A Wolf Called Romeo
Nick Jans ’77
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2014)

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Even in Alaska, most people go a lifetime without ever catching a glimpse of a wolf—so when writer, photographer, and wolf aficionado Nick Jans ’77 encounters a lone black wolf near his home on the outskirts of the state capital, he knows it’s big news. But he has no way of foreseeing the journey to come—the improbable six-year relationship of a wild black wolf with the people and dogs of Juneau.

In A Wolf Called Romeo, Jans explores what happens when the line between the wild and civilization blurs as a surprisingly gentle wolf cavorts with canines half his size, joins cross-country skiers on their jaunts, and even snoozes in the sun near human companions—and when the tensions inevitably swell between those who distrust the wolf and those who want to know and protect him.

Jans writes of the wolf who comes to be called Romeo, “Ironically, it’s just this kind of ultra-tolerant animal, the one that lay down at the edge of our firelight millennia ago, that’s most likely to tweak human fear receptors. Why isn’t he afraid? He should be. If not, he’s dangerous, just too close. … What’s he thinking? Wolves and people have never mixed well, except, paradoxically, when they have. It’s a weird, dysfunctional union, considering that we invited the shadow of our fear into our homes and came to call it our best friend—all the while maintaining an ingrained, fearful distrust, sometimes verging on hatred, of its free-ranging forebear that lives beyond our will.”

Meanwhile Romeo, “unconcerned,” as Jans later writes, treks well-traveled paths around Juneau as well as “into frozen beaver swamps and alder-choked esker gullies, up dense-timbered slopes, places nobody would think of going—unless maybe following a fresh wolf trail, which is what I found myself doing with some regularity.”

Follow the wolf Jans does, not so much physically, but by watching over Romeo and chronicling his story. Part narrative, part memoir, part history, part homage, Jans’s book includes a photo of a memorial plaque that reads, “The spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place”—and indeed in A Wolf Called Romeo.

More at nickjans.com