In this Kjelgaard story, we meet Allan. He lives, of course, in the wilderness. He and his father work as hunting guides in an area known especially for its duck hunting. Unfortunately, a few months before the opening of our book, Allan’s father was arrested and imprisoned for getting into a fight with a neighbor that nearly did the neighbor in. Allan, a quiet youth presumably around twenty, is doing his best to carry on. But their property is landlocked by the now-feuding neighbors, who have reduced Allan’s right-of-way to a mere footpath, which means – no hunters and no income.
But Allan carries on, planting a garden, running a trapline, and, in general, eking out a living as best he can from the land, all while traipsing into the city to visit his father on visiting days. Allan’s peaceful routine is interrupted when a dog shows up on his property – a dog that Allan soon discovers is also an outlaw – wanted for attacking a man. Allan befriends and earns the trust of the dog, whom he names Stormy, and they work together to survive the long winter.
In many ways, this book is a little different from some of Kjelgaard’s other works. Despite his woodlore, Allan is not a perfect figure – he struggles to control his temper when provoked by the neighbors, and wrestles with what to tell his father when asked how hunting season is going. He doesn’t always make smart decisions, and has to live with some poor choices. More so than most of Kjelgaard’s other books, Allan is a loner, and a lot of the book is his internal dialogue.
The story is also slightly preachier than others that I have read, with a very strong emphasis on the importance of balanced and humane wildlife management – which means that there simply must be some hunting done by humans. At one point in the winter, Allan comes across deer that have “yarded” – as a herd, they keep a certain area of snow trampled down, but as the snow deepens, they are unable to leave that yard and thus have a limited amount of food to get them through the winter. Allan reflects on the fact that, with a lack of natural predators, the number of deer have increased.
Allan thought suddenly of a magazine story he had read. It was an impassioned and over-sentimentalized plea for wildlife and at the same time a vitriolic denunciation of hunters. The author painted vivid word pictures of wild creatures shot down. He called deer “the forest’s innocents,” and railed about the viciousness of shooting them with firearms. Allan decided as he walked along that he would like to bring that author to this yard about the middle of March and let him see for himself what happened to many of “the forest’s innocents” when there was too little browse to go around. A bullet offered a far kinder death than slow starvation. If deer were harvested sensibly rather than sentimentally, a fair share of those that died every winter anyhow would provide valuable food for humans.
While not jarring, many of these little side musings are not integral to the story. And although I generally agreed with the sentiments, I sometimes found myself skimming a bit to get to the next bit of action.
But if I’m honest, Stormy really isn’t terribly long on action. While there is a certain level of suspense as to what will happen to Allan and Stormy long term, most of the book is just the two of them meandering around doing a bit of this and that. It’s a book that would probably only be interesting to those who are intrigued by woodlore and the idea of living off the land. While I give it a 3/5 for a decent read, I would definitely recommend some of Kjelgaard’s other works – like Wild Trek and Lion Hound – first.