Year of the Wolf

Column 18 Published in the January 12, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Spending any amount of time in these north woods means that sooner or later you’ll encounter a wolf or wolves. I’ve watched one cross our front yard. I’ve seen them traveling across the ice or along the road. I’ve come across tracks, a kill site and have listened to their mournful calls under cold and clear skies a handful of times.

Encounters are rare but not exceedingly so, and even passing visitors may happen across such a gift.

There was a time not too long ago when the popular sentiment in this anti-progressive area was “shoot to kill” at the very sight of a wolf, even when the animal was simply being its animal self, not posing any threat to human, pet or livestock.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, wolves in the sub-boreal forests of northeastern Minnesota independently kept the wolf population alive in the lower 48 states for many years. And after a reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, wolves are finally being understood for the ecologically important species they are, changing even the behavior of the forests and the rivers.

In Minnesota, the wolf population hovers around 2,000 wolves and in 2014 they were again listed as endangered and thus protected. Since that time, there have been more unofficial moose sightings again in this area than I can recall in recent history. That may seem counter-intuitive to some, but in truth, it’s not. Wolves are connected to everything in our natural world.

Since moving to The Angle, I’ve found wolves weaving themselves through my experiences and my writing, symbolizing for me a metaphysical return to the wild, to my intuition and the great wide open that our wilderness and our lifestyle freedoms imbue.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in her impactful tome “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” a truth that rings through my psyche even today: “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”

I first read her book on my gloomy commute to and from the chilly halls of Microsoft when I lived in Seattle. There then came a point in my city existence when it became abundantly clear that I needed to get back to the land, back to the water, back to home.

And so I did.

Every creature on earth returns to home. Home represents protection and freedom. We as humans understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature, and so we create refuge for all sorts when it is needed. We embrace their wildness, and yet we quash our own. Just as we pushed out the wolves, we have pushed out our own wild nature, fled from our homes and denied our intuition, thereby killing our voices, our creativity, and our natural inclinations to empathy and compassion.

This returning to home and habitat for me has been a journey back to an earthy intuition and reclamation of self and soul that has made me nearly unrecognizeable to many who thought they knew me. But no matter. As I read in Women Who Run With the Wolves, “It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”

Bringing it back to the wolves, I wanted to share a short vignette I wrote after a simple but magical encounter a few years back. May we all run with our hearts and minds gifted to the winds, to the wilds, to the wolves as this new year breaks, passes and is soon forgotten. Happy 2016 all.

***

“Wolf,” he said softly, unnecessarily, breaking the long quiet on our early commute to town. My eyes had already been following the loping animal for several moments and even from a great distance it had registered quickly that this was not a deer or fox.

The wolf changed direction and crossed our road, still at the comfortable gallop that lent it both nonchalance and regality. As it reached the tree line, my eye caught the outline of its partner sitting alert and stoic. “Two wolves!” my heart whispered.

They met then, and the running wolf stopped and turned back to watch us as we crossed its original trail. I could see the rich grays and whites of a thick winter coat, its dark eyes and wide paws.

These were healthy wolves, aware and unafraid, perhaps on the hunt or simply traveling as wolves do. Their trained eyes burned into us as we slowed just slightly, watching, meeting their gaze. When the eerie, hair-raising feelings of years-ago experiences and learned expectations didn’t arrive, I was gently and instantly flooded with warm gratitude at being in their presence, at having witnessed a moment of their journey.

They would assign no meaning to this briefest of encounters, would not recollect beyond the noises and associations with the road, the vehicle, humans. Even that, who knows.

But for me, the vibration of it rang sweetly and clearly for many miles. The grid lines of connected experience flashed visible for another instant. I felt right and true on a path that has offered small support and only minimal delineation of late.

Seeing little point in miring myself in those gray thoughts, my mind stayed with the Wolves, running on their wooded trails, crossing silent, snowy fields, following just the idea of a scent.

Joyous, without labeling it joy. Free, without defining it so or understanding its opposite.

I whispered my thanks to the trees as our vehicle sped on, trusting they would keep my message until it could be passed on to the rightful recipients.

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