged by New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Balcombe.

The winner will receive a cash award of $1,000 and a four-week residency at PLAYA. The submission deadline is September 30, 2014. For complete writers’ guidelines, click here. All unpublished manuscripts entered for the Siskiyou Prize will be considered for publication.

New environmental literature” refers to literary works that focus on the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife. The prize seeks work that redefines our notions of environmentalism and sustainability, particularly when it comes to animal protection. The award isn’t for books about hunting, fishing, or eating animals—unless they are analogous to a good anti-war novel being all about war. Under these basic guidelines, however, the prize will be open to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction with environmental and animal themes.

The Siskiyou Prize is named for the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northern California and southern Oregon, one of the most diverse eco-regions in the world. Considered a global center of biodiversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou region is an inspiring example of the importance of preservation.

For more information, click here, or visit the Ashland Creek Press submissions page.

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Our 2017 Siskiyou Prize judge is Jonathan Balcombe

We are thrilled to announce that our 2017 Siskiyou Prize judge is Jonathan Balcombe.

Jonathan’s most recent book is the New York Times bestseller What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins, an extraordinary journey underwater that reveals the vast capabilities of fishes. He is also the author of the books The Exultant Ark, Second Nature, Pleasurable Kingdom, and The Use of Animals in Higher Education.

Jonathan has three biology degrees, including a PhD in ethology (the study of animal behavior) from the University of Tennessee, and has published more than 50 scientific papers on animal behavior and animal protection. Formerly department chair for Animal Studies with the Humane Society University and senior research scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Jonathan is currently Director of Animal Sentience with the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy in Washington, DC. Learn more at jonathan-balcombe.com.

This year marks our fourth annual Siskiyou Prize, and we are delighted to be offering a $1,000 prize and a four-week writing residency thanks to the generosity of our amazing prize partner PLAYA. All manuscripts submitted for the prize will be considered for publication by Ashland Creek Press.

Please visit the Siskiyou Prize website for complete details about the prize — submissions open September 1, 2017. We look forward to reading your work!

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Thinking About Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene

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The anthropocene is the proposed geologic term for the period in which humans have made a significant impact on the earth’s geology and ecosystems.

It’s not a term without controversy however, which I learned as I read the first essay in Thinking about Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene. Susan Rustick writes:

What will my canine companions think if the Working Group on the Anthropocene makes an initial proposal that our current epoch be called the Anthropocene? What will the elm tree sense or the aronia bushes? What clarion call or trumpet of death will be heard by the Whooping Crane or the deer that sleep in prairie? Should the designation of the geological epoch acknowledge only humans and not all life on earth? I argue that the proposed name “Anthropocene” is comparable to the experience of Narcissus, peering at his own human reflection in the pond.

She makes a very good point. To insert a species that has resided on this planet for a geologic blink of an eye into the geological timeline is a bold move. Rustick rightfully questions why all humans must be blamed for climate change when it’s really just a small percentage of the human population (we know who we are) who have done the damage. And what of the rest of the residents of this planet? Rustick mentions “human exceptionalism” — a term that pretty much sums up our current relationship with our non-human companions.

This book, a collection of a dozen scholarly chapters that address various aspects of the anthropocene and human/animal relationships, is fascinating. I should stress that this is a scholarly book, so some of the chapters were quite dense with footnotes and references to Aristotle and Descartes and other thinkers that we are still coming to terms with today.

But I think anyone in an animal studies programs will see this book as a “must read,” because it speaks to the challenges animal rights activists face in raising awareness of animal issues. Such as conflict between humans and wolves, which is addressed by Martin Drenthen, who writes:

A recent study found that today Europe as twice as many wolves at the United States, despite its being half the size and more than twice as densely populated. … Europeans somehow manage to coexist with species that recenlty were hunted down and extirpated. Although rewilding projects occasionally meet local resistance, particularly in areas with a long cultural history, mostly they are applauded by the general public.

He later writes that “resurging wolves confront us with our desire for control, not only control over nature, but also control over our own nature.”

I suspect that “control” or “lack of control” is central to why so many people either deny climate change or take a fatalistically passive approach to it. And if the earth is widely viewed as a sinking ship, then the predominant view is “humans first.”

In the chapter Speaking with Animals Eva Meijer writes about human exceptionalism:

Viewing humans as fundamentally different, and hierarchically above other animals, leads humans to act in ways that do not take into account the well-being of other animals, and to see their interests as less important than human interests.

Which brings me back to anthropocene. I thought the term was already well past the proposed stage based on how commonly it is now used. So I don’t see it going away.

I’m glad that I now see the intrinsic flaws. But I suspect the benefits are worth the downsides and oversights. Because this idea that humans have broken the planet is an idea that, well, speaks to humans. As self-centered as it may be, it is humans who will have to fix it.

Rustick ends her essay:

… we need to pull away from our reflection, sit by the pond with its many beings as our companions, and inhale the air in which we sit and on which we depend. We ned to listen, to see, to smell, and to touch with the wider sense of self, with compassion, empathy, and respect for all who live here within a living Earth.

Thinking about Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene (Ecocritical Theory and Practice)
Edited by Morton Tonnessen, Kristin Armstrong Oma, Silver Rattasepp
Lexington Books

 

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Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature

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The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. And while a century may seem like a long time, it’s safe to say, after reading Engineering Eden, that we’re only just beginning to understand how to best manage our lands.

Fundamental to management is the question of how “wild” do we want our parks to be? Author Jordan Fisher Smith writes:

There are two ways in which most people don’t wish to die: by being torn apart by a wild animal and by being roasted in flames. These two abject fears from deep in the ape-psyche, became, in the American West, bloated government programs, the two-headed dragon that Starker Leopold fought all his life.

In the early days of the park systems, we waged a war on predators that effectively eradicated them from most of the United States. In 1915, Congress authorized the killing of 11,000 coyotes in California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah. Wolves, bobcats, mountain lions were also killed in massive numbers, primarily to rid the government lands of predators that might attack livestock.

Interestingly, bears were largely given a pass in our national parks because they were a major tourist attraction. Shows were conducted in Yellowstone in which people would sit in bleachers to watch bears congregate at food dumps that the park service maintained. When these food dumps were closed in 1970 in an effort to create a more “balanced” ecosystem, a concept championed by naturalists such as Starker Leopold, chaos ensued. Hungry bears scoured campgrounds for food and came into conflict with humans.

The main narrative of the book centers around the story of one man mauled to death by a grizzly in Yellowstone Park in 1972 and the legal case that followed.

Smith covers a lot of material in this book, from elk hunting in Yosemite to controlled burning in Sequoia National Park, which at times may feel a bit overwhelming. But I appreciated the wealth of detail. And I empathized with the struggles that the park managers faced in trying to create environments that were both wild and safe. This isn’t Disneyland after all.

I also was not aware just how far back in history people were feeding bears from their cars — as in the 1920s! And bears were tearing their way into cars back then as well. Even then there were those who recommended that secure food storage was essential to living more harmoniously with these 400-pound neighbors. Sadly, it took too many decades until food storage became as well established as it is today.

Engineering Eden documents important and at times deeply tragic missteps in the evolution of our park system. Hopefully the next 100 years will be far more “balanced.”

Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature

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Submissions for Among Animals will close December 15

We are pleased to announce we’re on the home stretch toward choosing stories for the next edition of Among Animals.

We’re still looking for a few more great stories and have set a deadline of December 15. So if you’ve got a short story you think might fit, please send it along!

And for more details about what we’re looking for in these stories, check out our first edition, which will give you a good idea of what the anthology is all about.

And thanks to everyone who has shared their work with us so far. We’ve been honored to read your stories.

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Book Review: Among Wolves by Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman

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Among Wolves begins with tragic news of Gordon Haber’s death. Haber, the legendary biologist who spent over four decades in Alaska, died the way he lived, studying wolves in the wilderness of Denali National Park. It was October of 2009; Haber was in a research plane, as he often was, looking for wolves, when the plane crashed into a mountain along the East Fork River. The crash killed him and spared the pilot.

Alaskan Marybeth Holleman, a substantial writer on environmental issues, created a book that is a testament to Haber’s life. She compiled papers done by Haber himself, (he’d planned on writing his own book), brief essays by Haber’s pilots and other associates, journal and field notes made by the biologist, as well as his Tweets—one says “…yipping pups howled a great rollicking 4-min chorus for me from the pond area” (pg. 51). Holleman’s voice is a seamless addition found in the introduction, the epilogue, and at the start of each chapter, where she gives us background information that provides context on Haber’s work and the ever-fraught-with-controversy wolf situation.

Among Wolves is rich with photos, maps and diagrams. Most of the pictures were taken from the air, which may make one worry they are of lesser caliber than close up shots. However, the results are both intriguing and informing. Haber’s camera captured wide views of wolves in their family groups (his term, used instead of pack), showing them hunting, playing, crossing a river. These encompassing shots create a movie-like effect, without staging or interference by humans.

While Among Wolves teaches us about Haber’s life, including a glimpse of his boyhood summers at Lake Huron, Ontario, the deep relationships he developed with friends, his close encounters with brown bears, and his tireless commitment to educating the world about Canis lups, the book remains focused on wolves. I have a feeling Haber would have wanted it that way.

Haber’s work was funded by nonprofits, primarily Friends of Animals, allowing him the good fortune of not having to answer to a state or federal agency. This gave him a freedom that seemed to suit him well. Haber was able to work independently, and in doing so, he came up with his own well-informed theories about wolves. A section toward the end of the book called “Significant Findings of Gordon Haber’s Wolf Research,” summarizes the theories that are elaborated on in the text.

One especially fascinating finding discussed in the book is that several of the wolf dens in Denali have been used for thousands of years or longer, and not only by wolves. Three of these homesites contain archeological proof that they had once been used by humans. Among Wolves includes sketches by Haber of the Toklat group densite that details a multitude of deep and wide burrows as well as above ground areas used by wolves for resting, surveying their territory, and raising pups, a significant event in the life of the family oriented wolf.

Haber’s findings dwell on the social attributes of wolves, suggesting they are “perhaps the most social of all nonhuman vertebrates” (pg. 249). He shares examples of wolves watching out for each other, at times behaving altruistically. Yearlings and lower ranking wolves often watch over the pups, sometimes staying behind when the rest of the adults go hunting. By agreeing to babysit, the larger wolves give up their chance to have a good meal, which is not a minor sacrifice when you are a wild wolf. Yet they seem to enjoy their duty, and are more than tolerant of the persistent nipping and playing of the young pups.

One example of the social connection of wolves is wonderfully documented in a series of Haber’s photos. An alpha female had birthed nine pups and she and another female nursed them. It’s August, and time to move the pups, but there’s a river in the way and the pups are wary of crossing. Their mom isn’t too worried about them, perhaps because she knows the yearling female will take care of the situation. And she does, playfully urging the hesitant pups along, and at one point, using her mouth to lift one of them to safety. When it appears the strong current will carry a pup away, the yearling jumps in the water and blocks it from flowing downstream so the soaked pup is able to climb up the bank.

Of course, as is the woe of wolves, many tales do not have a happy ending. Haber repeatedly observed the reactions of wolves when they lost family members to humans after leaving the safety of the park. One male of the Savage River group stayed with his mate for two weeks while she suffered in a trap. After the trapper hauled her body out by snowmobile (also shown in photos), Haber listened as the male wolf howled for his loss. The mourning wolf returned to the trap site over and over again. A month later he was shot by a hunter outside another area of Denali.

Haber fought hard for a no trapping/no hunting buffer zone that would protect wolves when they left certain areas of the park. In 2000 the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game finally agreed to this, although the zone covered less territory than Haber had requested. In 2010, just four months after Haber’s death, the buffer zone was repealed completely and an eight year moratorium on all such proposals was enacted. With no protection at the edges of the park, as well as what Holleman calls, “the largest de facto predator control Alaska’s wolves have ever endured…” (pg. 255), the wolf population of Denali has nose-dived.

Among Wolves is a rich addition to Canis lupus literature. It includes a great deal of new and intimate information on wolves. At the same time, this very readable book brings transparency to the figure of Gordon Haber, revealing to us, mostly through his own words, the intelligence and compassion of this remarkable man. And through the efforts of Marybeth Holleman, Haber’s vast and unique contribution to the world of wolves will prevail.

 

Among Animals
University of Alaska Press

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Book Review – The Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Against Nature by Donna M. Jackson

The Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Against Nature by Donna M. Jackson is particularly intriguing for me as a resident of Ashland, Oregon—which is home to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory. Open since 1989, this lab is the only full-service animal crime lab in the world, and all evidence of crimes against animals (poaching, illegal hunting, selling, or transport of endangered species, and more) come through its doors.

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The Wildlife Detectives is a picture book, comprising photographs of magnificent animals (among them: bald eagles, wolves, owls, tigers, parrots) as well as images of the forensics lab and those who work with evidence to solve crimes. The main narrative is the heartbreaking story of Charger, a bull elk in Yellowstone National Park who was gunned down for his antlers. The story tells of how detectives investigated the killing and eventually tracked down the murderer—a fascinating and page-turning story (though ultimately disappointing in that the sentence didn’t seem to be at all equal to the crime).

Interspersed throughout this mystery are “Wild Files,” in which the author highlights various aspects related to the story, such as the facts about the crime lab, endangered species, poaching, and what these animal parts are used for (“Heartbreak Zoo” shows images of snakeskin sneakers and a footstool made of an elephant foot, among other things), including sections on feathers and ivory. It’s eye-opening and informative, and especially important for young readers to be aware of, as it’s a great way to teach compassion as well as smart buying and traveling habits (a section at the end, “Wild Work to Be Done,” outlines what readers can do to help).

 The Wildlife Detectives is aimed toward readers in grades 4 to 7, according to School Library Journal. Yet the gripping detective story will interest kids of even younger ages, and the language and information is sophisticated enough for older readers as well—it’s certainly not a kids-only book. Its photos, both beautiful and tragic, illustrate the crimes against animals that continue to occur, and the book honors these animals as well as the people who do the important and challenging work of solving these crimes.

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Siskiyou Prize update – new award, extended deadline

The winner of the Siskiyou Prize, in addition to a cash prize of $1,000 and book publication, will also receive a four-week residency at the PLAYA retreat in central Oregon.

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PLAYA is a nonprofit organization supporting innovative thinking through work in the arts, literature, natural sciences, and other fields of creative inquiry. On the edge of the Great Basin in central Oregon, PLAYA offers creative individuals the space, the solitude, and the community to reflect and to engage their work.

playa pond

The winner of the Siskiyou Prize will receive a four-week residency at PLAYA, which provides private lodging in a fully equipped cabin with kitchen/living room, a place to write, and two dinners a week (Mondays & Thursdays) with a cohort of residents, at no charge. (Transportation and other meals are not included.)

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PLAYA allows uninterrupted time and solitude amidst a spectacular landscape — the perfect recipe for environmental literature.  The prize deadline has been extended to October 15, 2014, so that more writers have an opportunity to submit.

Please visit The Siskiyou Prize and PLAYA for more information, and feel free to contact Ashland Creek Press with questions.

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Book Review: In the Temple of Wolves by Rick Lamplugh

In the Temple of Wolves

Imagine. Three months in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the place known as America’s Serengeti, lush with bison, elk, bear, coyotes, wolves and other wild beasts. This is where writer Rick Lamplugh and his wife Mary Strickroth choose to spend their winters, serving as volunteers at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, where seminars on the flora and fauna of Yellowstone draw visitors from across the globe.

They don’t have much time off from work (as Lamplugh writes, volunteers receive “a stipend of twelve dollars per day–even on our days off”), yet Lamplugh takes advantage of every moment, both on the job and off, to enmesh himself in our first National Park. Determined to know Yellowstone intimately, he spends one morning sitting in front of a cottonwood tree, exploring the intricacies of its trunk and the beauty of its branches. This observation expands into an absorbing natural history lesson about trees, sagebrush, and the theory of trophic cascades, which in a nutshell proposes that when natural predators (i.e., wolves) are removed from an ecosystem there is a significant, and often deleterious, effect on the plant and animal species left behind.

Lamplugh teaches his readers in a friendly, understated way. Most of what he shares is what he learns himself — from the land, the animals, as well as from the instructors he comes to know at Buffalo Camp. His curiosity is youth-like and contagious, drawing us into his stories as well as his moments of realization.

While viewing a dying bison calf through the lens of a spotting scope, Lamplugh feels conflicted. The animal will soon expire and he feels for it, yet he knows that its flesh will feed many. But is it voyeuristic to watch the tortuous process of the bison’s death, he wonders? Finally, Lamplugh comes to the conclusion that he will adopt a naturalist’s viewpoint and learn all he can from the grisly scenario. A hungry coyote appears, determines there is no threat, and grabs a mouth full of brown bison fur. The calf raises its head. The mother continues grazing. The coyote jumps on top of the calf and its efforts become more earnest. Lamplugh looks away. To our relief as well as the writer’s, the suffering finally ends and the carcass becomes a feast for coyotes, ravens, magpies, and an eagle.

The chapter entitled, “Vanity at Trout Lake” is one us middle-agers can relate to. Lamplugh embarks on a long hike, assisted by snowshoes. He’s stopped in his tracks by a huge bull bison, lying across the trail, staring “…with old brown eyes that deliver a clear message: I’m not moving.” Rather than take this as a sign that he should return to his cabin, Lamplugh takes a detour. Need I say more?  A detour in the frozen vastness of Yellowstone National Park? Alone?  Naturally, he gets lost, and a snowshoe goes missing as well. Struggling through the deep snow, clothes soaked, exhausted, Lamplugh admits that he went on this ambitious endeavor in an effort to emulate a much younger instructor, someone he “would love to be more like…” By the time Lamplugh finds his way back to Buffalo Ranch, he has earned our confidence and empathy with his honest and amusing appraisal of his very relatable shortcomings.

As the title suggests, this book talks a lot about wolves. We follow Lamplugh and other wolf fans as they search the Lamar Valley for a sight of Canis lupus. We meet Rick McIntyre, Yellowstone’s tireless wolf watcher, whose vast knowledge of wolves is generously shared in this book. And we meet ‘06, the courageous and much loved alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack. On December 6, 2012, ’06 was shot (legally, as wolves had recently been removed from the Endangered Species List) when she stepped out of the park. Her death was followed by that of several others, helping to reduce the number of wolves in Yellowstone from ninety-eight in 2011 to only seventy-one in 2013.

There’s a fresh quality to this book, a sincere sense of wonder at both the harshness and the beauty that Yellowstone has to offer. Lamplugh is passionate without being sentimental. And his writing is descriptive and clear, with a balanced blend of interesting facts and personal impressions.  Reading In the Temple of Wolves is like watching a well-done PBS special, only more intimate and a lot more amusing. 

In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter’s Immersion in Wild Yellowstone

By Rick Lamplugh

CreateSpace, December 2013