To The Top Of The World: Adventures With Arctic Wolves, by Jim Brandenburg, edited by Joann Bren Guernsey
This is a gorgeous and well photographed book that details the lengthy experience of a noted photographer in a remote location and his experiences getting to know the island’s pack of arctic wolves. The photographer notes the characters of those who spend most of their time around their den and also comes to a greater understanding and appreciation of the wolves and their individuality. While the author is somewhat modest about his own recognition, he does appear to have a high degree of understanding in how wolves behave, and this allows him to be a sympathetic observer of this wolfpack as well as their actions and to come up with reasonable ideas about their own fondness for him. He seems to catch, through his experiences and observations, something of the grandeur of the wolf and the way that wolves and humankind have much in common and many grounds to appreciate each other. There isn’t a huge amount of text, but it does help to explain the photographs well and to provide a sense of context to the author’s explorations. The book does an effective job at helping the reader to become more fond of wolves and certainly less hostile towards them.
This book is about 50 pages, many of them with gorgeous photographs, and it is divided into seven chapters. The book begins with the author’s view of his ultimate photograph, which helps to frame the author’s interest in the wolves of Canada’s remote Ellesmere Island. After that comes an introduction to the family of some half a dozen or so adult wolves and the pups that one of the mothers had for the year. This is followed by the author’s discussion of how he lived as neighbors with these wolves, keeping enough distance not to crowd them but staying close enough for mutual observation. After this comes a look at the adaptation of the wolves to their climate. Then there is a look at a successful hunt and its aftermath where the wolves were able to spook and a musk ox calf. Then there is a discussion of the author’s experiences with the animals as being something other than danerous and then a look at his farewell.
Indeed, the author is highly aware of the hostility that many people have towards wolves and the resulting violence that has been shown to wolves. There is one incident in this book where the author engages in behavior that he understands (at least in retrospect) to have appeared like he was trying to steal the food of the wolves by honing in on their kill, and his response disarms the hostility that may have resulted. The author claims, afterward, that he was a bit reluctant to talk about the incident given that it fueled the fears that many people have of wolves attacking people in an unprovoked manner, in contrary to the benign curiosity that he tended to notice of them in his own experiences. It is certainly true that those who are unwary about wolves and their actions may provoke a negative response. That said, the author seems to recognize a certain intuitive sense about wolves and their ability to recognize that curious and benign human beings like himself are no more a threat to them than they are to him, and that mutual recognition allows a genuine sense of friendship to follow, one where the author is able to note the cruelty of the world in which these wolves live as well as the the importance of both individuality as well as socialization, problems which are no less profound for people.