Reading the North

October 19, 2013 

Alaska Quarterly Review, Fall/Winter 2013

Editor Ronald Spatz (University of Alaska, $18 for two issues)

The blurb: Alaska Quarterly Review is one of America's premier literary magazines and a source of powerful new voices. Works originally from AQR have appeared in "Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards," "The Pushcart Prize," "The Beacon Best," "The Best American Mystery Stories" and more. The highly respected The New Yorker magazine recently published on its website 16 pages from AQR's current magazine, Andrea Bruce's "Afghan Americans."

Excerpt: "Bricks" by Carol K. Howell

His hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren. Genesis 16:12

It ended with shoes, then bricks, then blood. But it began with Japanese beetles. Even before that, the families had snubbed each other at mailboxes, turned cold shoulders on garbage day, skipped each other's houses at Halloween. Once, during a party, the Isaacsons sent their guests over to use the Hagars' bathroom, rubbing in the fact that the Hagars had not been invited. The Hagars, of course, let no one in.

Pacing his driveway, Mr. Isaacson swore to his cell phone that he would raise his brick wall to block his view of the Hagars' pool. In America, other people's loud foreign-jabbering Speedo-overflowing families should not be forced upon you when you wanted some quiet time on your deck.

Leaning against his Lincoln Navigator, Mr. Hagar complained to his cell phone that the prison-wattage security lights next door had forced him to buy black-out curtains for his bedroom. In America, you ought to be able to get a decent night's sleep without being forced to feel like you were hiding in a cellar under siege. The neighbors hung onto every word.

Events escalated when Mr. Hagar, trimming a tree on his side of the wall, let some branches fall into the Isaacsons' yard. Mr. Isaacson lost no time collecting the mess and tossing it back over. An hour later he was astounded to find it in his yard again. Back and forth the branches went, ending in a confrontation loud enough to draw the neighbors, some with camcorders, and a ringing vow from Mr. Isaacson that if the Hagars ever threw anything in his yard again they would be fishing it out of their pool.

Still, things didn't move into high gear until Mrs. Hagar hung the Japanese beetle trap on her side of the Isaacsons' wall. When she came out the next day to count corpses, she found that the trap had been shifted to her forsythia bush.

Mrs. Hagar nearly jumped out of her cloned Manolos. Why had the Isaacsons moved her trap? They couldn't hear or smell or see it. It caused no trouble. It didn't ask for anything. The answer seemed obvious: they'd moved it out of spite. Because it was their wall. Because Hagar property contaminated Isaacson property. Mrs. Hagar longed to mount an immediate frontal assault. Ring the Isaacsons' bell, rip open the trap, hurl dead beetles straight into Mrs. Isaacson's face. She could imagine Mrs. Isaacson's shrieks and the skittery sound the bugs would make as they peppered the varnished hall floor.

Among Wolves

Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman (Snowy Owl Books, $29.95)

The blurb: The crash of Gordon Haber's research plane in Denali National Park ended his life, his research and his fierce advocacy for Alaska's wolves. "Among Wolves" is a journey through Haber's 43-year study and his startling findings. We witness astonishing cooperation as wolves hunt, raise pups and play, and we watch the devastation to wolf families caused by hunting, trapping and predator control. Reading Haber's field notes and journals, hearing stories from friends, we feel some of the passion and wonder that Haber never lost.

Excerpt: Wolf Pair Bonds

Wolves are monogamous, something that is relatively rare in the animal world -- and their reproductive bonds are at the heart of wolf social organization. These bonds easily rival or exceed typical human marital bonds in their strength, and the bond between primary alpha breeders is the most important relationship in a group.

Courtship and mating, which lasts 10 to 14 days beginning in late February to early March, may well be the most significant wolf social event each year. Courting wolves commonly "snuggle" while walking and lying together. This behavior probably has the same adaptive value as the snuggling, hand-holding, arms-around, and related contact of human courtship. These close emotional ties and physical contact are not unique to sexual activities, however. The Toklat male and female from the 2008-2009 observation ... maintained similar high levels of emotional attachment and physical closeness year-round, and so have most of the other alpha and lower-ranking pairs I've observed.

Family activities turn somewhat erratic as the top echelon becomes wrapped up in sex. The previous year's pups are clearly bewildered at this strange behavior of the top adults. Though a beta male may show interest in the alpha female, producing a triangle, the alpha male shows strong, clear authority over all others and is extremely assertive toward the beta male in particular, whom he keeps in almost constant submission, even though the two otherwise work together closely.

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