Blog Index
The journal that this archive was targeting has been deleted. Please update your configuration.

The Big, Good Wolf: Real Lives of Alpha Males

photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman

This Father's Day, I'm reminded of how I grew up strong on my father's wild game, by a current New York Times editorial, arguing that the "alpha male stereotype comes from a misunderstanding of the real thing. In fact, the male wolf is an exemplary male role model." 

Wolves and men as good role models are also echoed by Diane Gallegos, Executive Director of Wolf Haven International, a nationally recognized sanctuary for captive-born and displaced wolves in Washington State. Even among these sanctuary wolves, she says, it's all about family--and alpha males are loyal providers. They really are Big, Good Wolves.

photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman

Gallegos explains that in May, the Mexican Gray Wolf pair gave birth to a litter of three pups as part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) captive-breeding program. The Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as "the lobo," is one of the rarest mammals in the world. Every pup born now is crucial to the survival of this most highly endangered subspecies of gray wolf. The wolves cared for at Wolf Haven--mother (Nieta) and father (Coal)--are fond, attentive parents as documented in this video of Nieta (F962) and Coal (M752) nuzzling. As in the wild, Coal then regurgitates to feed his mate and pups.

Like many human hunters, alpha male wolves hunt food for their family packs year-round. Men and wolves should be respectful allies, not enemies. We need more positive stories of wolves and men. Here's one of my favorite:

My friend, Mike, a strapping hunter who is deaf and loves gardening and boat design, tells the story of hunting with his Alaskan buddies. "I was alone up on the ridge with a grizzly nearby and a pack of wolves just below me," he says. Not the best position as night and cold descended. "I tell you, I was afraid of those wolves and one of them was acting kinda crazy, spinning around and howling. Maybe he was playing."

Finally Mike had to risk hiking down to camp. Most of the pack had moved behind him. "But I had to scoot right past that lone wolf . . ." he pauses with a smile and the punch line: "And when I got back to camp, it was my buddies who duct-taped me in my sleeping bag--and then, they threw me in the river." 

Like Mike, there are many hunters who understand the beneficial top-predator role that wolves offer. Since wolf reintroduction, scientists have discovered that when wolves return to their natural habitats, they actually help restore the ecosystem: Overgrazed trees regenerate and there's a dramatic increase in biodiversity.

Here in Washington we're still in the very early stages of wolf recovery. Wolves are on the state's endangered species list; to recover they need 15 breeding pairs. Currently, there are only five such pairs, out of 16 packs--68 wolves total. Can Washington now manage its wolf reintroduction more sustainably than other states, like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana who focus on "lethal control"?

"Washington has the best wolf management plan in the West," says Conservation Northwest's Mitchell Friedman. 

"We have an historic chance to be a model for wolf management," adds Diane Gallegos. 

She credits the collaborative work of the Wolf Advisory Group to listen to sportsmen, ranchers, and wolf advocates as they focus on science, education, and enlightened solutions. Ranchers are learning non-lethal and practical tools to protect their livestock, employing range riders (off-vehicle herders) and not grazing sheep near known wolf ranges. If ranchers sign a cooperative agreement with state wildlife officials to practice "conflict avoidance" they can receive radio collar alerts when wolves are near livestock.

Pacific Wolf Coalition reports that 100,000 West Coast residents joined one million citizens from across the country urging the government to maintain federal protectionfor gray wolves--even as a new bill threatens to reverse recent wolf protection and revive brutal wolf hunts in the West. 

Cutting-edge research requires new ways of living with wolves. A Washington State University study reveals that traditional wolf control tactics just don't work--killing wolves actually increases livestock predation. It's counter-intuitive, but researchers discovered that killing wolves disrupts their social structure. So wolf hunting may actually hurt ranchers. 

Jim Dutcher of Living with Wolves explains, "When you decimate a pack--especially the experienced alphas--you end up with a younger, dysfunctional, and smaller pack. The young wolves don't know how to take care of themselves or hunt down larger prey. So they go after slower, easier livestock." 

Alpha males teach the young to maintain and assure the survival of the family pack. It's not about dominance--in fact the alpha female is a true peer with her mate. Alpha males, comments wolf biologist, Rick Intyre, demonstrate a "quiet confidence and self-assurance . . . You know what's best for your pack. You lead by example . . . You have a calming effect."

photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman

We can find a calmer, more sustainable and balanced way to live with wolves, based on science, not politics. Or prejudice. The key is dialogue, education, and social tolerance. As rancher, Sam Kayser, who pastures his cows on public land near Teanaway, explains, "I want to co-exist with wolves . . . there is room for all of us out there."

And this Father's Day there is room for many more stories of Big Good Alpha Males, both human and wolf. 

Brenda Peterson is a National Geographic author of 18 books, who has covered wolf issues for national medias since the Yellowstone reintroduction in 1995. Short sections of this article originally appeared in "Living with Wolves" Ampersandmagazine. For more:

Sign a petition to help stop wolf hunting in Alaska.


Watch Mexican wolf pups play with their relaxed and patient father at Wolf Haven. These precious pups are part of the Species Survival Plan for captive-bred wolves to be returned to the wild. 

Listen to wolves howling at Wolf Haven International as acclaimed photographer, Annie Marie Musselman and I work together on the wolves in sancturary at this wonderful refuge. Photo credit: Annie Marie Musselman.


Please Vote for Leopard and Silkie for Beverly Cleary Award!


Tips for Writing Your Memoir from YOUR LIFE IS A BOOK Utne Reader


Tips on Writing a Memoir

Check out these tips on writing a memoir to help you prepare to tell your life story, whether as a legacy or as a published book.
December 2014
Keeping a journal is one way to gather material before you begin to tell your life story, and will be a rich source of details as you look back on it. 

Photo by Fotolia/Minerva Studio

Preparing to tell your life story is less complicated than you think, with expert help from Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann in Your Life is a Book (Sasquatch Books, 2014). Peterson is the author of eighteen books, including two memoirs, and Freymann a top literary agent with years of experience working with memoirs; both offer tips on writing a memoir thoughtfully and skillfully, with exercises to help jump start your writing, examples of well-executed passages and advice on publishing your work. The following excerpt is from chapter 4, “Field Notes on Your Life.”

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser

Keeping a Journal as a Record

Is keeping a journal, a blog, a photo album, or a scrapbook of letters and ideas a good thing? Absolutely! Journaling can be an essential element of your daily writing practice, because it flexes the writing muscles and, like a good massage, loosens the tense ones. Because it is for your eyes only, you are free to express anything without worrying about your phrasing, your grammar, your punctuation, or how it all sounds. The process can be wonderfully liberating.

No matter if you jot down notes spontaneously during the day or sit down at a specific time, journal writing can open the door to your subconscious and help bring buried memories to the surface. It is also an effective way of consciously working through dilemmas. In addition to journaling, you may want to keep a record of the little observations, phrases, and thoughts you’ve experienced or encountered each day. Think of this journal as raw material the way an artist sketches details for later development. Ideally, if you are organized enough, these notes would be kept in a separate notebook that you keep with you wherever you go, or in a folder on your computer or electronic tablet.

Don’t worry if you are not journaling daily. It isn’t a question of frequency; it’s one of doing it when and as you can, and doing it seriously. There’s no question that there have been times in Sarah Jane’s life when nothing has been as unequivocally helpful. For her, journaling has been a way to look at a painful feeling or an urgent problem, examine it, and then somehow, almost magically, write her way to insight—to a truth that resonates in that moment.

Brenda doesn’t do much journaling, nor has she ever kept a diary, except of her dreams. Perhaps her mother’s years in the CIA, or the fact that in her family three people had top-security clearance from the US government, instilled in Brenda at a very early age that one’s secrets must be hidden or coded. So she kept a rather inscrutable dream journal that no one else could decipher. When she wrote her two memoirs, Brenda turned instead to family photos, letters, Moleskine notebooks, and audio notes that she made with her cell phone recorder app.

These “field notes” to your life are essential to re-create the sensory details and flesh out the epiphanies of any scene. But they are works in progress and not ever ready to be published. Why not? They have not yet been transformed by your conscious craftsmanship into the final creation—your memoir. They are the kneaded clay before the sculpting, glazing, and firing of a beautiful pot. They are life not yet tempered by art.

Tell Your Life Story as a Work of Art

Sometimes these journals and field notes are so stream of consciousness, uncensored, and raw that they are what Brenda calls “unprocessed pain.” They read like a cri de coeur, or “cry from the heart,” not like an artfully crafted memoir. One of the best pieces of writing advice Brenda ever received as a young writer was from her first mentor, Diane Johnson. When one of Brenda’s dear friends committed suicide in 1981, Brenda wrote about it and sent an early draft to Diane to edit. Very gently, but with her characteristic honesty, Diane advised Brenda to write down every specific detail: the bright spring light in the room when Brenda discovered her friend’s body, the freshly folded laundry she was carrying and dropped, the gun gleaming like a dark fist at her friend’s cold temple as Brenda felt for a pulse.

“Write down everything you saw and felt that horrible day,” Diane gently suggested. “Take notes. Write this story over and over, but don’t publish it for several years. Only then will you possess and understand it, beyond the trauma. Only then will you discover the larger meaning of this event in your life so you can give it to others.”

Gratefully heeding Diane’s advice, Brenda wrote down every single thing she could remember at the moment. Then, on the yearly anniversary of her friend’s death, Brenda revised the original story. This became a healing ritual, and every draft was more clear-eyed and complete. It took quite a few years until the memoir piece “The Sacredness of Chores,” published in Nature and Other Mothers, was more than just unprocessed pain, until more than grief framed it. The epiphany of this story was not “surrender to death” but survival. One detail Brenda had scribbled in her notebook about that day was the to-do list she had made before she discovered the suicide. This simple jot in a journal became the theme for the final published story:

1) Finish Chapter 10
2) Laundry
3) Defrost fridge
4) Meet P. N. at farmers’ market (rhubarb?)

At the time of her friend’s death, Brenda could never have imagined that this scrawled note would become the organizing principle for a story, the magnet that drew all the seemingly insane pieces together and gave meaning to this loss. A simple to-do list that, at the time, seemed so busy, so foolish, so small set against suicide, would, upon reflection, become the sacred death chores of cleaning, of surviving, of staying on. This story ends: “As long as the washer and dryer spin, I tell myself, I am safe and those I love may choose to keep living alongside me. There is laundry to be done and so many chores—chores of living. Think of all the chores we have yet to do, quietly and on our knees—because home is holy.”

Whether you’re journaling about loss, death, illness, divorce, or any of the painful events that both detour and yet shape our lives, keeping field notes and journals of the raw, unprocessed pain can become the touchstone for your final well-crafted memoir. Writing a memoir can even help heal trauma. As author Amy Greene writes, “It’s not forgetting that heals. It’s remembering.”

© 2014 by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann. All rights reserved. Excerpted from  Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir by permission of Sasquatch Books.


Your Life is a Book's Writing Prompts featured on Oprah's Huffington Post page

 Brenda on book tour teaching from YOUR LIFE IS A BOOK: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir

We're thrilled that is featuring 11 time-tested "Two-Minute Journal Prompts for Quick Inspiration that Inspire Real Change" drawn from YOUR LIFE IS A BOOK: Here are a few and you can go to OWN on Huffington Post to see all of them. Happy writing!

Two-Minute Journal Prompts That Inspire Real Change
Posted: 12/26/2014 9:39 am EST Updated: 12/26/2014 9:59 am EST

These ideas, from the authors of Your Life is a Book, get you writing quickly -- about the things you most want to examine. (Our advice: Fill in the last blank of each one with at least a paragraph.)

By Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann


To see all of the writing prompts please visit Oprah's Huffington Post page:

LISTEN TO memoirist Brenda Peterson and literary agent Sarah Jane Freymann talk about writing memoir as a way to find more happiness in your own life story.






LISTEN FREE through Dec. 23rd to Brenda's new PUBLIC RADIO interview on "THE HEALING POWER OF WRITING MEMOIR" on NEW DIMENSIONS at this link:

The Healing Power Of Writing Your Memoir with Brenda Peterson

Free Listening Through December 30, 2014:

Brenda-PetersonWriting a memoir is not just for established writers and celebrities, as we might expect. Memoir writing can be a way of leaving a legacy for generations and imparting wisdom from real life experiences. It can also be a tool for gaining a better understanding of one’s self. Brenda Peterson teaches that writing a memoir can reveal who we are and can answer the question: “What is the story you are telling yourself about yourself to yourself?” A memoir has a narrative arc, a plot which is “the evolution of the soul through any experience or through time.” Peterson believes that a good memoir will incorporate all of the senses. The memoirist should bring to the surface as much depth of experience as possible to create a meaningful and compelling story. And, she adds, a little levity can change everything. A memoir doesn’t necessarily have to be all about the writer, but inevitably, the writer is the narrator and main character. One of the first things Peterson teaches is the chapter on ‘’Showing up, creating a character of the self.” She often uses playful exercises to draw out the inner critic and to encourage epiphany. Writing a memoir requires reflection, emotion and patience. Memoirs take time, she acknowledges, and becoming an apprentice to the craft is important. She uses an exercise to help spark the process that might be referred to as the “one scene” method. Peterson believes that everyone has a story to tell, “So do it now.” (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)

Brenda Peterson is a novelist, nature writer, and writing teacher. Her work has appeared in The New York TimesChicago Tribune, and O: The Oprah Magazine.

Brenda Peterson’s books include:

To learn more about the work of Brenda Peterson go to

Topics explored in this dialogue include:

  • What is a memoir
  • What are some of the compelling reasons to write a memoir
  • What story are you telling yourself about yourself
  • Is there one scene that sums up your story
  • Why a memoir does not have to be chronological
  • What are some ways to jump in and begin your memoir
  • How to turn your inner critic into your protector

BUY NOW $1.99 – MP3 Download


Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 36 Next 5 Entries »