If Maurice Sendak shaped the field that I work in, well, then Jean Craighead George shaped me. I spent my childhood ankle-deep in mud or tangled in thorns, fishing for tadpoles in the brook behind my house or following foxes to their dens. Raised in the epitome of suburbia, I nonetheless learned to read the slight disturbances in grass and shrubs that betrayed a deer trail even before I learned to read words on a page. The wetlands and the woods felt like an extension of my soul.
In Jean Craighead George's writing I found that same utter devotion to nature multiplied a thousand times over. I discovered a world in which nature was home and hospice and mentor—too formidable to be a utopia, but nonetheless the stuff of pure, distilled dreams. I ground acorns into meal alongside My Side of the Mountain's Sam, soared and hunted with Frightful, and dreamed of waterfalls with Alice. I romped with wolves like Julie did, and after I turned the last page of Julie of the Wolves I hunted down every bit of information I could find on wolf pack interactions and saved quarters until I could sponsor a wolf at a nature reserve. For want of wolf pups, I named a gaggle of goslings after Julie's wolves. I still, to this very day, see hollowed-out trees and can't help but dream of slipping away to live in them.
It's not difficult to see the trail I took to publishing when one compares my high school English papers to my lackluster performance in Biology (I could never seem to find the same wonder in naming cell parts that I found in studying wolf pack dynamics), but in another life I could easily have found myself in a tent on the tundra, tracking and tagging wolves like Julie did in Julie's Wolf Pack. And there will always be a part of me that needs that pilgrimage to the Catskills, so close to me here in New York but part of another life. There will always be a part of me that's more at home on the mountain than on the M train, a part of me that skims across the top of the snow like molten silver and howls to the moon at night.
|My very own Frightful|
Wherever you are, I hope you run with the wolves and fly with falcons.