Adventures in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania
Alan E. Sparks
Hancock House, Surrey, B.C., 2010
ISBN 978-0-88839-663-1

Dreaming of Wolves

Part travelogue, part memoir, part natural and cultural history, Dreaming of Wolves presents a unique and thought-provoking story of adventure. Through a series of entertaining vignettes and informative essays, the author paints an intimate and intricate portrait of the lives of wolves, of the researchers who study them, and of the rural people who share their territory in a remote mountainous region of Eastern European exotic land that has remained largely untouched by modern trends and undiscovered by western travelers. Whether joining the narrator as he tracks wolves through the deep snows and dense forests of the Carpathian Mountains, or fends off belligerent shepherd dogs, or journeys through history to discover the real Dracula, the reader learns a remarkable amount of fascinating information about wolves, about the history and folklore of Romania, and about traditional rural life in the mountain villages of Transylvania. The story is written in an understated voice that is at once honest and humorous, deriving from events perceived with a keen and sensitive eye. The book presents several sub-themessuch as the benefits of conserving wilderness, the joy of discovering self through the pursuit of dreams, and an unusual perspective on the nature of time and consciousnessall of which are woven smoothly into the fabric of a well-told story.

Life flashes past many eyes: resident, tourist, voyageur, even those of wolves. Dreaming of Wolves provides introspection through the eyes of a wolf.

Alan's journey explores an inward look at mid-life crises, personal feeling, community economics, ethnic survival, cultural bias, and national politics while trying to [understand the life] of a pack of Romanian wolves. To know life, his life, the author travels to a remote, foreign setting seeking knowledge about wolves, but also learns about himself.

Yes, it is a travelogue, a personal adventure, but it is also a narrative explaining wolf ecology and behavior versus rural cultural integrity and history.

Read it to understand wolves and to understand people at the delicate interface where a few wolves exist almost secretively next to rural people still attached to their lands and agricultural practices.

I recommend Alan's work not only as a natural history reference, but also for showing that we can exist with wild animals even as planet earth approaches an over-flowing human population.

President, A Naturalist's World and author of Yellowstone Wolves in the Wild

The howls of wolves break the mountain stillness and send chills down his spine. Thus begins the adventure of Alan Sparks and his human "pack," tracking and relating to the wild wolves of Eastern Europe.

Woven into this great tale of adventure are the personal stories, sights, sounds, and insights of a multi-layered experience that proved to be much deeper than Alan had ever imagined.

The legacy of the wolf and the honoring of nature and life itself have been enriched by the author's compassionate and thought-provoking story, and we are all privileged to share in the journey.

—PHILIP RUBINOV JACOBSON, artist, author, educator, and traveler

Dreaming of Wolves is an entertaining and truly inspirational story describing one's decision to leave corporate America behind and pursue new dreams and goals. Alan Sparks teaches us to not settle for the status quo, and to live life as an adventure!

—DON STRANKOWSKI, nationally recognized motivational speaker, president of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, and author of Get Hired! 10 Simple Steps for Winning the ]ob You Desire in Any Economy

Excerpt pp. 20-24

Colossal machines creep relentlessly over the American landscape like giant termites and locusts and dung beetles, knocking down trees and plowing up the earth to make room for more roads, houses, gas stations, and strip malls. In the East, much of the destruction is hidden by small groves of trees that are left standing amongst and between the developments, to give people the sense they have their private place in the forest. But in the drier and more open West, the "taming" of the land is on full display, and leaves one wondering whether any places will be left truly wild, whether any places will be left as refuges for non-human beings to live out their lives. A few parks are scattered here and there, and a few tracts of land too rugged or desiccated to be economically useful (thus far), but are these islands enough to sustain something essentially free, something truly untamed and tangled, as buildings and manicured landscapes and roads and parking lots surround and isolate them?

Does it matter? As we rush about our busy days, getting educated and earning money and going to movies and eating at restaurants, does it matter whether salamanders and possums and deer have dark, quiet forests in which to crawl and climb and walk, and snakes and field mice and prairie dogs have rough, buzzing meadows in which to slither and scamper and dig, and foxes and fishers and hawks have ample, wild expanses in which to run and prowl and soar? One can enumerate the various practical benefits of maintaining biodiversity in the world, some minimum level of which is presumed necessary for the long-term viability of the biosphere. But what about the quality of being in the world? Isn't wilderness necessary for the contentment of the human soul? Millions of harried Americans swarm to forests and mountains and parks each year to "get away," to enjoy the aesthetic quality of wildness—an absence of human dominion, a negation of human power—as though our innate sense of beauty is a recognition that our existence springs from and depends upon that which is beyond us, and is a reminder that there is more to our being than what goes on in our heads. "In wilderness is the preservation of the world", Thoreau wrote. Isn't also in wilderness the beauty and serenity of the world? Yet, soon will come the time when no large mammal will be capable of living its life in something like its natural habitat unless it be by the intentional allowance of humans.

. . . . .

I stepped back, stepped away from my failed retail career and the Peace Corps, and assessed my proclivities: winter, snow, deep forests, wilderness, wolves—and suddenly I recognized a dream 1 didn't realize I had: wolf research. For me, could anything surpass tracking wolves in the thick forests and deep snow of the north-lands, in the wilderness somewhere away from all the high-tech drudgery, the congested traffic and sprawling suburbs, the bustling rush to nowhere? Working to comprehend a different world, a wild world, and maybe helping to protect it as well. Wouldn't it be a fitting tribute to my departed canine friends? Certainly there were people who actually did that kind of thing. I'd read numerous books about it. But I knew wolves were "in," I wasn't a trained biologist, and opportunities would be hard to come by.

I looked on the web to see what I could find. A website for eco-volunteering led me to the website of something called the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project (CLCP). I was astounded: shepherds tending flocks on rolling meadows surrounded by lush green forests and spectacular snow-capped mountains; rustic wooden carts being pulled along quiet rural roads by handsome, red-tasseled horses; idyllic farms and quaint villages. It looked like nineteenth century New England with a Rocky Mountain backdrop. And what's more, there were wolves and bears and lynx!

Tracking wolves there? If anything was ideal for me, that was surely it. But Romania? What did I know about Romania? I was pretty sure I could find it on a map, but all I really knew of Romania was that it was recently behind the Iron Curtain and seemed to produce a lot of children with world-class gymnastic aptitude. Could I really pull off going to Romania by myself to live for months (hopefully) in who knows what conditions, amidst an unknown culture with an unfamiliar language?

Anyway, I was getting way ahead of myself. What were the chances there would be an opportunity for me at the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project? The website offered jobs for eco-volunteers, people who are willing to shell out a fair number of bucks for the privilege of working—perhaps at some rather mundane tasks (being untrained)—during a few short weeks of their vacation time. I was looking for something more embedded, a longer-term commitment; I wanted to immerse myself in the experience for at least a year.

About the Author

Alan E. Sparks is (or has been) an engineer, writer, actor, and teacher. He has a BS degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Maine, and an MS degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. Alan has also completed post-secondary courses in philosophy, sociology, psychology, drawing, painting, acting, exercise physiology, film making, and writing at the University of Colorado, Merrimack College, and Naropa University. He was employed for over twenty years as a software engineer developing new technologies in the telecommunications industry, including over nineteen years at Bell Laboratories.

An avid walker, hiker, backcountry skier, and animal tracker, Alan has lived, worked, and trekked extensively in the wilds of Central and Eastern Europe. He is a voracious reader and enjoys studying the natural and cultural history of the places he visits. To supplement his indoor studies, he has completed courses in mountaineering with the Colorado Mountain Club, mountain ski touring/expedition leadership with the National Outdoor Leadership School, and winter ecology/animal tracking with renowned animal tracker Dr. James Halfpenny of A Naturalist's World.

Alan currently divides his time between Krakoy, Poland and Boulder, Colorado. He continues to write (working on the sequel to Dreaming of Wolves about The Way Of The Wolf expedition) and teaches English (in Poland), and occasionally seizes an opportunity to perform as an actor or percussionist.