Wild Animals: Our Natural Allies with Brenda Peterson

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As a young child, Peterson’s original playmates were wild animals. She grew up in a Forest Service lookout cabin in a forest preserve on the border of California and Oregon. Her father was a forest ranger, later to become the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Peterson is directing us to look beyond the companionship we enjoy with our domesticated animal friends and invites us to explore how wild animals can become our guides and fellow travelers, helping us navigate the stresses of daily life in a rapidly changing planet. For example, she shares the poignant story of an elderly woman who had Alzheimer’s and lost her memory of friends, family, and even her own name. But this doyenne knew the birds, knew who she was as she came weekly to feed the gulls. She also shares the story of working with animal allies that empowered young teens in a classroom setting. Highlighted is the need for playfulness that enhances our survival. She shares the research done by Stuart Brown, M.D., founder of the National Institute for Play who has been able to demonstrate a correlation between the absence of normal play patterns in young people and mass killings. Peterson delights us with her many adventures with dolphins, beluga whales, orcas, and wolves. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Brenda Peterson is an award-winning nature writer, memoirist, novelist, and writing teacher. She’s been featured on NPR, and in the New York Times, Orion Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other prestigious magazines and newspapers. She’s the author of more than twenty books for adults and children.

Brenda Peterson’s books include:

  • Build Me an Ark: A Life with Animals (W. W. Norton 2001)
  • Duck and Cover (Backinprint.com 2004)
  • I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth (Da Capo Press 2010)
  • Wolf Haven: Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America (coauthor Annie Marie Musselman) (Sasquatch Books 2016)
  • Wolf Nation: The Life, Death, and Return of Wild American Wolves (De Capo 2017)
  • Wild Chorus: Finding Harmony with Whales, Wolves, and Other Animals (Mountaineers Books 2024)

To learn more about the work of Brenda Peterson go to: www.brendapetersonbooks.com

Topics explored in this dialogue include: 

  • How Brenda’s early playmates were wild animals
  • Beyond storms, tornadoes, blizzards, and volcanoes, what does quiet nature have to teach us
  • What is the significance of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark as a creation story
  • How pods of orcas are a matriarchal society
  • How do female orcas and beluga whales demonstrate their grief over the loss of their calves
  • How sea mammals navigate by echolocation
  • Why do wolves howl
  • How both animals and humans participate in play which enhances the skills needed for survival
  • What does research show us regarding the correlation between the absence of normal play patterns in young people and mass killings
  • What is the importance of imagination
  • How a superpod of dolphins showed up for primatologist Jane Goodall

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 3/5/2024   Program Number: 3810

Music Playlist

From Album: Common Ground
Artist: Paul Winter

Opening Essay: Track 09 Wolf Eyes
Music Break 1: Track 09 Wolf Eyes (reprise)
Music Break 2: Track 05 Ocean Dream (Whales beginning)
Music Break 3: Track 05 Ocean Dream (reprise, song with Whales mix)