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Reading the North: 'Soul of My Soldier' and wolf pup rescue

The Soul of My Soldier: Reflections of a Military Wife

By Abigail B. Calkin; published by Familius, LLC; $16.95

The blurb: After 45 years of marriage, author and poet Abigail Calkin, an Alaska resident, explores the complicated relationship she has with her husband, who served three tours of duty in three different wars. Raw, riveting, and engaging, Calkin recounts how war and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shaped their marriage and family. Told in prose and poetry, "The Soul of My Soldier" is a vivid exploration of the impact war has on loved ones, and how war affects deployed military personnel long after their tour of duty ends.

Excerpt: It was June 2009 at an inn on Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Donna, someone I had just met, said, "Tell me about your camel."

My camel? I live in Alaska. She's from Chicago. The wife of a poet, and it's her first trip here. People ask me lots of strange questions. Do you have electricity? Running water? An indoor toilet? My camel — do I also have a camel? There used to be camels in Alaska. Camels, mastodons, tigers, and migrating peoples. I have a 145-pound dog, an Akbash, which people ask about. Do I have a camel, too? Seeing my confusion, she touched her neck. "The camel. The camel around your neck."

I touched my gold camel. "My husband brought it back to me when he came home from the Gulf War." After the now-usual thank-you for his service, she asked how he was. Fine. From this one. He was not fine after two years in Vietnam. As I shared a story about him, her eyes brimmed with tears. In 2004, I decided to wear the camel, another necklace, and the earrings he brought back for me until all are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. It's my daily reminder we have people at war. The following spring, and ever since, many people have asked about my camel — odd, because no one had asked in the five years before. I wear my camel because it was a gift from my husband. I wear my camel so I remember and think about those who are at war. I wear my camel as a tribute to those who serve in a war zone.

• • •

I drove the 70 miles home from work on a hot July day. I felt like going into Eugene to stop by Sandy's house and chat; however, that meant that I would still need to get in my car and drive the 30 miles in the mid-90s heat. I lived out in the country on the McKenzie Highway. I knew it would be 10 degrees cooler there, and I could always put on my bikini and sit in the river to cool off. As I rounded the turn into the ... pit that separated my house from the highway, I saw a truckload of cattle and an older man in overalls. Poor fellow, I thought. He came to the Willamette Valley to buy cattle and is now headed back to his meager ranch in eastern Oregon, and he loses a wheel. I slowed to less than 5 mph in order not to cover him with dust, parked my car by the house and walked back to see what assistance he might need.

He had nothing to do with the cattle. He worked for Fish and Game and was following a pickup with a large trailer loaded with cattle. Weaving badly, it was obviously in trouble. He slowed so he could keep an eye on it. It was not much later a wheel came off the trailer, flew across the road, hit an oncoming loaded log truck on the bumper, and ricocheted off, flying over the pickup, its trailer, and the Douglas firs alongside the road. Relieved he had not caused the log truck to swerve, the pickup driver pulled into the pit, followed by the green Fish and Game pickup as the log truck continued to barrel down the highway to one of the mills. The cattle driver went to the closest house, mine, to ask to use the phone. With no one there, he tried the next house, my landlord's, with its white fences and four horses pastured there. No answer. He ran up to Greenwood Drive and checked several houses there. No one was home at 5 p.m. on this Tuesday afternoon. By the time he jogged back to the now very noisy cattle and the pit, I had arrived home and walked back to the trailer and the older man standing there.

What I saw was a young man running along Greenwood Drive, the nearby road that curved about 50 feet above the pit. He ran down the McKenzie Highway and stopped where I stood. I figured he was no younger than 16 (because he had a driver's license) and probably no older than 21. I was interested. What he saw was a seven-months-pregnant woman in a cream-colored dress with vertical stripes of blue flowers. To him, she looked gorgeous because she was attractive and so happy with her pregnancy. To me, he was a drop-dead handsome man with a smile that did not stop. We looked at one another and said nothing.

The Lucky Litter: Wolf Pups Rescued From Wildfire

By Jennifer Keats Curtis; photography by John Gomes; Arbordale Publishing; $17.95

The blurb: When a huge wildfire roared along the Funny River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, firefighters rushed to the rescue. Finding not one but five wolf pups in need, they raced into action to save the litter. With no wolf parents to help, zookeepers and vets at the Alaska Zoo made sure the babies grew into a healthy, happy pack. Follow this true story written for children as the helpless pups move from the charred refuge to the Alaska Zoo, finally becoming big and strong enough to move into their forever home at the Minnesota Zoo.

Excerpt: Through the hazy smoke, the tired firefighter raced up the hill on his all-terrain vehicle. He stopped to secure his gear and looked down ... what was that little black ball of fluff? A bear? No, that was definitely a tail.

The creature looked up. Her blue eyes locked with the firefighter's blue eyes: a wolf pup. So young. What was she doing out of her den? The firefighter called for help.

Help came in the form of a wildlife biologist who examined the den — a deep hole below a hollow tree. There were no tracks, which meant no adult wolves were caring for the babies. The biologist tried to climb in. He was too tall. A smaller firefighter scrambled into the lair. One by one, he pulled out the litter — two grey, three black.

The small, fuzzy babies wobbled rather than walked, but their eyes were open. They were probably 3 weeks old.

The firefighters named the two girls and two of the boys after their villages: Gannett, Huslia, Hooper and Stebbins. The last boy, X-Ray, they named for their firefighting team.

The fluffy pups were covered in dirt and something worse — porcupine quills. They clearly needed help.

First, medics made sure the babies got a drink through a plastic tube and plunger called a syringe. Then, the pups were flown to the Alaska Zoo.

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