Yellowstone Forever

June 19, 2012

YPF Donor Profile: Brian Connolly

Brian ConnollyHe knew he was hooked on the world of the wolf when one February day in 2002, he found himself on a windy hill in Yellowstone, twenty below zero, with his spotting scope set on two wolves bedded on the snow across the valley near Crystal Creek.  He thought to himself, “it just doesn’t get better than this.”  Avid wolf watcher, author, and longtime Yellowstone Park Foundation (YPF) supporter Brian Connolly talks about why he has made Yellowstone a priority in his life.

“The initial draw to Yellowstone was to find and observe wolves in the wild,” said Connolly. “Then the draw was to understand the predator and his long standing relationship to his prey.  Soon it became obvious that in order to understand the wolf, the entire ecosystem needed to be studied.  The need to know just kept drawing me deeper.”

Bison with Wolf from the Gibbon PackConnolly, who has been watching Yellowstone wolves since 1997, now spends three months each summer, and one month each winter, helping field biologists spot wolves and report wolf behavior in the park.

“We hear the phrase ‘food web’, but with the wolf back in the park, we see that ‘web’ in action and understand better how all things are connected,” said Connolly.

A native of Pennsylvania, now living in Oregon, Connolly made his first donation to the Yellowstone Park Foundation in 2004, when he discovered that YPF supported the Wolf Project.

“It seems to me we mostly fear those things we do not understand.  Scientific research, like that conducted by the Wolf Project, chips away at hundreds of years of misunderstanding the wolf,” said Connolly. 

Since his initial donation, he has contributed every year, and hopes that by sharing his story and his writing, others will be inspired to support YPF.

Arlie in Yellowstone“I learned that YPF supports a host of other efforts in the Park.  Chief among them are the outdoor education programs for young people.  As a former Project Adventure English teacher, I know the transformative effects that wild places can have on the young.  They emerge from the wild with more confidence, self-respect, and respect for the land and its inhabitants.  Now, as the world becomes more man-made, more virtual, the need for exploring and understanding wild places becomes even more acute.”

In 2011, Connolly wrote a moving essay (see excerpt below), Arlie and Papa in Yellowstone, about his trip to the park with his grandson, Arlie. It is obvious from this essay, as well as his teaching work, that passing along a love of Yellowstone and wilderness is of great importance to him.

“I think if Arlie stays close to Nature, all of the other values will fall into place.  It is in wild places like Yellowstone that he will learn to respect and care for the planet, and that there are no parts of Nature that we can afford to throw away.  He will benefit spiritually by allowing the beauty of the natural world to be part of his life.” 

Arlie and Papa in Yellowstone

By Brian Connolly

The most difficult part of the cancer diagnosis in April of 2011 was telling my grandson Arlie that we would have to postpone our Yellowstone trip. For two years this little guy, now five, practiced using the high powered scope I had set up in my living room. Standing on a short step ladder, he honed his skill on chipmunks and chickadees. In the Deschutes National Forest near Bend, Oregon where we live, he learned to read tracks and identify scat.

He has his own room at my house which is not far from where he lives with his mom and dad. He called me into his room and pointed at June 15th on his calendar. “We better cross this off, Papa,” he said. We moved the date to July 15th. Because of the twenty-five radiation treatments that I needed for ‘Papa’s bump’, as Arlie called it, we crossed that date off, too. But then a window opened up in August. My surgeon in Portland said that the sarcoma tumor just above my right knee needed to settle down for three weeks after radiation ended on August first, my birthday. Arlie and I loaded up the truck and headed for Yellowstone on August fourth. READ MORE>>

In addition to being a Project Adventure teacher, Connolly taught creative writing in New York public schools for 28 years before moving to Bend, Oregon to write. He is the author of several books including the novel Wolf Journal, and his short stories and poems have appeared in many literary magazines nationwide.

Photographs courtesy of Brian Connolly, except wolf/bison photo courtesy of NPS. 


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