Alaska author Marybeth Holleman will be launching her new book, "Among Wolves," at the Loussac Library in Anchorage on Sunday, Oct. 20. The book is a collection of log notes and observations from the late Gordon Haber, who started observing wolves at Denali National Park in the 1960s while he worked for the National Park Service. "It's kind of like I had a co-author on this book," said Holleman, describing some of the unique challenges in creating the book. "Only, it was different because he wasn't here for me to ask him questions."
After Haber died in a tragic plane crash in October 2009, Holleman decided she wanted to continue sharing his message and the knowledge he gathered after spending more than four decades at the national park, watching what she describes as "Alaska's most misunderstood creatures" -- wolves.
She began digging through piles of papers, blog posts, journal entries and photographs that were stashed away at Haber’s apartment and storage unit in Anchorage and at his dry cabin along the Nenana River.
Holleman, a previously published author, said that most of the work for this book wasn't writing, but making sense of Haber’s notes. But through the struggles, she kept in mind a lesson that Haber had taught her. "He saw so many horrors, so many wolves that he knew from so many hours of observations die in traps and get shot -- and for me it would have been so hard for me to keep up that work, but Gordon kept at it."
Holleman closely followed Haber's work for about 30 years, she said, and it was his passion for his subject that she said kept her observing him, as closely as he observed the wolves of Denali.
"An old-timer once said that when you see a wolf, he has already seen you twice. With few exceptions, when I was observing wolf home sites in the summer, I think the wolves eventually knew I was in the area," said Holleman, reciting a passage from "Among Wolves."
"However, in most cases, I observed them with a spotting scope from far enough away that they showed no concern. But in the summer of 1991, the Toklat wolves didn't just ignore me. The first time they checked me out that summer, I was sleeping soundly at 5 a.m. About 10 of them, including the alpha male and female, surrounded my tent only 50 feet away and proceeded to wake me abruptly with their gruff barks and accompanying howls. They had discovered me as they were returning home from the night hunt, and after a few minutes of expressing some displeasure through their barking and howling, they headed off to the den. Throughout the rest of the summer they continued to ignore my presence while they were at the den, but checked me out fairly often on their travels to and from."
The book also discusses wolf policy and how biologists handle population issues in Alaska and the Lower 48, as well as Haber's frustrations with those issues.
"The take-home message is wolves really aren't individuals," said Holleman. "You can't look at a wolf and say 'That is what a wolf is.' You have to look at them in the context of their family group or their social group. A pack is basically a family unit. And you have to see their behaviors, and cooperative hunting, rearing of pups and the way they work as a unit to really understand what a wolf is. That was something that most people don't understand because they are not managed that way and a lot of other wolf biologists don't see that yet."
Holleman said she plans on taking the book to other Alaska communities, specifically around Denali National Park, for readings and signings, but the dates for those are not set yet.