A passionate look at one of the most fascinating animals in the world.
Throughout history, wolves have fascinated, inspired and terrified people around the world. Fierce, loyal, tribal and intelligent, these animals are the subject of this intimate portrait.
Drawing on a wide variety of sources, the author weaves together ancient legends, up-to-date science, historical writings and personal observations. With penetrating photography by Daniel J. Cox, the result is a magnificent, passionate and powerful story of an animal worth understanding and preserving.
Wolf blends natural science, history and folklore to explore the fascination with one of the most complex creatures in the world. The book reveals how humans have interacted with wolves, from the earliest creation myths to current attempts to restore near-extinct populations.
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Rebecca L. Grambo is the author of dozens of books including Bee: A Celebration of Power and Beauty, The World of the Fox, Eagles: Masters of the Sky and Mountain Lion.
Daniel J. Cox is an internationally published award-winning natural history photographer. His work appears in many publications including National Geographic, Sierra and Audubon.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I never really liked the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Even as a child, I figured that someone who couldn't tell the difference between her grandmother and a wolf deserved whatever she got. The "big bad wolf" was no more real to me than the giants and ogres of other fairy tales. I didn't make any connection between the storybook villains and the predators that once roamed the South Dakota prairies where I grew up. In fact, I knew so little about real wolves that years ago when I first camped in wolf country, I wondered whether I would recognize the difference between the howling of wolves and of coyotes. Those first howls, unmistakable as they resonated through the woods and within me, were really the beginning of this book.
The animal that most of us think of as "wolf," Canis lupus, has been around for about twice as long as Homo sapiens, modern humans. From the moment the two species first encountered each other, the relationship between humans and wolves has shifted and evolved. Wolves through countless generations simply have done what wolves do -- hunt and raise families. But the way humans viewed wolves changed as cultural shifts distorted the lens of perception. Legend, enemy and icon -- these are the captions we have applied to our image of the wolf.
Early humans shared a nomadic hunting lifestyle with wolves and identified with their social structure and family life. They wrapped wolves in the golden cloth of legend, revering them as creators and helpers. In these early myths, wolves helped to shape the infant Earth, and through their actions brought forth the human race. With great pride, some peoples claimed wolves as their direct ancestors. Many cultures told stories of wolves rescuing people in trouble, caring for them and healing their wounds. Used for both curing and harming, wolf magic was extremely strong. Powerful shamans in many cultures drew upon the spirit of the wolf, sometimes even assuming its physical form.
Warriors, too, sought to access the supernatural powers of the animal they saw as a superb predator. From Vikings of the first millennium to late nineteenth-century Pawnee, warriors wore wolfskins and followed rituals designed to merge their essence with that of the wolf. Respect for the wolf remained strong among North America's indigenous peoples, especially the nomadic hunters of the Great Plains, well into recent history.
In other parts of the world, a change in human lifestyle -- from hunting to herding -- caused many people to hate and fear wolves for the same predatory skills that once appeared admirable. Opportunistic and adaptable, wolves saw domestic flocks as easy prey and farmers came to regard them as the enemy. Another, more insidious, cultural change also took place. With each step toward "civilization," people moved farther away from contact with nature and from the knowledge that humans are part of the natural world, not separate from or above it. They also forgot much of what their ancestors had learned about wolves and wilderness -- and what humans don't understand, they often fear.
During the Middle Ages, human imagination merged the images of two threatening beings that lived in the woods -- outlaws and wolves -- into the idea of the werewolf. At the same time, the church demonized wolves, making them allegorical symbols of darkness and evil. When Europeans came to the New World, they brought along their livestock and their unfavorable view of wolves. As farmers and ranchers moved west, the war against wolves that began so long ago raged more fiercely than ever. Today, the image of the wolf as a ruthless, lamb-slaughtering enemy still lingers in children's stories, in movies, in advertising campaigns, and in the minds of some people.
But a new view of wolves has also emerged, based in part upon the rediscovery of our interconnection with the natural world. By the last decades of the twentieth century, many people observed the rapidly vanishing wilderness with alarm. The wolf became an icon of the wild, its howl representing a cry for preservation and conservation. Programs to maintain existing wolf populations and to reintroduce animals into areas from which they had been extirpated found solid public support. The restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is a tangible result of this new view. The review process for the Yellowstone project generated a great deal of useful discussion, not just about wolves, but about all wild animals and their needs.
While the current popularity of wolves has expanded our knowledge of them, this knowledge is nearly always remote and two-dimensional, confined to the printed page and illuminated screen. Being in the presence of real wolves is another thing altogether, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have this experience. However, we can explore the thoughts and feelings of people who lived in everyday contact with wolves, thus adding the dimensions of time and space to our existing concept of "wolf." Placing their artifacts and stories alongside information about wolves natural history and Daniel J. Cox's beautiful images of these magnificent creatures going about their daily lives gives us a chance to hear ancient voices in a new context.
Although we may regard myths and legends as ancient history, for most of the twentieth century stories -- both true and false -- were the sole source, of information about wolves. Field researchers only began documenting the facts of wolf life about fifty years ago. Until then, we remained much like our early ancestors, crouched by the comforting glow of our fires, telling stories about the beasts that prowled the darkness.
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