‘Badluck Way’: Wolves, cattle and a Montana rancher in middle
Bryce Andrews’ “Badluck Way” is a taut account of his year on a Montana ranch, where he tried to protect both the ranch’s cattle and a pack of wolves that threatened them. Andrews discusses his book Wednesday at Elliott Bay Book Co. and Thursday at Ravenna Third Place Books.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “Badluck Way” will discuss his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave. Free (206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com).
He will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at Ravenna Third Place Books, 6504 20th Ave. N.E., Seattle. Free (206-525-2347; thirdplacebooks.com).
“Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West”
by Bryce Andrews
Atria Books, 238 pp., $25
Bryce Andrews may be the only person who could have written “Badluck Way.”
If a rancher had written a book about cattle and wolves on an 18,000-acre property in Montana’s Madison Valley near Yellowstone National Park, it would have been filled with stories of how wolves can tear up heifers, leaving little behind but a few bones and some hair.
A lover of wildlife would have sided with the wolves, supported their reintroduction into the park in 1995 and depicted ranchers in Neanderthal terms.
Andrews is both — rancher and wolf sympathizer — and while he never shies away from giving the grisly details of a wolf kill, he also admits to “treason” by choosing to work at Sun Ranch, not just to put in the long hours and hard work it takes to raise cattle, but to see and hear wolves, “and maybe even keep them from getting in trouble.”
He and the Sun Ranch crew don’t succeed in that effort, despite their commitment to conservation ranching, using newer methods so wildlife and livestock can share the same ground.
Andrews the writer devotes more pages than necessary to describing the geography and topography of that ground, but that’s also his way of walking up to the book’s climax, an encounter that pits Andrews the ranch hand against Andrews the man fascinated by wolves.
That encounter tests how far he’s willing to go to stop wolves from attacking the cattle and ruining a summer’s work, to say nothing of the ranch’s bottom line. It’s an emotional conflict for Andrews, and one that in his hands seems to play out naturally in a setting that holds both beauty and brutality.
The fate of wolves — whether they should be shot on sight or protected as endangered — sends many Westerners to opposite corners to gird themselves for the next round. But Andrews stands in the middle of the ring, bringing together a taut depiction of ranch life that balances ranchers’ concern for their domestic animals with his own appreciation of the wild ones nearby.
At times, Andrews’ anthropomorphizing of wolves makes his scientific accuracy suspect. Do wolves remember? Do they have lupine thoughts? In Andrews’ book, they do.
And his reluctance to use the last names of the Sun Ranch owners seems quaint in an age when a quick Google search can identify the owner at the time as software millionaire Roger Lang. He bought the ranch from actor Steven Seagal in 1998 and sold it to a group of mining-company executives in 2010, after protecting 97 percent of the land from development by putting it in a conservation easement.
Those are annoying points, but they do little to mar this first book by Andrews, an escapee from “the damp claustrophobia of Seattle” who now lives in Montana.
John B. Saul is a Seattle Times editor who has taught journalism and nonfiction writing at the University of Montana and the University of Washington.