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.

The World is Too Much With Us

Column 8 Published in the August 11 Warroad Pioneer

It occurred to me some time ago, as I watched my two-year old run joyously up and down the grassy ditches of our driveway, that this glacier-smoothed prairie land isn’t flat to her. She has mountains to climb every day, valleys to explore, caverns and arroyos. There is no cellular longing in her for the great pines that used to anchor the soil and the wolves here. No ancestral guilt for the unchecked logging of a century ago that left us with only the fast growing birch, popple and balm of gilead. “Junk wood” as I’ve heard it called by the old timers. When you’ve survived sixty some winters on the sweat of your own labor cutting, hauling, stacking, and tending to the fires, I suppose you’ve earned the right to judge the wood that warms your family.

The land feels flat to me of late. I walked the road, and the curing crunch of gravel underfoot offered up only a minor healing tonic. “The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth knew. He saw clearly the growing disconnect with nature. My distracted mind can’t see the summer moss and mushroom patches. The wild lilies bloomed and broke, and I barely noticed.

This place, this Angle drew me home four years ago this September and never have I regretted it. But the worldly world still pulls and tugs and busy-ness erodes the rhythm of deep, barefoot breathing. The sunrise and sunset of the harvest blue moon sang quietly through my window as I worked diligently at my computer, its ghastly light interrupting sleep patterns and dream therapy.

We’ve moved from one reactive happening to the next this spring and summer. Northerly Park grant planning, a friend’s death, a sibling’s wedding, a 300+ person community event, and oh  my  gosh, potty training. Why did no one tell me it’s so hard!? I read a how-to book, for goodness sake, and felt like a fool doing so, but I’ve been at my wit’s end too many times these last many months. Still it drags on.

Our Angle Days event will be behind me when this goes to press, but now, as it breathes down my neck like a disorganized dragon, I wonder how it always comes together like it does. Each year, we bite off more and more, plan bigger and broader, invite, advertise, market – all in hopes to share this place, this simple beautiful life.

And as the stress roils, the Angle works its silent magic to gently bring me back.

Today it was the east wind and a soft blanket of rain that reminded me, brought me home. I stared over a flat gray lake and let the mist meet my skin just as I used to in the monotone winters of the Pacific Northwest.

You have forgotten, the wind breathed to me. This is The Angle. This is the truth of life. Somehow, someway it all always works out perfectly. Everything is as it should be. Even the spending and getting. Even the flatness.

You have chosen to remember, it said, sweeping across the miles of rocky shorelines and untouched islands of Lake of the Woods, bringing the cleansing rain as easterlies always seem to do. Remember you are home. Remember you are whole. Remember you are enough.

Now go. Get up. Run with the wolves again. Show your little one just how majestic these flatland hills truly are.