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September 24, 2021

Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife

By Bill Sherwonit

Given my love for essays (both writing and reading them), it’s a special delight to have a collection of my pieces published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books. Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife includes thirty-four essays, written over two decades’ time. One of the joys of doing the book was to re-read scores of the essays I’ve written across the years and to find that a good number of them still “hold up” (at least as judged by me and the editors).

To give a sense of the book’s scope and intent, I’ll here borrow from the “Author’s Note” that introduces the essays.

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“I first began writing regularly about wild nature in the mid-1980s, while employed as an outdoors writer at the Anchorage Times. My interest deepened, and my approach shifted, when I began life as a freelance writer in the early 1990s. [I’ll insert here that it’s something to celebrate, I suppose, surviving as a freelance journalist/creative writer for more than two decades while living in Alaska.] At the newspaper I’d primarily written articles, but as a freelancer I became a student of the essay form, which has allowed me greater latitude in the ways that I explore the nature of Alaska’s wildlife and wildlands. I have especially embraced the personal essay, which enables me to weave my own experiences, observations, perspectives, and insights, with what I learn through research plus interviews with people who represent a wide range of experiences and expertise, for instance scientists, managers, conservationists, hunters and trappers, and Alaska’s Native peoples (recognizing overlap among those groups).

“Over the past two decades, I have written scores of essays about Alaska’s wildlife, which have been published in assorted newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Some I’ve included in my own books, either as essays or woven into a longer non-fiction narrative.

“These animal stories have a wide reach, in a number of ways. Besides essays about Alaska’s best-known and most charismatic animals—for instance grizzlies and wolves, moose and Dall sheep, bald eagles and beluga whales—I introduce readers to many of our state’s largely overlooked species, from wood frogs to redpolls and shrews. Other essays describe encounters with well-known animals that people rarely meet in the wilds, for example lynx and wolverines. The stories are also geographically diverse; they stretch across the state, from the Panhandle to the Arctic, and also from Alaska’s urban center, Anchorage, to its most remote backcountry. Part of the intent is to remind people that we share the landscape with other creatures wherever we area, even where we least expect it. And that even the most easily overlooked or ignored animals lead remarkable lives.”

This last point is greatly important to me, because it seems people so easily dismiss the common and/or small, overlooked animals who share the places where we live.

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“The essays also show, and examine, the complicated relationships we humans have with other animals, and consider different ways of knowing, and relating to, these critters. In sharing what I’ve learned in my own explorations (near and far), I intend to open up new worlds and possibilities to readers, just as my own life has been enlarged by both firsthand encounters and what I’ve been able to learn from research and interviews. The essays are intended to be thought-provoking as well as entertaining: to increase readers’ awareness and get people thinking about their own relationship with our wild neighbors, our wild relatives, and the inherent value that these animals have, irrespective of what they give to us.”

Here I’ll jump to the final paragraph of this introductory section.

“One final thought. Though I’ve been blessed by many memorable, even astonishing, encounters with wild animals in Alaska’s wilderness, several of my most extraordinary—and in some instances, life changing—experiences have occurred within Anchorage, sometimes without leaving my yard. Or house. Thus one of the great lessons that the animals have taught me, and which I am excited to share here, is the reminder that nature’s wondrous wild surrounds us all the time, wherever we live, if we’ll only open our senses and pay attention.”

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A transplanted New Englander, nature writer Bill Sherwonit has made Anchorage his home since 1982. He’s contributed essays, articles, and commentaries to a wide variety of publications and is the author of more than a dozen books. His newest, Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife, was published in September 2014 by Alaska Northwest Books. He’s also become something of an activist, writing and otherwise working on behalf of Alaska’s wildlife and wildlands.

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3 Responses to “Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    I’m looking forward to reading Animal Stories. Congratulations on its publication, and on earning a living in Anchorage as a freelance writer.

  2. juneaudream says:

    Grant Grace..and long life..to those whos breath..mingles with..all living things..out, way out..in the Real Worlds. Blessing.

  3. mike from iowa says:

    Snark Alert! In your travels have you yet encountered a female grizzly wearing lipstick and red,Naughty Monkey pumps? I’m speaking of Ursus Horribilus,not Horribilus Politicious with a minor in BS. 🙂 All kidding aside,I love wildlife of most types. Some I’d rather keep and view from a far distance. Looks to be an interesting read.

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