Book: Of Wolves and Men

Book: Of Wolves and Men

This book is about so many concepts for being about one topic: wolves. It is part of my move to buy physical copies of most of the books I am reading this year and to be more selective in the books I read.  As I approached mid-stream in this book, the AP reported that a hunters association had sued the State of Indiana in order to hold a hunting season in early 2021;  the season was then approved but was cut short as the hunters killed 25% of the wolf population in less than three days.  Forty-three years ago, Barry Lopez characterized a lot of the same tension the occurs from humans to wolves.   This book is difficult to read at times as he characterizes the shear numbers of wolves that were killed in the late 19th through the mid-20th century.  Lopez is neither pro nor anti-hunting of wolves.  He sets out to understand how we as humans have interacted with wolves over centuries and through stories. He captures well how we understood wolves entirely within little context.  The people that came closest to wolves were indigenous people who understood them as simply another part of nature, and who admired them for what they were both similar and different and saw them as co-inhabitants in nature, not in a hierarchy with humans at the top.

As humans have lost connection and relationship with nature and more recently each other, the wide range of opinions, understanding, and perspective on wolves increased.  Even as we scientifically understand wolves more today than ever, the reaction to, for example, returning wolves to the wild is political more than drawn on understanding of how to manage a wolf population.  Most of how we react to wolves comes from how we imagine them to be and have symbolized them rather than how they are.  Prevalent in our ignorance is the term alpha which, first evolved from the study of captive wolves not wild. Even in action in nature alpha wolves do not act as we imagine their human counterpart acts. “Alpha animals do not always lead the hunt, break trail in snow, or eat before others do. An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason, and, it should be noted, is alpha at the deference of the other wolves in the pack.”

                Perhaps the greatest learning from this book is that collective humanity struggles against learning in staunch, irrational defense of identity, and in fear and mistrust of one another. Meanwhile we miss the most basic of lessons. “Wild animals, living beyond fiscal economies, disinterested in the nation-state, requiring no technologies, no growth in their rates of consumption in order to abide and proliferate, yet able to experience emotional states somewhere in the realm of our own, remind us that we are rooted in an absolute need for good water, clean air, and unadulterated food. And… in a requirement for diversity. Diversity, many now suspect, is not merely a characteristic of life, either biological life or cultural life. It is a condition necessary for life.”-Barry Lopez in his afterword written nearly 20 years ago and 25 years after he wrote “Of Wolves and Men.”

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