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Book review: 'Grizzlies on My Mind' shares insiders' peek at Yellowstone

Published: Saturday, Aug. 2 2014 1:00 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, Aug. 4 2014 9:33 a.m. MDT

"GRIZZLIES ON MY MIND: Essays of Adventure, Love and Heartache from Yellowstone Country," by Michael W. Leach, Westwind Press, $18.99, 284 pages (nf)

After playing basketball no longer was an option, Michael W. Leach’s dream became being a ranger for Yellowstone National Park.

And through a coincidence of an immediate opening when he and wife inquired about becoming rangers, his dream became a reality for several summers at the park.

In “Grizzlies on My Mind,” Leach shares 29 first-person essays about different aspects of the park — the changing seasons, the animals, plants and his experiences in and around the park.

Leach, the former bear education ranger at the park and now a fly-fishing and wildlife guide, public speaker and high school basketball coach, shares stories about elk, bison, wolves, fish, birds and, of course, the bears that inhabited the park and the surrounding area. One essay is about the journey of a wolf known as 253M and another is about a close encounter with an elk tagged No. 10.

Leach’s love and reverence for Yellowstone National Park and the wildlife shine in his writing. He provides enough background so those unfamiliar with wolf pack dynamics, bear jams and other terms can get the context of what he’s referencing.

And Leach has ridden a snowmobile across the park — and through a bison herd — in the winter, seen and celebrated each the park going from season to season, and worked with the crowds of tourists while wearing the green and gray park ranger uniform and with adventure-seeking clients in the backwoods trails and rivers.

Leach’s strength in his storytelling is the details of each adventure and his conversational tone, which makes the book almost feel like he’s there sharing each story in person.

The essays are generally in chronological order, and the first few center more on his health issues, including a diagnosis of a rheumatoid arthritic condition called ankylosing spondylitis, and working through those health issues, before they become about his adventures in the park.

Leach also works in several Native American rituals and the practices he learned from a friend. Also, Leach’s opinions of changes to state and wildlife management are peppered throughout the book.

For those unfamiliar with the park, "Grizzlies on My Mind" is an insider’s introduction of things that may not be on any brochure, and experienced parkgoers are likely to appreciate the depth of his adventures.

There is occasional swearing scattered throughout the essays. The only sexual content are general references to animal mating, and the only violence are general references to hunting animals.

If you go ...

What: Michael W. Leach presentation and book signing

When: Wednesday, Aug. 6, 7 p.m.

Where: Salt Lake City REI, 3285 E. 3300 South, Salt Lake City

Web: www.rei.com, www.beaudacious.com

Note: Free registration at www.rei.com/event/59921/session/97171

Also ...

When: Thursday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: www.kingsenglish.com

Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Email: rappleye@deseretnews.com Twitter: CTRappleye

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