Jeff's Description for the Website
In Wild Trust is the classic Alaskan wilderness story of Larry Aumiller’s 30 years living intimately among the world’s largest congregation of brown bears. He called it the world’s greatest summer job. He should know: he held it for thirty years. Every spring for three decades he returned to the wilderness side of Cook Inlet, two hundred and fifty miles southwest of Anchorage, by seaplane to perform as manager, guide, teacher, philosopher, and eventually a world-renowned bear expert and the very personification of the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. His is the story of one man’s love for solitude in a wild landscape, and of his ability to develop and maintain an extraordinary trust between visiting humans and the world’s most fearsome terrestrial carnivore, the brown bear (blood kin to the fabled grizzly bear, only bigger). His is the story of survival among bears. How he got the job in the first place is a classic Alaskan tale. Why he ever left it is another.
How the trust works is understandably simple, if unprecedented in this era of virtual reality and detachment from the natural world. How Aumiller ultimately put it together—without ever having a class in wildlife ecology, let alone a degree, or the term “biologist” in his title—is a primary thread in his story. This wild trust evolved from a rare experiment in wildlife management and observation that resulted in a surprise discovery of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence. It provides parable and paradigm for a new way (which is actually a very old one) for us to live on Earth among its wild threats and beauties.
While the trust and its creation are the biological thread here, the bitter three-way betrayal led to Aumiller’s departure, only to be followed by a sweet and buoyant denouement.
Jeff's About the Author for the Website
Over the past 40 years Jeff has spent many days, unarmed and thoughtful, in hinterland grizzly country from Crow Creek Pass in Yellowstone (1976) to the Utukok Uplands of remote northwestern Alaska, where he passed one night with a wild and uninvited grizzly bear in a wrecked C-46 cargo plane (Alaska magazine, November 2003). So he knows a little about getting along with the empirical Ursus arctos. Since 2000, he has visited the McNeil Sanctuary three times, two on rare special permits for writers awarded by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game during regular summer visitor periods, and one on skis to watch bears emerging from their dens in late April. He was accompanied by Aumiller each time.
Jeff has known Aumiller for over two decades, and was personally selected and invited by Aumiller to write this biography. He has pored over thirty years of Aumiller’s McNeil journals (twice) and transcribed and catalogued more than twenty-four hours of interviews, primarily with Aumiller, to write In Wild Trust. When he is not afield chasing loons or bears, he writes in the loft study of his little cabin on the toe of Lazy Mountain, with a view of the wild Chugach range just across his desk, finding it terrifically difficult on many days to remain indoors. A story like this one, however, has kept him at his keyboard.
Publisher's Description & Praise (Collapse-O-Matics)
Aumiller’s is the story of one man’s love for solitude in a wild landscape, and of his ability to establish and maintain a trust between visiting humans and the world’s most fearsome terrestrial carnivore, the brown bear (blood kin to the grizzly bear, only bigger).
This photographic biography of Larry Aumiller’s thirty-plus years at the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in southwestern Alaska tells the story of how he established a “trust” with the bears, partly through his savvy and maintaining the legislated priorities of the sanctuary, and partly by accident. Without ever having a wildlife course or the name “biologist” in his title, Aumiller became a widely renowned bear expert. Here we find his story, his love of the wilderness and wildlife, the romance and danger among the bears, what it’s like to visit McNeil, and what such a visit means to so many. An intriguing betrayal sent Aumiller away, only to return in victory, continuing his passion in a new era and passing his legacy on.
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Praise for In Wild Trust
With carefully measured prose and the wry wit and wisdom of a seasoned nature writer, here we have a small masterpiece about a remarkable man and his dedication to place and creature. That creature is the grizzly bear, and that man is Larry Aumiller. Penned by Alaska writer Jeff Fair, this book is a journey of sorts. It tells the story of living close to the wilds through an intimacy and passion rarely achieved. Such a life, with such good writing, are both worth careful study and reflection.
—Douglas W. Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist, Yellowstone National Park
It’s no easy thing to live peacefully—and with great intention—among powerful animals that could ruin your day. This inspiring, elegantly-written book tells the story of Larry Aumiller—monk, scientist and saint—who created an ethos of tolerance and respect among men and the great coastal brown bears at Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. If you want to know Alaska at its best, this is it.
—Kim Heacox, author of Jimmy Bluefeather and The Only Kayak
I’ve often thought that most of Alaska’s bear biologists could and should write books about their own experiences. Jeff’s experience as both a biologist and a writer is ideal because he understands the science, and he can write. In Wild Trust is an insightful, inspiring portrait of an extraordinary man in an extraordinary place.
—Sherry Simpson, author of Dominion of Bears and The Way Winter Comes
Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary is a magic place where human visitors live surrounded by the world’s largest terrestrial carnivores. Their primary protection is a set of rules for human behavior worked out by Sanctuary Manager Larry Aumiller. In Wild Trust author Jeff Fair beautifully describes Aumiller’s rules and how he discovered them based on his intimate knowledge of bear behavior. The outcome has been the continued peaceful coexistence between two species that has worked perfectly for 50 years. Aumiller's experience at McNeil parallels Jane Goodall's, Diane Fossey's, and George Schaller's developments of trust between humans and completely wild individuals of other species.
—Sterling Miller, Alaska bear researcher and former President of the International Association for Bear Research and Management
It is truly a delight. You've done a great job telling the story with humor mixed with a philosophical dose of fundamental conservation, basic biology, and fun. I also like the way the images help tell the story . . . and the elegant way you have underpinned it with a fundamental, common sense conservation message.
—John Schoen, ADF&G PhD brown bear research biologist (ret.)
I … savored the prose, the philosophy, and [Jeff’s] ability to illuminate the impossible--I mean, who can really describe the experience of McNeil, or of Larry--you did. So many times I could hear Larry's voice right there--capturing his tone, inflections, and even his way of walking on the land …
—Marina Richie, president of Richie Communications and author of beltedkingfisher.blog
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A nice review of In Wild Trust in the Juneau Empire: "Life With Bears" by Bjorn Dihle
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Alaska's McNeil River State Game Sanctuary Turns 50
Do you want to make it all it can be, as the legislature intended? Or do you want to share it with hunting? Sharing is exactly what we do for most areas. How about, for just this one area, you don’t do that?
McNEIL RIVER STATE GAME SANCTUARY TURNS 50
One morning several years ago when Jeff Fair was interviewing Larry Aumiller for this book, they diverted from their usual subject—thirty years in the past—and contemplated the future of McNeil. They soon realized that the 50th anniversary of the sanctuary (formally established in 1967)—its golden anniversary—would come to pass in 2017.
Perhaps a celebration would be in order, they thought. Perhaps a ceremonial rededication of the sanctuary, said Aumiller. And perhaps, along with all that, a rejuvenated and enhanced attempt to more effectively and more completely meet the requirements of the law: to provide permanent protection for the brown bears and salmon and other wildlife that put their trust in McNeil.
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About Larry Aumiller, the photographer/protagonist of In Wild Trust
Larry Aumiller spent his boyhood in suburban Denver, earned a Bachelor of fine arts at the University of Kansas, and was matriculated immediately into the U.S. Army. After serving a hitch at the Pentagon instead of Vietnam, he left D.C. with a Good Conduct Medal and a psychedelic-painted VW Bug in 1970, and along the route westward decided to head north to Alaska. He tried out a few jobs in Anchorage before hiring on with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game--just to get way out of town. He performed a few stints of counting fish and helping out the regional wildlife biologist out of King Salmon, Jim Faro, who saw in Aumiller a solid savvy. When the manager of McNeil was leaving in 1976, Faro offered him the job.
The rest is history--his brown-bear learning curve, his marriage, his daughter, and his legacy--reported in the new volume, In Wild Trust.
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Other books about McNeil
by Tom Walker, photographs by Larry Aumiller. 1993. Voyageur Press.
by Thomas Bledsoe. 1987. E.P. Dutton.
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