'One of the greatest places on earth': Whitehorse wolf biologist releases novel set in Yukon

Bob Hayes, a retired long-time wolf biologist, just released his first novel that takes place in Old Crow, Yukon.

'I mean North Yukon is really one of the greatest places on earth,' says author who set his novel in Old Crow

Bob Hayes, long-time Yukoner and retired wolf biologist, launches his first ever novel this week about a boy, a girl and a wolf fighting for survival in Yukon, 14,000 years ago. (Submitted by Archbould Photography)

It was the summer of 1976.

A young Bob Hayes sat in a wolf den at the top-most point of the Yukon by Babbage River. He was working for a biologist, and together they sat and watched wolves a few hundred meters away, across the river.

"We watched it for the whole evening, night and early morning," recalled Hayes. "It was pretty amazing."

This was the most "striking" experience that piqued Haye's curiosity about wolves.

Today, forty years later, the now retired wolf-biologist and writer celebrated the launch of his first fiction book - "Zhoh: the Clan of the Wolf." The word 'zhoh' means wolf in the Gwich'in language. 

Hayes caught this photo of a helicopter darting a wolf in Finlayson Lake area, Yukon Territory. (Submitted by Bob Hayes)

The novel takes place 14,000 years ago in Yukon and is a story of survival. "It's a story about a boy and a girl, a wolf, and a really bad guy, and lots of lions… mammoths, bears and all kinds of adventures," says Hayes.

"A lot of it is a fictionalised kind of reality that I have experienced as a wolf biologist, and I put it back in time."

Setting in Old Crow, Yukon

Hayes says his goal is to help people imagine the beautiful Yukon he's experienced. 

"I mean North Yukon is really one of the greatest places on earth.

"If I can make them imagine that this place is an interesting place to read a book through, maybe they'll want to come and see this."

Hayes chose Old Crow, Yukon as a setting because that's where he spent much of his time working as a wolf biologist since the 1980s, adding that he worked closely with the heritage centre to bring details of their Gwich'in culture to life in his recent book.

From a helicopter, Hayes was studying this wolf pack on a ridge in Richardson Mountains, N.W.T.. (Submitted by Philip Merchant )

"All those places I've had incredible honour to be able to work there, trying to translate that landscape and make it believable," he said. 

"So when you read through it, you're actually experiencing a second life,"

Simple language

Hayes has written a lot of science, non-fiction in his lifetime as a wildlife biologist and researcher.

"It is the most boring thing to write a scientific peer reviewed paper," he says. So getting a chance to write a novel was "way more fun."

He credits a wonderful personal reviewer and sounding board — his 11-year-old granddaughter who he says is a prolific reader — for some of the book's structure. 

Hayes had his official book launch and first reading in Old Crow, Yukon. (Submitted by Bob Hayes)
"She wanted to read all of the beginning chapters and said 'Papa, Papa, that's good, but we should do this and this should happen!" 

The novel is written in simple language, says Hayes. "I want it to be simple because I think people would have spoken simply then [14,000 years ago]." 

He launched his book in Old Crow last week. 

It's sold locally in Whitehorse and will be available in bookstores across Canada before Christmas. 

With files from Dave White


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