“Book Review: Wolf Girl”
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
With the Wolf Girl as our wilderness guide, we can rediscover our place in the natural order.
In her memoir, Wolf Girl: Finding Myself In the Wild, Doniga Markegard tracks the influences that lead her to construct a purposeful life in harmony with the natural world. Memoir may be too limited a word for this combination of autobiography, environmental science textbook, and self-help guide.
Wolf Girl is a reminiscence of the author’s teen years through young adulthood. The voice is conversational, even winding, as if the reader and Markegard are gathered around the evening campfire for a cozy chat. Each chapter is a self-contained personal essay, describing challenges the author faced, what she learned from each adversity, and how she grew as a student of nature.
An independent teen, she runs away from her rural western USA home several times, seeking freedom and identity. An invitation at age 15 to attend an outdoors-oriented high school (Wilderness Awareness School) undoubtedly rescues this troubled young person. The author learns to track animals and integrate herself into the wild, but, more importantly, internalize ways to look at the environment as a sacred place and to find her own place in it. Along the way, she discovers that freedom lay in close connection to the natural world.
An early school assignment is to choose one location and observe it daily to develop awareness and sharpen the senses. “If a bird called . . I wrote that down. If a flower came into bloom, I drew it out. The hawks flying overhead, the deer bounding away, the first buds of spring, the racoon tracks along the bank all made their way onto my map.”
Although that world is only a few steps from the author’s own door, she soon travels widely to seek out new opportunities to observe nature. As a young woman working in outdoors education and tracking, the author begins to learn about sustainable agricultural and ranching techniques. Now married and a mother, Markegard dedicates this memoir to each young person on their own trail.
From the seven sacred Lakota principles of Wo-ope Sa-Kowin to the details of permaculture, these discoveries act as pivotal lessons for Markegard, interweaving her personal story with their teachings. Each chapter also includes “homework:” active, hands-on ways the reader can experience nature.
I leave this book impressed with the author’s clear explanations of ecological science principles like holistic land management. The natural balance of the American prairie, from the very dirt to the apex predator, was destroyed by the American settlers’ farming practices, the destruction of the buffalo, and the displacement of many indigenous tribes of the plains. Those changes yield the famous “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. But proper land and cattle management practices such as those Markegard teaches can reverse the damage to the ecosystem.
Markegard’s deep love of the natural world shines through every description of the wild, but emotional processing of her personal life and insight into experiences with people are cursory. The wild nourishes and heals her, and she can’t wait to get back on the trail. Her prose sends us longing for meaning, like while she tracks a significant animal, “that howl took hold of me and a kinship emerged between the wolf and me. Far from my home, I was able to let self-doubt, distractions, and old patterns drift off with the wind.”
The preface implies the book is directed at teenagers, but the style and tone of the memoir seems more suitable for an older reader. I’d recommend Wolf Girl for adults interested in wildlife, native plants, environmentalist action, and agricultural and animal husbandry practices. By sharing her story, Doniga Markegard becomes a guide for all who long to find themselves in the wild.
Publisher: Propriometrics Press
Category: Memoir > Nature Essays
Paperback: 264 pages
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