Originally from California, author Leslie Patten fell in love with Wyoming almost fifteen years ago and eventually made it her permanent home. The naturalist moved to a rustic cabin near Cody and became fascinated with the wildlife she saw right outside her door. Leslie Patten discusses writing, dogs, mountain lions, and moving from the most populated state to the least.
Her latest book Koda and the Wolves: Tales of a Red Dog is out now.
Leslie Patten: I wouldn't say it was a culture shock, it was more like kind of lonely. So somebody said to me, we're not friendly, we're lonely. And I thought, well that applies.
Megan Feighery: You wrote a book a few years ago called Ghost Walker about trying to understand mountain lions. What made you take a special interest in them?
LP: There just hadn't been anything written for lay-people on mountain lions, except for maybe books [on] how to stay safe in mountain lion country, and I really wasn't interested in that. I was interested in the lion. I started encountering tracks of mountain lions, somewhere around 2009. And they kind of go in sort of predictable places, they also have routes. So you can kind of put trail cameras in those spots. And you live up here, if you want to get a grizzly bear, black bear, or a wolf on a trail camera- it's actually not that hard because they travel on trails. But mountain lions as we know are really elusive. So, it became almost like this cool challenge.
MF: And while you were researching, did you ever encounter one?
LP: I'd never seen a lion. I saw my first lion this spring. It was amazing. I was taking a hike and I was on a little rise. I looked down and there was a lion crossing a meadow. Then there was like a single tree in the middle of the meadow. He must've caught a whiff of me and then he hid behind the tree, this one tree, and then all of a sudden he sprung out of there as fast as he could.
MF: Your latest book Koda and the Wolves details a lot of these just incredible encounters you and your dog had with wolves over the years, but like mountain lions they're such elusive and misunderstood animals. How did you have so many close up experiences?
LP: The reason I did was because wolves weren't hunted here. They didn't really have a fear of people, they had a curiosity of people. Then when I had my dog along that made them more interested. And of course, it made it more dangerous for my dog. Not for me, I never felt threatened.
MF: So, I know he's since passed away, but tell me a little bit about your dog Koda.
LP: He was a really unusual dog. I mean, he's not just like a companion, he's like a partner. He loved wildlife. So he really didn't run after anything. So he wouldn't run after bears, but when it came to wolves it was just like a calling inside him.
MF: So, tell me a little about the process you went through writing Koda and the Wolves.
LP: I started writing this book when he was seven, and he passed away, he was almost 13. So, I wrote a rough draft of this book and I just never was satisfied with it. Something was off for me about it. So, I put it aside. And then after I put Koda down and it just started gnawing at me again, and I just wasn't sure how to tackle it.
MF: And of course you did finish it, it came out this year, and it's a children's book, your first one. What was it like for you writing for a much younger audience?
LP: It's just a different experience for me. And I really feel like our youth, particularly talking about kids, if things are going to change with our wildlife, and conservation, we got to talk to our youth about it. As human beings, we're geared towards story. And that's what makes an impact. Probably all of us as adults, we can remember stories that we read when we were kids, and maybe changed our lives.
MF: How do you think your relationship with nature has changed over the years?
LP: I think I just learned more just by observing the natural world and I don't have a lot of fear. I'm not dumb about going out in grizzly bear country, but I don't walk around afraid. And I don't feel like there's a bear or a cat behind every tree ready to pounce on me or something like that. I feel like we as a culture are so divorced from the natural world. I feel like coyotes know way more about humans than we know about them. They spend a lot of time watching us and how to get away from us and how to live around us. It's like wildlife are more observant about us then we are about them. And we have a kind of a fearful relationship with the natural world. And we're not even in the same rhythms as nature anymore. We're in such a fast pace, and we like that. That's our whole culture is faster and faster, and, you know, you go out in the natural world and it's really pretty slow.
MF: And where do you think we, kind of as society, our relationship stands with the environment and the natural world?
LP: There's something that's not right. Not in tune. In the history of our culture where we come in, we killed off the buffalo, we see something we need to kill it. We, and I think we need a radical change in our culture.