Read Winter Study Online

Authors: Nevada Barr

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Pigeon; Anna (Fictitious character), #Women park rangers, #Rocky Mountain National Park (Colo.), #Isle Royale National Park (Mich.), #Isle Royale National Park, #Michigan, #Isle Royale (Mich.), #Wilderness Areas, #Wilderness areas - Michigan, #Wolves

Winter Study

W
inter
S
tudy
 
Anna Pigeon Mystery Series,
book 14
by
N
evada
B
arr
Synopsis:
In
bestseller Barr’s chilling 14th mystery thriller to feature National
Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon (after 2005’s Hard Truth), Anna
joins the team of Winter Study, a research project intended to study
the wolves and moose of Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park, the
setting for 1994’s A Superior Death
.
Complicating the study is Bob Menechinn, an untrustworthy Homeland
Security officer assigned to shadow the research. Crowded into
inhospitable lodgings and persecuted by unrelenting cold, Anna is far
from her comfort zone as nature turns awry with a series of bizarre
events. The team stumbles upon the tracks — and the mutilated victim —
of a preternaturally large, unidentified beast, and local packs of
wolves descend on human-populated areas, a behavior out of step with
their species. The campfire legends of youth metastasize into adult
fears as Anna must piece together a connection between these anomalies
while guarding herself from the strangers around her. Barr’s visceral
descriptions of the winter cold nicely complement the paranoia that
follows the appearance of the mythic monsters at play.
WINTER STUDY
By  NEVADA BARR
Book 14 in the Anna Pigeon series
Copyright © 2008 by Nevada Barr
For Mr. Paxton.
He dedicated his life to rescuing people.
The most recent was me.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Winter
Study is real and has been ongoing for over fifty years. The value of
the research is inestimable not only in the detailed work done from
winter to winter but in the patterns that can only unfold when a
project is maintained over periods of time which are meaningful to the
natural world. There’s little space and much work to do during these
weeks on the icebound Isle Royale. Had Superintendent Green not
extended to me the generosity of the park and the forbearance of a good
manager, I wouldn’t have been able to write this book.
Thank you, Phyllis.
And
thanks to the Forest Service pilots in Ely, Minnesota, who took the
time to share stories with me and who delivered me, along with food, to
the island in January.
Most especially, thanks to the Winter Study team: Rolf Peterson, John Vuceti, Beth Kolb and Donnie Glaser.
They
are the heart and soul of this book. They had the kindness not to throw
me out in the snow when I was whining about the cold; they answered
endless e-mails with questions about what a wolf smelled like and how
fat a fat tick was and who ate what and whom. Had Rolf not taken the
time to work through the manuscript, researchers everywhere would have
been rolling their collective eyes at the errors I made. The four of
them shared not simply the knowledge they had but the spirit that
motivates what is good in this book.
FOREWORD
In
July 1970, when I was a neophyte graduate student just beginning
fieldwork at Isle Royale National Park, a stranger invited me to lunch
at the Windigo Inn. He must have thought I knew something, or at least
was poor and in need of free food. The cafeteria adjoined a house of
the erstwhile Washington Club, a turn-of-the-century private
organization that predated the establishment of Isle Royale as a
national park. (Over a decade later, I helped burn down the house in
winter, tidying up the place and helping it revert to forest.) The
stranger, a balding and very tanned man dressed in a stylish
recreational outfit, explained how he had traveled the world over but
he believed Isle Royale was simply the finest place on Earth. I recall
thinking I was lucky indeed — this man spared me the need to look any
farther.
It
must be a similar impression — of splendid isolation — that brought
Nevada Barr back to Isle Royale, to write an unprecedented second novel
based in the same national park. I was happy to cooperate, as Nevada’s
signature blend of mystery and nature writing has a wide following.
Isle Royale has always been a difficult destination, and relatively few
people visit the place, even when open and accessible in summer. To the
extent that it is known at all, it is primarily through the writings
and imagery of others. A seasoned interpretive ranger at Mesa Verde
National Park told me that all she knew of Isle Royale was contained in
Nevada’s 1994 work, A Superior Death.
While
Isle Royale has a rich, largely unappreciated history, in the modern
era its wolves and moose have put it on the map. As this book goes to
press, the scientific effort to document and understand their
population fluctuations will be in its fiftieth year. Simultaneously,
the worldwide status of the gray wolf has improved remarkably, from
vilified vermin to charismatic top dog. No longer confined to
wilderness areas far removed from people, wolves now claim as their own
many areas of private and public lands, including heavily visited
Yellowstone National Park. There are still, however, only four national
parks in the United States outside of Alaska, the other two being
Glacier and Voyageurs, with a resident wolf population. Providing
wildlands for these wolves, as well as other large carnivores, remains
a serious conservation challenge.
Another
person for whom Isle Royale was the finest place on Earth was Bob Linn,
a local park naturalist who participated in the first Winter Studies of
wolves and moose at Isle Royale. Bob eventually became Chief Scientist
of the Service in the 1960s, presiding over the rocky marriage between
science and national park management to which Nevada alludes. Bob hated
controversy, but three times he had to take action to help stifle
political or bureaucratic interference in the study of Isle Royale
wolves. One would think these wolves would hardly have an enemy in the
world, isolated as they are from any hint of competitive threat to
human interests. Bob marshaled the forces of good to quell threats as
they arose, whether inspired by greed, hunger for power, jealousy or
just plain orneriness; afterward, he modestly declared that scientists
were simply viewed as “loose cannons on the deck.” The most serious
challenge was certainly when James Watt was Secretary of the Interior
under President Reagan; Park Service support was withdrawn and staff
was recalled in the middle of the Winter Study in 1983. However, Watt
was blameless, as I concluded years later after a rare conversation
that demonstrated he didn’t even know Isle
Royale existed, let alone was a national park that he’d been
nominally responsible for conserving. So it goes…
Nevertheless,
to this day the wolves of Isle Royale have survived, the study of them
has survived and, elsewhere, the species is thriving in places where
wolf recovery at one time was considered most improbable. This is ample
testimony to the ability of the human mind to embrace, eventually, the
true and unblemished facts about the way the world works and about the
role we can play in securing our own sustainable future in it.
For
now, enter the white and cold world of Isle Royale and Lake Superior in
winter. It is a world that Nevada Barr brings alive with descriptive
power through her love of the natural world, her wide-ranging
experience in national parks and her curiosity about the
sometimes-abstruse ways of wildlife biologists. All this, mixed with
the fears, frailties and foibles of her human subjects, makes for a
chilling and absorbing account. Finally, one may be well advised to
eschew cell phones, and, for the record, it is a bad idea to drink beer
in the sauna.
— ROLF PETERSON
January 2008
1
The
Beaver was spotless. Anna’d never seen an airplane so clean. Sitting in
its heated hangar in Ely, Minnesota, it fairly gleamed from its annual
check. Only the deeply scarred floorboards stood witness to the old
warhorse’s hard duty. Beavers hadn’t been manufactured since 1962, and
the one the pilot was loading for its weekly provision and personnel
trip to Isle Royale in Lake Superior was older than Anna.
But
it had taken better care of itself, she thought, with a touch of
icy realism. Suited up in brand-spanking-new, fresh-out-of-the-box,
felt-lined Sorel boots, insulated socks, ski pants and parka, watching
a woman half her age, with legs as long and strong as a yearling moose,
move nimbly about in lightweight mukluks and an alarmingly thin winter
jacket, Anna suffered a sensation neither familiar nor welcome.
She
felt frail, insecure, out of her element. Isle Royale in Michigan had
been one of her first duty stations, but that had been years ago. And
in summer. A jaunt there in the arctic temperatures of January, when
the island was closed to the outside world, wasn’t her idea of the
perfect winter vacation. Too many years on the Natchez Trace in
Mississippi, where a Levi jacket and knee socks were sufficient for a
winter wardrobe, had thinned her blood. Her current tenure as District
Ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park might bring back her limited
tolerance for the cold, but she’d yet to spend a winter there.

 

She
shifted uneasily from foot to foot, feeling the movement of her toes
inside the huge boots, the way the many layers of down and fleece
muffled her body and wrapped her limbs. New gear: Anna didn’t trust it.
Nor did she like parties where she had to dress up. The invitation to
participate in the long-running wolf/moose study on Isle Royale had
come down from Rocky’s superintendent, couched in words no woman could
resist: “How would you like to snowshoe over rough terrain, collecting
blood-fat ticks and moose piss?”
Being
a true romantic, Anna had said she would adore it. Rocky Mountain would
soon be dealing with the prey/predator issue. Not through any sudden
enlightenment of the state legislature, but because the recovery of the
magnificent and much-maligned animals had been rapid. Wolves were
reinhabiting territories they’d been extirpated from for a century or
more.
Anna
had reason to know the expected wolves were already in the park and no
reason whatsoever to share the knowledge. At least not till the pups
were old enough to fend for themselves. Wolf/moose management was about
to top Rocky’s list of wildlife issues, and there was no better
classroom for studying it than Isle Royale.
“We’re
set,” the pilot said. Anna climbed the two paw-sized steps on the
Beaver’s wheel pant to get into the high cockpit, no mean feat in boots
the size of snowshoes.

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