A copy of Tom Walker’s “The Wanderer: An Alaska Wolf’s Final Journey” is held in The Peninsula Clarion building on Thursday, June 15, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A copy of Tom Walker’s “The Wanderer: An Alaska Wolf’s Final Journey” is held in The Peninsula Clarion building on Thursday, June 15, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Off the Shelf: Take a walk on the wolf side

“The Wanderer: An Alaska Wolf’s Final Journey,” is the latest book from Alaska writer and photographer Tom Walker

I’m going to start this column out by acknowledging that I can be a bit of a hippie when it comes to animals. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching so many movies with anthropomorphized animals — I’m looking at you, “Bambi” — but there’s something about a creature incapable of malice that makes my heart feel especially tender.

It’s with that affinity for fauna that I found myself drawn to a book at Title Wave in Anchorage last month. The cover shows a fierce-looking wolf trotting through snow and a back cover that promised revealing insights into the behavior of an extraordinary Alaska canine.

“The Wanderer: An Alaska Wolf’s Final Journey,” is the latest book from Alaska writer and photographer Tom Walker, and follows Wolf 258, dubbed “The Wanderer,” on a nearly 3,000-mile trek through interior Alaska. Across roughly 170 pages, Walker uses the Wanderer’s impressive GPS footprint as a segue into larger topics like climate change and conservation policies.

The book is filled with helpful, concise passages on bits of Alaska history key to understanding the geopolitics at play in the interior, such as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the significance of the Porcupine caribou herd to Alaska Natives, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, namesakes of significant interior landmarks and state management of predator populations.

Throughout, Walker challenges the image of the Alaska wolf as a bloodthirsty predator whose free reign is causing a decline in caribou populations. Rather, he puts forth the idea that wolves, like caribou, are products of their environment, which is rapidly changing due to global warming.

There are compelling scenes, for example, of how extended warm temperatures are abetting an abundance of mosquitoes — “the biomass of mosquitoes on the North Slope alone is said to be larger than that of all Arctic caribou combined.” In addition to being a nuisance, the insects feed aggressively on wolves and caribou alike, sending each group off of breeding grounds in search of respite.

At the very least, “The Wanderer” presents a trove of information relevant to understanding the kinds of circumstances that threaten the survival of Alaska wolves. For that reason, the book reads just as much like an epic survival story as much as a fact file on one of the Last Frontier’s more elusive predators. Walker is sure to note the irony of one of these predators succumbing to apparent starvation.

The final pages carried, for me, the frantic energy of a thriller novel. As the title indicates, it covers one wolf’s final journey. I was naively rooting for the Wanderer to find a caribou and get some food, but was instead met with his slow decline into death by apparent malnutrition on the banks of the Kanuti River.

“On his side, nose into the wind, he blinked and the world came into focus,” Walker writes. “He could see the spruce needles dark and sharp against the faint sky. A hard gust shook the limbs; he heard the rustle and felt pelting ice. One last breath, and he was still.”

Call me sappy, but that scene is straight out of the saddest Disney movie you’ve ever seen.

A free copy of “The Wanderer: An Alaska Wolf’s Final Journey” was provided to the Peninsula Clarion, however, the copy used for this review was purchased by the column author.

Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of the Peninsula Clarion.

More in Life

Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Meredith Harber displays necklaces featuring the cross in this undated photo. (Photo by Meredith Harber/courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Interwoven together for good

I hope that we can find that we have more in common than we realize

Virgil Dahler photo courtesy of the KPC historical photo archive
This aerial view from about 1950 shows Jack Keeler’s home on his homestead east of Soldotna. The stream to the left is Soldotna Creek, and the bridge across the stream probably allowed early access to the Mackey Lakes area. The road to the right edge of the photo leads to the Sterling Highway.
Keeler Clan of the Kenai — Part 6

“Most of those homesteaders won’t last”

A sign points to the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Art Center accepting submissions for ‘Medieval Forest’

The deadline to submit art is Saturday at 5 p.m.

People identifying as Democrats and people identifying as Republicans sit face to face during a workshop put on by Braver Angels in this screenshot from “Braver Angels: Reuniting America.” (Screenshot courtesy Braver Angels)
KPC lecture series to feature film and discussion about connecting across political divide

“Braver Angels: Reuniting America” is a nonpartisan documentary about a workshop held in the aftermath of the 2016 election of Donald Trump

Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion
This basil avocado dressing is creamy, sweet, tangy, and herbaceous — great for use on bitter greens like kale and arugula.
Memories of basil and bowling with Dad

This dressing is creamy, sweet, tangy, and herbaceous

Photo courtesy of Al Hershberger
Don and Verona pose inside their first Soldotna grocery store in 1952, the year they opened for business.
Keeler Clan of the Kenai — Part 5

By 1952, the Wilsons constructed a simple, rectangular, wood-frame building and started the town’s first grocery

File
Minister’s Message: Finding freedom to restrain ourselves

We are free to speak at a higher level of intelligence

Dancers rehearse a hula routine at Diamond Dance Project near Soldotna on Thursday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Moving into magic

Diamond Dance Project all-studio concert puts original spin on familiar stories

Orion (Jacob Tremblay) and Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) in “Orion and the Dark.” (Promotional photo provided by Dreamworks Animation)
On the Screen: ‘Orion and the Dark’ is resonant, weird

Fear of the dark is natural, not some problem that Orion has to go on adventure to overcome

Most Read