The Ninemile Wolves

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As a writer whose stories and nonfiction have increasingly come to identify him as an eloquent chronicler of the American West, Rick Bass here takes his reader into both the science and the imagination of wolf-reintroduction programs in that same Western landscape.

On one level, this book-length “essay” is the concentrated story of one specific pack of wolves, who made their way south from Canada into the Ninemile Valley of northwestern Montana. Bass lets the drama of their progress, and of their tragedy, unfold with clarity and passion; we are educated in the ways of the pack, in the complex algebra of their need to travel and to cover distance.

On another level, Bass explores the essential mystery of the wolf itself. He drives to the near-heart of the wolf’s nature in this book, studying as he does the biological impulses to search, to kill, to feed—impulses that become imperatives in the wolf’s way of life. More importantly, Bass describes the wolf’s spirituality, the elusive vitality which beats through the wolf’s very being.

On a third and final level, Bass studies the politics and the science of the wolf-recovery issue. More than wolves are involved here: ranchers, economists, governmental agents, environmentalists, hunters, writers—all have concerns that need expression, and Bass weaves these voices into the fabric of his own story. He tells several of the stories that exist outside the realm of the wolves, particularly the stories of those people whose own spirits are infused with a passion for the nature of the wolves.

In the end, Bass writes as an advocate for the wolf and for the reintroduction of the wolf into what remains of the American wilderness. But he is calling more fundamentally for the reintroduction of a balance between nature and humankind, a balance very near the verge of extinction. If we cannot understand the mystery of the wolf, says Bass, we stand precious little chance of understanding the delicate and frail position we occupy in that same natural habitat.