One of the pleasures of my Alaska trip was meeting Nick Jans. Nick Jans is the author of A Wolf Called Romeo, which is the story of the black wolf that came out to play with free-running dogs at Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier.
I may have written a few things on Romeo on this blog before. He was just that fascinating an animal. Most wolves want to off the dogs they encounter. This one decided to become friends with them and even tolerate the humans who came with them.
The book is a wonderful discussion of wolves and dogs and people and what they truly mean to us and what we mean to them. It also tells the story of an odd wolf, who lived out six incredible years running and playing with the local domestic dog contingent.
The story does not have a happy ending, but the story of a wolf coming to trust people and dogs is something so amazing that you would have to look into the fiction of Jack London to find something even remotely similar.
But this is a true story.
If you would like to know more about Romeo, Jans gave a talk on the ship about the book that was an abbreviated version of this one:
My friend Bronwen Dickey wrote a review of the book in the New York Times. I just happened to have been the one who mentioned the book to her over two years ago, and I guess I played a tiny role in getting this book the wonderful review it received.
I received a copy of The Giant’s Hand, which is Jans’s new collection of short stories about life in the Inupiaq Village of Ambler and his experiences in Alaska’s far north.
The prose in each of these stories is so beautiful. He really can capture the essence of a place with words in a way that very few modern writers are able to match.
I particularly love the stories that include the exploits of Clarence Wood, an Inupiaq hunter and wolf trapper. He is a man of particular genius about the land and its wild inhabitants, but his way of phrasing things is just so perfect if a bit eccentric.
My favorite is: “Too much think about bullshit. That’s what makes you nervous.”
I think I may have to put this on a rock somewhere.
My favorite story in the book thus far is “Crossing Paths.” It is a kind of future warning about Romeo. In the story, Jans meets a red fox near his home, and wanting to get to know it better, he starts leaving out bits of food for it. Things go well until a neighbor shoots it for fear it might be rabid.
Jans has a philosophical discussion in the story about how much wild even Alaskans are willing to tolerate. The truth is that everyone has some limit.
Romeo was not fed to bring him near to humans. He merely came by to socialize with dogs and a few select people.
But Romeo wound up like that poor red fox in the arctic. He wasn’t taken because there was a fear he might be rabid. He was killed by two poachers who just wanted to cause trouble.
As a species, we have a very odd relationship with the wild. We admire it. We want to be part of it. But we also want it to be on our terms.
Like it or not, we’ve long since left the garden. We can only be visitors here, but some of us can truly be at home for a while.
And that’s the best we can do. Unfortunately.
It goes without saying that this book is the best souvenir I’ve ever brought home. I mean I do have a t-shirt from the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, but nothing can compare to this book.
This was the trip of a lifetime.