ANIMAL STORIES: ENCOUNTERS WITH ALASKA'S WILDLIFE
From the Author's Note that introduces the essays:
“Over the past two decades, I have written scores of essays about Alaska’s wildlife, which have been published in assorted newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Some I’ve included in my own books, either as essays or woven into a longer non-fiction narrative. Here I have collected 34 of those essays.
“These animal stories have a wide reach, in a number of ways. Besides essays about Alaska’s best-known and most charismatic animals—for instance grizzlies and wolves, moose and Dall sheep, bald eagles and beluga whales—I introduce readers to many of our state’s largely overlooked species, from wood frogs to redpolls and shrews. Other essays describe encounters with well-known animals that people rarely meet in the wilds, for example lynx and wolverines. The stories are also geographically diverse; they stretch across the state, from the Panhandle to the Arctic, and also from Alaska’s urban center, Anchorage, to its most remote backcountry. Part of the intent is to remind people that we share the landscape with other creatures wherever we area, even where we least expect it. And that even the most easily overlooked or ignored animals lead remarkable lives.”
“The essays also show, and examine, the complicated relationships we humans have with other animals, and consider different ways of knowing, and relating to, these critters. In sharing what I’ve learned in my own explorations (near and far), I intend to open up new worlds and possibilities to readers, just as my own life has been enlarged by both firsthand encounters and what I’ve been able to learn from research and interviews. The essays are intended to be thought-provoking as well as entertaining: to increase readers’ awareness and get people thinking about their own relationship with our wild neighbors, our wild relatives, and the inherent value that these animals have, irrespective of what they give to us.”
WHAT OTHER AUTHORS HAVE TO SAY:
"From the black-capped chickadees at his feeder to the wood frogs in an urban pond, to the wolverines he encounters on the alpine tundra, Sherwonit celebrates Alaskan wildlife in all its forms with his eyes, ears, heart, and curiosity wide open."
-- Eva Saulitis, author of "Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas"
"Whether writing about grizzlies, dancing cranes, or mad hares, Bill Sherwonit enchants and inspires, reminding us that wildness surrounds us, even if we don't live in Alaska."
-- Tim Folger, series editor, The Best American Science and Nature Writing
"Like porcupine whom the Koyukons call 'the off the beaten path wanderer,' Bill Sherwonit's 'Animal Stories' takes us on trips that 'give us greater vision and a better understanding of our world."
-- Gary Holthaus, author of "Learning Native Wisdom" and "From the Farm to the Table"
OTHER RECENT BOOKS OF NOTE
CHANGING PATHS & LIVING WITH WILDNESS
Written in three parts, CHANGING PATHS: TRAVELS AND MEDITATIONS IN ALASKA'S ARCTIC WILDERNESS explores author Bill Sherwonit's long-running and life-changing relationship with the Central Brooks Range. It is his second literary nonfiction book to be published by the University of Alaska Press (fall 2009). The narrative is framed by a two-week, 50-mile solo trek that Sherwonit took through Alaska’s northernmost mountain chain at age 50. Within that framework, he moves across space and time to explore both his own and our culture’s evolving relationship with wilderness and, more generally, wild nature. Part I describes Sherwonit’s introduction to the Brooks Range, his years as an exploration geologist, and the narrative’s key scene or transforming moment: a discovery he makes in the Ambler River Valley. Part 2 takes the author deeper into the past, to explore his childhood roots in rural Connecticut and his recognition of wild nature as refuge. Part 3 follows Sherwonit as he becomes a nature writer and wilderness advocate, moving steadily deeper into the wilderness, both physically and spiritually. Here the narrative “opens up” to include reflections on the larger importance of wilderness to humans and the essential value of wild nature, in and of itself. The story also reflects upon Bob Marshall's wilderness-preservation legacy, the creation of Gates of the Arctic National Park, the Nunamiut Eskimo people who live here, the necessity of solitude, and much more.
What others have to say about CHANGING PATHS:
Changing Paths is a fetching and affecting backcountry chronicle by a humble and unassuming man who loves low adventure as much as high, and loves the wilderness as much as anyone I know. Bill Sherwonit, a pillar and a pro among Alaska writers, walked deep into the Brooks Range and brought back what he found with naked honesty and keen attention. He gives us animal and plant, rock and mountain, with a personal immediacy and clarity reminiscent of the closest encounters with this great land, even those of the Muries themselves. If Sherwonit's is a journey of the heart as much as tussock and ledge, full of his own doubts, demons, and dooneraks, it is also a report of rare and informed constancy, perception, and reverence. As one who has set foot in the Brooks, but only once, I feel much the richer for this clear-eyed naturalist's devoted account. I am certain it will lure me back to this none-too-barren ground.
-- Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen, Chasing Monarchs, and Sky Time in Gray's River
Alaska's Brooks Range is one of the world's most self-willed (i.e., "wild") places on the planet. Maintaining the opportunity for extended self-reliant, unmechanized trips in this country should be one of the nation's top priorities in environmental policy. Bill Sherwonit's exciting book tells why. He has gone "into the wild" in the tradition of Bob Marshall and the Muries. For an answer to the question "why wilderness?" turn to this book rather than to the hair-splitting of academics or the clumsy account of Chris McCandless."
-- Dr. Roderick Frazier Nash, Professor Emeritus of History and Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Barbara and author of Wilderness and the American Mind.
Bill Sherwonit writes with the clarity of a journalist, the technical precision of a geologist, and the narrative energy of a natural storyteller—throwing in the occasional flash of poetry. Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness is a vivid contribution to American nature writing, in the tradition of Barry Lopez and Richard Nelson, that will help readers understand why wild places are so important to our inner lives.
-- Scott Slovic, author of Going Away to Think: Engagement, Retreat, and Ecocritical Responsibility
LIVING WITH WILDNESS: AN ALASKAN ODYSSEY, is a collection of essays
published in summer 2008 by the University of Alaska Press. (Interested in learning more about LIVING WITH WILDNESS? click on the link to the 49 Writers blogsite, located on this page.)
From the introduction:
The heart of this story is my relationship with Anchorage and adjacent Chugach State Park. At first glance, my choice to settle here may seem a strange one for someone who claims to be so passionate about the natural world. But in living along the city’s edge, I’ve gotten the best of both worlds, natural and man-made (though of course the two are connected). I love the amenities that come with living in an urban center, with its coffee shops and restaurants, movie theaters and Performing Arts Center, universities and libraries, community schools and sports programs. Here I’ve found intersecting circles of writers and outdoors enthusiasts and earth- and peace-loving activists. Yet I also have easy access to parks, trails, greenbelts, a coastal refuge, and a nearby mountain range whose remotest valleys and peaks are seldom visited. And I share the landscape with raven and bear, chickadee and coyote and lynx.
Living in Anchorage, I’ve rediscovered that wildness is all around us, all the time, even in the city. It’s just that most of us humans don’t notice the "wild side" of our busy urban lives (some, it’s true, are simply trying to survive their urban lifestyles, which leaves little, if any, opportunities for wild connections). Of course, in many a metropolis you have to look hard to find even hints of the wild behind the elaborate layers of human construct that shield us from the rest of nature. Anchorage’s juxtaposition of malls and moose, brewhouses and bears, or libraries and loons makes it easier to notice urban wildness here than in cities like LA or Tucson or even Lewiston, Maine, all of them places that I’ve lived. This city, more than any other, has opened my eyes and enlarged my awareness in a way the wilderness couldn’t.
In these pages I explore my relationship with Anchorage and reflect upon notions of urban wildness in chapters centered around the Hillside neighborhood I inhabited for 13 years; the city’s coastal refuge; and several of my neighbors, from birds to bears and frogs. And I return to my Connecticut days, to bridge the distance between my childhood and adult homelands and show the links that connect them.
For all my growing appreciation of Anchorage’s wildness, I still find it necessary to make trips deeper into Alaska’s wilderness. There I slow down, grow in awareness, move into a reality beyond city time and normal routine. I more easily open up to wildness and feel my connection to the larger world. I consider my relationship with wilderness landscapes in two chapters: first, my "steady" relationship with Anchorage’s next-door wilderness, Chugach State Park; second, an extended solo trip into the far-away Arctic backcountry, where the trappings and sensibilities of urban life are gradually stripped away.
Taking a different, but related path into wildness, I also reflect upon three encounters with "the other": wild creatures whose lives rarely intersect my own. Our paths cross under extraordinary circumstances, leading to new insights about the animals and my relationship with them. In one case, the "other" is a grandmother halibut, caught during a guided sport-fishing trip; in another, she’s a grizzly mom, protecting her cubs. In the third instance, I’m serenaded by howling wolves while camped alone during a backpacking trek through the Arctic. In every encounter, my senses expand, my world opens up.
Finally, Living with Wildness explores myths and ideas about the "Wild Man," an ancient mythic figure with roots in ancient times who has appeared, off and on, throughout human history. I’ll reflect upon my own encounters with the Wild Man, my participation in the men’s mythopoetic movement, the ideas discussed in Robert Bly’s best-selling book Iron John, and the relevance of this mythical character in today’s world, as well as the critical importance of embracing our own wild natures in addition to that of the larger world.
What others have to say about LIVING WITH WILDNESS:
Bill Sherwonit has added a fine new volume to the literature of place, a literature that may be the most vital and venturesome of any kind being written in America today. Tracing "the intelligence of nature" from the streets of Anchorage to the mountains of Alaska’s Brooks Range, he marvels over chickadees and grizzlies, wood frogs and sandhill cranes, moose and mice and countless other creatures, along with snow and stars and shimmering northern lights. In prose as clear as an unsullied stream, he tells about his search for the wildness in the depths of mind that answers to the wildness in the world.
-- Scott Russell Sanders, author of A Private History of Awe
Living with Wildness is the story of one man's awakening to his place in the world as he learns to pay attention to the seasons, the land, and the creatures that surround him. As Bill Sherwonit encounters lynx, chickadees, frogs, cranes, and even a dead moose, he celebrates Alaska's wilder charms but also considers the compromises forced upon a wilderness that begins in his backyard. In this open-hearted inquiry, he learns what it means to make a home in the complicated landscape that emerges when wilderness and communities push against each other. Sherwonit movingly describes the explorations of the spirit that accompany his outdoor adventures. His discoveries remind us all that the most meaningful journeys begin with the smallest acts of awareness.
-- Sherry Simpson, author of The Way Winter Comes and The Accidental Explorer
Like one of his winter days in Anchorage, Sherwonit's book is bright and calm. Its gifts are a wild landscape of delight and a lesson in attentiveness.
-- Kathleen Dean Moore, author of The Pine Island Paradox.
Reviews of other books by Bill Sherwonit
“Going to Denali? Even if you’ve already suffered upon that mountain, Bill Sherwonit’s TO THE TOP OF DENALI is a compelling read. . . its no bullshit prose and hard-won anecdotes put it in a league with such classics as [Art] Davidson’s MINUS 148."
-- Jonathan Waterman review, in Rock & Ice magazine
"Bill Sherwonit’s collection, DENALI: A LITERARY ANTHOLOGY, is a fitting tribute to one of the most remarkable places on earth. . . . Sherwonit knows his subject well. A nationally acclaimed photographer and essayist, he has prepared a comprehensive collection of 23 selections that cover a century of writing from the park. The result is a book that covers its subject in a comprehensive and eminently readable manner.
DENALI: A LITERARY ANTHOLOGY, belongs in any library, public or private, that aspires to be complete on the subject of Alaska in general and Denali in particular. Bill Sherwonit and Mountaineers Books are to be congratulated on a job well done!"
-- John Murray, in The Bloomsbury Review
"Focusing on the theme ‘accessible wilderness,’ [Sherwonit] introduces readers to the unique and exciting attributes of each area through superb travel writing. . . . Complemented by 50 color photos and eight maps, this book will have readers packing their bags. One of the most refreshing travel guides this reviewer has encountered; highly recommended."
-- Library Journal review of ALASKA’S ACCESSIBLE WILDERNESS
Sherwonit’s book is an authoritative and well-written account of the Iditarod and some of its more important moments. An obvious fan and believer in the race, he doesn’t try to cover its warts.”
-- Anchorage Press review of IDITAROD: THE GREAT RACE TO NOME
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., nature writer Bill Sherwonit has called Alaska home since 1982. A fulltime freelancer, he has contributed essays and articles to a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, journals, and anthologies and is also the author of more than a dozen books about Alaska, including three books about Denali, two about the Iditarod, and others about Alaska’s state parks, the Brooks Range (America's northernmost mountain chain) and the necessity of wilderness, Alaska's wildlife, and his evolving relationship with wild nature. In his spare time, Bill teaches nature and travel writing. He lives in Anchorage’s Turnagain area, where he writes about the wildness to be found in Alaska’s urban center as well as in the state’s far reaches, while inspired by neighbors who include chickadee, squirrel, raven, frog, and bear.
News and Events
Bill Sherwonit will be doing several book events tied to the Fall 2014 release of ANIMAL STORIES: ENCOUNTERS WITH ALASKA'S WILDLIFE. Scheduled events include:
Oct. 16 in Anchorage's Loussac Library's Wilda Marston Theater, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center auditorium, 7 p.m.
Nov. 9, Eagle River Nature Center, 2 p.m.
Other events will be included here as they're scheduled.
In conjunction with the release of ANIMAL STORIES, Sherwonit is the 49 Writers guest author blogger for September 2014, with his postings on September 3, 10, 17, and 24. A link to his first posting, "Of Essays and Animal Stories," is included on this page. To see other postings he's made over the years, go to http://49writers.blogspot.com/search?q=sherwonit.
DENALI BOOKS: A newly expanded and updated guidebook to the Denali region was published by The Mountaineers Books in 2013: DENALI NATIONAL PARK: THE COMPLETE VISITORS GUIDE TO THE MOUNTAIN, WILDLIFE, & YEAR-ROUND OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES. Also, the third edition of Bill Sherwonit's widely acclaimed book TO THE TOP OF DENALI: CLIMBING ADVENTURES ON NORTH AMERICA'S HIGHEST PEAK was released in fall 2012.
Sherwonit's collaboration with photographer Carl Battreall:
CHUGACH STATE PARK: ALASKA'S ACCESSIBLE WILDERNESS features the photography of Carl Battreall. Collected over a year's time, Battraell's images are complemented by Bill Sherwonit's through-the-seasons essay about the park. For more information about the book, click on the Chugach State Park book link, located on this page.
Other news, including presentations, classes, and workshops
Nature and travel writing classes. In fall 2014, Bill is again teaching his 12-week class, starting Sept. 17. Participants in this workshop-style class will explore and refine their own writing styles, with an emphasis on the personal essay form. The class will also read and discuss works by some of America’s finest nature and travel writers, past and present. To sign up for this Wednesday night class (7 to 9:30 p.m.), or for more information, contact Sherwonit at 245-0283 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or through this website (email@example.com).