Friday, July 15, 2011

Wolf Pack of the Winisk River by Paul Brown

When I was growing up I loved reading books about wolves - fictional accounts of wolves and their lives, told from the wolf's point of view. I still love these stories. The wolf, to me, is a fascinating animal; incredibly beautiful and at the same time, intimidating, primal and fearful.

So that was the motivation for reading Wolf Pack of the Winisk River by Paul Brown.This thin book tells the story of a huge Alpha male, Wolf, over the period of late winter into the summer in the Winisk River area. Wolf's story is told in beautiful free verse that conveys the natural beauty of the northern Canadian wilderness and the brutal reality of predator and prey and the struggle to survive in such an unforgiving environment.

Having lost his mate to a rogue black bear, Wolf is in search of food in the vast northern boreal forest. Food is sparse, and on the verge of starvation, Wolf manages to barely escape wolf hunters on snowmobiles. At this point he is attacked by small pack of wolves - an Alpha female known as Mother, two adult males called Black and White and  Mother's two pups. He easily asserts his dominance over the Alpha female and becomes part of the pack. From this point on we follow the wolve pack as they head north along the Winisk River following a herd of Northern Caribou. Interspersed with this are descriptions of humans traveling through the northern areas.

Brown's sparse poetry conveys the terror of the chase when Wolf hunts down prey.

viciously Wolf changes his grip
smothering the animal's muzzle and nose in killer jaws
jaws clamped with fifteen hundred pounds of bone-crushing pressure
preventing the caribou from breathing
the young bull thrashes his legs
shakes his head in terror unable to breathe
but nothing will stop these wolves now
they have gone far too long without food
they are near to starving and death themselves
they will not be beaten here
and within short minutes
the unfortunate bull has passed out from lack of oxygen
his lungs full of his own blood

The beauty of the northern wilderness is captured effectively with delicious detail:

in The Great Northern Forest the world is coming alive

the bald eagle
circling high in the blue sky
feels the strong warmth of the late spring sun
sees many things far below him

pussy willows budding in the shallow creeks

splashing otters slipping smoothly through the water like snakes
happily fishing and playing tag

And even the parallel travels of humans on the Asheweig River is captured in a way that injects some humour and contrast into the narrative. The author presents the vast range of human behaviour - those who try to kill the wolf for sport and who view nature as something to be dominated and those who wish to enjoy the beauty and try to experience some of that beauty as they travel along the Asheweig River.

Brown's poetry is enhanced by the beautiful black and white illustrations done in pen and ink by Ojibway artist  Robert Kakegamic.

An example of one of these gorgeous illustrations is shown on the left. Kakegamic paints in the woodland tradition with his subjects being those of the natural world around him.

I enjoyed this book immensely. I'm not sure however, whether teens would pick up this book and read it, which is unfortunate, because it's really quite well written and fascinating. Brown manages to insert a great deal of factual information about wildlife such as wolverines, polar bears, and great grey owls into the story. And of course, there's a wealth of information about wolves. There's a simple map at the front of the book as well as a brief summary of the pack's journey.

I would highly recommend this book to boys interested in wildlife and camping and reluctant readers.

Book Details:
Wolf Pack of the Winisk River by Paul Brown
Montreal: Lobster Press    2009
188 pp.

No comments: