Wandering like wolves: an interview with Rosanne Parry
Last updated 6/14/2022 at Noon
Award-winning author Rosanne Parry came to Sisters last weekend to speak about wolves (see story page, page 18). Her middle reader fiction title “A Wolf Called Wander” echoes the travels of a gray wolf known as OR7, a.k.a. Journey, who walked across much of Eastern and Southern Oregon and into Northern California.
Fifth-grade student Gusty Berger-Brown interviewed Parry on a walk along the Metolius River, near the habitat of two wolves who have recently begun to call Sisters Country home. Their conversation contains minor spoilers and has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
GBB: In “A Wolf Called Wander,” how many of the events that happen in the book on Wander’s journey were actually inspired by OR7’s journey?
RP: OR7 was tracked at a distance, right? No one was looking at what he was doing every minute. So what I did is I found out the places that he went, and I visited all those places. Then I learned as much as I could about how wolves behave in the wild. You’re always looking for trouble when you’re writing a story, because there has to be some conflict—
GBB: —or else it’s a boring story.
RP: Yeah, otherwise it’d be very dull. So I had my list of things that could happen along the way. For example, cougars are particularly dangerous ‘cause they’re ambush hunters. I don’t think they take wolves very often, but I thought, ooh, that would be cool, if they ran into the cougars.
GBB: And you kind of intertwined that with the horse story.
RP: Right! I knew that there were wild horses in the country that OR7 was passing through. I knew he would’ve had to come near Malheur Wildlife Refuge, with all of those birds that cross through the middle of our state. It gave me a chance to highlight those whooping cranes with the red on their heads. Although he passed through some cattle and sheep ranches, he didn’t actually hunt any cattle or sheep. I thought about his having an encounter with the ranch dog that he really wanted for company, and then the ranch dog wasn’t willing to leave with him.
GBB: That’s a very powerful part.
RP: Yeah, because wolves need company, just like people. If you were traveling all alone for weeks on end, the prospect of making a friend would be hard to walk away from. So that’s how I put the events together. I thought about what’s possible for a wolf to do, and then I just put them together in the most adventure-y order I could think of.
Let’s stop. [They stop.] The places that I went, I was always asking myself: If you were a wolf in this habitat, what would this look like to you? [She crouches down; he crouches, too.]
You’d be about this tall if you were a wolf. What could you see, and what could you smell, and what could you hear?
GBB: You’re looking for prey beyond the bracken.
RP: Yeah. Wolves, their eyesight is specially adapted to sense movement. They don’t care very much about what color things are. Does it matter whether they eat a brown rabbit or a black rabbit or a gray rabbit? No, it doesn’t. Whereas if you were a berry-eating animal, like a bear, then it matters—whether the fruit is ripe or poisonous. So bears have color vision, like us. Wolves are more oriented towards, “I can see that thing moving.” So I’d say to myself, “What is moving out there?”
GBB: That ties in to my next question. Do you think that the illustrations help readers? For example, it helped me to know what you were talking about when Wander calls roads “black rivers” because he doesn’t know what a road is...
RP: That’s right. Where he was from originally, there were only small, narrow, dirt roads. No pavement. I’m super-grateful to the illustrator, didn’t she do an amazing job? Her name is Mónica Armiño. She is from Madrid, Spain.
The editor who bought this book was from England. Her thought was, “Climate change is the fight of our lifetime. Human beings are organized to defend what they care about, what they love. So I want a book that will help young people love the wilderness.” She said, “Obviously we need to have lots of illustrations, because there are many things in Oregon that seem very exotic to people from other places.” For example—and I was shocked to learn this—there are no hummingbirds in Europe.
So they took a big risk and spent a lot of money hiring an illustrator, and the risk completely paid off, because the book has just been translated into its 16th language.
Parry is working on a historical book about a wild mustang on the Pony Express, and has a picture book, “Big Truck Day,” coming out this fall. Learn more at rosanneparry.com.