Our October pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is Nate Blakeslee’s narrative nonfiction book “American Wolf.” It tells the tale of O-Six, a Yellowstone alpha female who became known as “the world’s most famous wolf,” and the people and politics that surrounded her. Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here.
“Every wolf’s life is an adventure story,” writes author Nate Blakeslee. “What made O-Six’s unique is that people were around to witness it.”
Those people included a devoted group of Yellowstone biologists, park rangers and wolf-watchers, some who would go out every day to get a glimpse of the wolves and record their activities. Blakeslee used those journals to help tell the story of O-Six and the other wolves in the park.
In the pages he annotated below, which are from the start of Chapter Three, Blakeslee explains more about how he reported the book, why he lingered on certain moments, and the decision to describe the wolves with both human-like and very canine qualities. (Click on the yellow text to see the annotations.)
From pages 49-50
“A Star is Born”
O-Six had been howling for days, and at last it had paid off. Atop a partially forested knoll on the western edge of Little America, she stood nose to nose with two young black wolves, a pair of roaming brothers who had only recently made a tentative stab at joining the ranks of the Druids. They were both yearlings, though one was noticeably larger, already over a hundred pounds, with room on his lanky frame for more if he continued to eat well. The bigger brother had a salt-and-pepper muzzle and a white blaze on his breast shaped like a cross. He was acutely interested in O-Six, sniffing her as she stood still, tail held high, and allowed herself to be inspected.
But it was the smaller of the brothers who was clearly in charge, and he was the one O-Six wanted. This wolf’s jaw was stippled with gray, as were his withers and chest, making him look older and more weathered than his brother, though in reality neither had much experience being away from their natal pack. His eyes were a light tan color, almost yellow.
As he stood motionless, transfixed by the female in front of him, the jilted brother approached his sibling at a crawl, first reaching up to lick at his chin, then turning on his back in the snow to gently paw at his face. He looked like an overgrown pup, which wasn’t far from the truth. O-Six laid her chin across the smaller brother’s back. The three of them lingered there on the hilltop under a cobalt-blue sky, three interlopers far from home, and considered one another.
It was late January 2010, six weeks after the Druids had run O-Six off the elk she had brought down not far from where she stood now. In the interim, her fellow travelers, her sister and her mate, had carefully kept their distance from the Druids. They were leery of a clash, but O-Six had been creeping closer and closer to the pack whenever she could find them. No matter how often the Druid females chased her off, she always returned, drawn by the presence of the two new males. When she couldn’t see them, she howled for them, and lately they had begun howling back. But so had the female Druids, and their call had been not a welcome but a warning.
The Druids had suffered a reversal of fortune in recent months. In the five years since 21’s death, the pack had held its own but never enjoyed the stability it had once known. A succession of alpha pairs came and went, and the pack’s size fluctuated. Out of nine pups born to the Druids the previous spring, not a single one had survived. Worse, they had lost their alpha female in the fall—killed by wolves from another pack. White Line, the three-year-old black who had moved in on O-Six’s elk, had now assumed the role, but 480, the alpha male, was her father, so they weren’t likely to breed. The pack needed fresh blood.
Now an even more immediate problem had emerged: every wolf in the pack had mange.