Monday, October 12, 2009


Rory Stewart’s walk across Afghanistan three months after the Taliban’s exit from power is described in his book The Places in Between, an engrossing read that I devoured over a recent weekend. I agree with the Christian Science Monitor’s characterization of the book as “wryly humorous, intensely observant, and humanely unsentimental.”

I am interested in the people of Afghanistan, and was fascinated by Stewarts’s encounters with them, but I was even more intrigued with this book for several side issues that I have a keen interest in: primitive guard dogs and wolves.

Not long into his journey, Stewart was given a dog to accompany him – a mastiff-type guardian animal, similar in looks to what we recognize as a Turkish Kangal, with docked ears and tail, seemingly about the size of a small pony. Throughout the book, Stewart dribbles little anecdotes about the dog that I found typical of these guardian dogs and their temperament, and these finds only increased my enjoyment of the book.

Villages keep these guard dogs to protect their herds, and their people. The dogs are known as fighting dogs, because they fight wolves.

A local man who escorted Stewart through a mountainous region of Afghanistan carried a gun on the journey. When Stewart asked why, he was told: “Six months ago on that slope on my way to vaccinate some of the sheep on that hill, I came across the clothes and then the leg of a friend who had just been eaten by a wolf in the middle of the day. Two years ago, five wolves killed my neighbor at eleven in the morning.”

Our continued legal morass of wolf management in the United States is incredibly so far removed from other people, other cultures, who live with wolves.

This is the best book I’ve read in a long time.


Andrew Campbell said...

Cat: you would probably also really enjoy his Prince of the Marshes from his time in Iraq. He is an eloquent young man, more right than wrong to my mind about how to restore some sense of order to Afghanistan. You can also check out his foundation in Kabul, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation.

all best

PS: loving all your pictures of ranching life

Neutrino Cannon said...

I may have to pick this up, it does sound interesting.

For the record, I don't think one requires any particular reason to carry a rifle in Afghanistan. Honestly, I'd be more worried about the people there than the wolves.

Anonymous said...

I will definetely have to get a copy of this book--I have been interested in Afghanistan ever since reading James Michener's "Caravans" many years ago, which dealt largely with the Kochi nomads--I wonder how they are faring these days? Are there any Kochi nomads even left? I really enjoyed the "Caravans" movie, too, and soundtrack! If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it--a great adventure story, and one of the FEW Michener efforts that isn't a zillion pages and goes into every nit-picking detail from the Permian era to modern times! :) In his book, at the beginning, a villager gets killed and eaten by a raiding pack of wolves, too. Our perceptions of wolves in this country have really swung from one extreme to the other, and they are being set up(alas) to swing back again, I'm afraid, when the first few people(probably children in National Parks) get nailed. Another good book on an entirely different view of wolves is the excellent "Wolves In Russia; Anxiety Through The Ages", by Will Graves and Valerius Geist. Centuries of unarmed Russian peasants in areas devoid of large game animals produced wolf behaviour very different from pioneer and present day North America. The book relies a little too heavily on newspaper accounts, which I don't doubt tend to exagerrate things a bit, but no doubt that SOME of the attacks did occur.....L.B.