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The town friend few really knew

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2010

Romeo was known by many, but understood by few.

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Courtesy Of John Hyde
Courtesy Of John Hyde

He danced a delicate waltz of interaction, dictated by the ebb and flow of the seasons, with the human world and that of the wild. His friendships were fleeting. His life was arguably lonely. At the end of the day he likely slept alone under the canopy of the Tongass, in the shadow of the Mendenhall Glacier and had to fight for every meal and every breath. He was, after all, wild.

Away from his adopted pack-mates - the domesticated dogs that visited the area's trails with their owners - away from the hikers he'd shadow and the skiers for which he'd momentarily appear, what was life like for this black wolf?

Local wildlife photographer John Hyde attempts to share a new side of the seemingly well-known animal in his new book "Romeo, The Story of an Alaskan Wolf," which was recently released by Bunker Hill Publishing.

The hardbound book is a glossy 140 pages of full color photographs balanced nicely with text. The images depict the fleeting moments captured by Hyde's lens over the course of the six years Romeo spent in and around the Dredge Lakes area in the Mendenhall Valley.

Many of the photographs show Romeo as few saw him, away from the dogs with which he played. Hyde's text tells a story of what life was probably like for Romeo, what must have happened to orphan him near the glacier and what his time in Juneau taught residents about what wolves are and are not. Weaving wolf facts gleaned from his time working for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game with memories made in the woods with Romeo, Hyde describes an orphaned animal, one who was resourceful and social, but also one who was an outcast and had become accustomed to living life alone. Hyde attempts to factually explain, based on wolf research, why Romeo was the way he was. His writing is clean and concise.

"During the years that I spent photographing Romeo, I was lucky to have many encounters with him that gave me some insight into his personality, specifically, as well as the nature of wolves in general." Hyde writes. "Some of the most memorable occurred when the lake was devoid of human presence - when it was just me and the wolf."

Hyde's photographs are, in short, spectacular. Romeo is pictured in a variety of settings, social scenes and solo. He is shown relaxed, playful, curious and content. He is silhouetted against sunsets, sunrises, snow, ice and mist. It's a side that is refreshing and will likely be treasured by those who knew Romeo and by those who miss his companionship.

Yet Hyde said he never got a chance to capture all the images he'd hoped for.

"I wanted to capture, other than just beauty shots and certain personality traits ... (the shots) that could see into his world a little bit," he said.

These were the moments that happened so fast Hyde didn't have time to get out his camera. The times he'd be hunting voles, or porcupines, or beavers. The times when Romeo was more wolf-like than many ever saw.

"I didn't want it to be a puppy-dog thing," Hyde said. "That's why I brought in the other wolf stuff, as well. I didn't want people to misinterpret what wolves are really about. I saw him teaching people that wolves are really gentle, but he is still a wolf and a carnivore."

From the pages of the book, Hyde said he wants readers to step away with a distinct understanding that a wolf like Romeo is absolutely unique. He also wants people to understand this isn't just a book "about Romeo, it's a book about all wild animals."

Each wild animal is unique, if given the chance to be, he said. In our hour-long conversation Hyde delved into the importance of ecosystem balance and the importance of properly managing natural resources.

"I grew up hunting, but I was taught, very strictly, the ethics of it," he said. "Hopefully, hunters will (read the book). Because, in truth, Romeo was a hunter too."

Hyde will be part of a book-signing event at Hearthside Books in the valley from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 14. The book can be purchased at both locations for $25.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.



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