It’s an exciting time to be a writer and researcher specializing in wolverines. I’m running my own small wolverine camera project in Montana, and preparing to set off on a 350 mile ski trip in search of wolverines in Mongolia. In the policy arena, wolverines are proposed for listing, with more press attention than the species has ever seen. Wolverines are poised to become the next celebrity wildlife icon, the standard-bearer for the effects of climate change on mountain ecosystems. Perversely, though, all of this action and activity has served to dampen rather than accelerate my motivation to write.
Part of this collapse of motivation has to do with basic physiological issues – ski or snowshoe six to 14 miles, four or five days a week, breaking trail straight uphill through thigh-deep powder with a 40 pound pack on your back, and see if you’re in the mood to write eloquent odes to wolverine research when you stumble back through the door after dark and realize that there’s no food in the house for dinner.
Part of it, though, also has to do with a certain authorial possessiveness, probably the same sort of pique that devout fans of indie bands feel when their beloved group makes it big, and the preppy, conventional guy down the street suddenly thinks he’s an expert on an art form that – in the eyes of the long-term devoted fan, anyway – he doesn’t really get. A good person, of course, is happy for the success of something they care about, but it’s difficult to escape a certain sense of dispossession. For the past five years, wolverines (as an actual entity rather than a legalistic abstraction….) have been the concern of a very small group of people. The narrative of research and conservation has been contained, manageable, and generally based on consensus. The people with the greatest authority and the clearest voice have been the scientists, who have worked directly with the species, held the animals in their hands, understood the ecological relationships, and built the models that describe those relationships. As far as I know, only three people have chronicled this wolverine research in systematic narratives – Doug Chadwick, who wrote The Wolverine Way, Gianna Savoie, who wrote and directed Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom, and me, in keeping this blog. For someone with an enduring infatuation with knowledge and the processes involved in obtaining it, and a natural wariness of propaganda and conflict, wolverines have been a heady escape from the ritualistic bickering over carnivore conservation in the Western US, precisely because they have been the purview of a limited number of individuals.
Now the story is bigger, and in becoming bigger, it becomes less manageable, with new elements, new concerns, new people, and new agendas. In the face of these new elements, my writing instincts have been temporarily paralyzed, and I decided to take a few weeks off to let these new narratives sink in. I’m back now, and will post updates between now and my departure on March 19th for Mongolia. More soon!