This anthology of nature writing is the result of a writer’s workshop led by Ann Zwinger and Jim Halfpenny. Eleven student writers and the two instructors gathered one winter in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park to watch and write about nature. This slim volume showcases the essays and poems that resulted from this experience.
Lamar Valley in the northeastern part of the park is where wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone, beginning in 1995. This broad valley is home to many forms of wildlife, notably grizzly and black bear, coyote, bison and elk. Lamar Valley happens to be the best spot for viewing wolves in the park, so it is only fitting that this volume opens with a whimsical poem that is a nod to wolf photographer Bob Landis.
The pieces that follow explore the winter landscape from a variety of angles, touching on the layers inherent to both ice cores and life; the aging process, in wolves and humans alike; the impact of the winter on life in the park; changes in ecosystems and climate; the striking “red beauty” of willows in the winter; the presence of “nurse rocks” which nourish the trees that grow near them; the role of a single droplet in the global water cycle... This little volume on winter and ecology manages to pack in musings in many different directions.
One of the standouts here is Jim Halfpenny’s meditative, richly evocative essay on the sounds of the “white season.” Wil Loy’s poem about a winter kill is piercing, juxtaposing the lines “…fury of tooth, claw, talon, beak/Chipping, scraping/Crushing bone/Mincing muscle” next to “Fox sits/Eagle perches/Patient as snow.” Ann Zwinger’s essay on cold toes and potential contributions to science is a light and amusing piece, although not on par with the best of her nature writing.
A book truly delving into the winterscape of Yellowstone in some depth would make for compelling reading. This slim volume, unfortunately is not that book - the uneven writing and handling of topics makes it hard for the reader to be transported to the winter setting at the park. However, it offers some interest to readers who are particularly interested in Yellowstone Park’s unique ecology and natural beauty.