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Entries in National Endowment for the Arts (1)


Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day One

January 1, 2014

Today marks the first day of my year-long quest to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota—my writing dream come true. I’m able to take on this project and dig deep into real-life source material thanks to the generous support and encouragement of the Minnesota State Arts Board.

To fulfill one of my grant proposal outcomes, I’ll be writing periodically about my experiences. I’ll focus on process. If all goes well, by the end of the year I’ll have several short stories of fiction to share with you at readings in the Twin Cities and Ely.

History Is Now

After completing a collection of linked short stories set in Two Harbors, I was hooked on the geography, history, culture and politics of northern Minnesota. Around that same time in January 2012, wolves were removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act and the first wolf hunting and trapping season began that fall. The timing was fortuitous. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write another set of northern Minnesota stories, especially surrounding a topic so fraught with stereotypes and politics. Nowhere else in the United States has the continued presence of wolves shaped a community’s identity from its past to its present. History is now in the making.

Learning to Listen

My desire to write within this framework goes back to the roots of my childhood. My father was a physicist and geologist, and my mother a naturalist and historian. I grew up finding the North Star off the lip of the Big Dipper constellation, raising monarch caterpillars on milkweed leaves, listening to raindrops pepper tent canvas,  and catching trout in Rocky Mountain streams and walleyes in Boundary Waters lakes. I was taught to "tune in" from a young age.

Between the ages of 16 and 19, I spent three summers working with the Minnesota Youth Conservation Corps (YCC)—a time when my awareness of people's connections to the land and its creatures deepened further. We cut trails, banded song birds and painted picnic tables in State Parks from Brainerd to Baudette to Two Harbors. We also learned about environmental issues—including hunting and wolves, which at that time were an endangered species. It was the first time I shot a rifle. It was the first time I met someone who lived in wolf territory.

Each of us YCCers had a different opinion of wolves because of our diverse life experiences and upbringings. Most of us, including me, had only read books like Julie of the Wolves or watched the animals traipsing across the Alaskan tundra on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. A few grew up hearing stories from their grandparents, fathers or uncles about bounty hunting. One person admitted to having stroked the fur of a live wolf, albeit caught in a trap. I’ve always marveled at how we all held such different opinions about wolves as teenagers. How might our attitudes have changed or become entrenched since then? Can we empathize and understand one another while holding fast to our own beliefs? And if so, how?

Returning North

This month, thirty-some years later, I’ll return to the northern woods, lakes and bogs.

I’ll smell the coffee while chatting with hunters and trappers at Ely’s Front Porch coffee shop on Sheridan Street. I’ll hear the crackle as the ambassador wolves trot across the white crusted snow in their enclosure at the International Wolf Center. I’ll survey the Kawishiwi Ranger District office bulletin board as a biologist does the obligatory end-of-day paperwork.

I’ll listen to the voices of the people who live with wolves.

Stay tuned

While finding a place to stay and scheduling interviews for my first trip to the Ely area, I’ve been met with generous offers: houses in which to stay, cups of coffee, dinners, and most precious of all, people’s time and trust. I can hardly wait to gas up the car, bundle up and take off to Ely later this month.

Wish me luck!


Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.