I wrap my fingers around and press them into the warm cup of coffee in my hands, steadying the library book in the other. I flip through the pages like I usually do in encountering books I have never read before, acquainting myself with the chapters and organization of the book. Sometimes I pause at a word or phrase that captures my interest, and I read in the middle of the book a small short story. Sometimes I read right to left. Bundled in the chilly library, the tips of my toes tingle and shiver with even more cold than perhaps exists as I read about the stories tucked away in the tundra and the wolves. I lose all sense of place and time except that which is in the book, as all good books do.
Only a few pages in, it occurred to me to perhaps mark the little snippets that struck a chord in me, a reader born more than twenty-five years after the first publication of Of Wolves and Men. It wasn’t long until I ran out of blue stickers, then yellow, then green, and pink. I placed a torn piece of paper at the places where his most poignant thoughts occurred, and decided to also note the lyrical paragraphs I could not help but mark because I admired his style. I frowned at how many places I’d placed stickers. Were I to look for something I remembered from the book in the future I might as well read it again. I could not highlight because my book is ex libris, which always makes for an interesting struggle when I realize how many messes I encounter and make in one day as I tote the book along at my side and attempt to protect it from all that happens.
It is not tedious in detail as most scientific pieces I have read tend to be, as it is balanced by the insights given to the scientific methods of fathoming wolves. Here and there I find critical comments on society as it was in the seventies and perhaps, in many parts, incredibly accurate today. Often, I am hunting with the wolf, mindful of the gaps my imagination fills in. I see the wolf’s rounded ears come forward and his nose pointed to the ground, as his hops and catches a mouse burrowed deep beneath the snow. Curious distinctions are made between what we know, what we think we know, and what we haven’t a clue about.
My favorite parts of course, are the stories. Dozens of stories, great, full-bodied stories, reveal themselves as I trek through the book. Stories from Barry Lopez’s own experience, the stories of wildlife biologists and naturalists he encounters, of the people who come across wolves or towns that have histories in their interpretation of the wolf. Indian wolf stories, creation stories, coyote stories. Stories relayed from an ancient people.
I sift through his manuscripts in the Holden reading room, immediately noting his meticulous attention to detail – minute changes in prepositions, a clear devotion to every word. The parts he leaves out of the book are found in the beige folders, easily luring me into well over three hours worth of reading just by my eyes briefly resting upon a sentence or two. I hear the cold snow crunch underneath my feet, and imagine a howl (winter is near). He offers photographs of black wolves, of their behavioral depictions, of various Indian illustrations of wolves – all the ways in which one may fathom a wolf, and yet the wolf is never completely fathomable. Near the very beginning, he opens with a recollection of Joseph Campbell, “who wrote in the conclusion to Primitive Mythology that men do not discover their gods, they create them. So do they also, I thought, looking at the notes before me, create their animals” (5), and this idea permeates through the book and latches onto me, “the wolf of substance and shadow.”