Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

A Wolf Called Romeo

Posted by nliakos on June 29, 2015

by Nick Jans (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014)

I have never read anything by Nick Jans before; he has written a bevy of books about Alaska, where he lives. A Wolf Called Romeo is about an unusual wild black wolf who frequented the area around the Mendenhall Glacier and Mendenhall Lake near Juneau. He apparently had no pack, but he enjoyed the company of dogs, and would wait for them to come to the frozen lake with their owners and then invite them to play with him. He was neutral with the owners, but he did not threaten them, nor did he appear to fear them very much. He began this odd behavior in the winter of 2003 and continued to come back each winter until he was killed in September 2009 at the probable age of about eight (old for a wolf in the wild), targeted and shot by two evil (sorry, it’s the only word that I can think of to describe the people who did this) Pennsylvanians who apparently took pleasure in the suffering of the many Juneauites who had come to treasure the fact that this wolf apparently wanted to spend time in their company.

Readers will learn a lot about wolves in general and Alaskan wolves in particular. Like Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat (a favorite book of mine which was much better than the movie that was based on it), A Wolf Called Romeo explains how little people have to fear from wolves (who have, in contrast, much to fear from people).

A favorite passage: The wolf bowed, then launched skyward off his haunches with all the weightless grace of a ballet dancer, hung in the air, executed a half pirouette, and floated earthward. Hesitant and clumsy by comparison, the dog joined in. As I watched open-mouthed, they switched to pawing and mouth-fighting like yearlings, interspersed with the wolf’s gravity-defying leaps and spins. There was an artistic exuberance to his movements that went beyond play. Celebration was more like it. Or a dance. (page 9)

The author’s own photographs illustrate the story of how the wolf captivated the hearts and minds of many Juneauites during those five years. Although the ending was inevitable given the hatred so many people harbor for wolves (though with very little reason), I still read on, hoping it would turn out all right, fearing the moment the wolf’s lack of fear around humans would be his undoing. A special and lovely book.

Photographs by John Hyde on YouTube

Video footage of Romeo with commentary


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