January 16, 2003 ~ My Promise to the Wolves
I glimpsed a flurry of movement against the dark evergreens to the side of the house. It was not the snow, which was falling in thick, heavy flakes now. Larger. I squinted toward the trees and saw a patch of fur. I made out the shape of a wolf. So you've come to visit us, I thought. I was not afraid. I sensed only curiosity from her. She was staring at me, her breath steaming in front of her. She dipped her head, then turned and disappeared through the shadows of the firs.
I caught glimpses of her, and sometimes even other members of the pack, from time to time after that. I learned to watch for her. After a few months, Morgan decided to try an experiment. He caught three rabbits one morning, more than we needed, so he left one under one of the firs. "It is for you. Take it," he had said, then came inside. The wolves had been nearby. She came, just minutes after he left. We watched from the window. She took the rabbit in her jaw, stared toward the house, dipped her head, then turned and disappeared through the shadows of the firs.
Three days later, Morgan found it. A different rabbit, freshly killed, left in the same spot under the firs. We took it, showed our trust.
I put my bag down on the stump near the kitchen window. I had had a good hike, up around the lake and into the woods beyond. Two hours. I was tired, but I knew that the water inside had been low when I had left, and I wouldn't want to come back outside again after I had taken off all of my heavy outdoor clothes. I picked up the bucket by the back door, trudged out to one of the drifts, and started scooping the top two inches of snow, this morning's fall, off and into my bucket. When the bucket was full, I made my way back to the house, but then remembered my bag. I set down the bucket and started toward the stump, but after a few feet I could tell it wasn't there.
Then I noticed the footprints in the snow. Paw prints, rather. I looked up. There she stood beneath the firs, clutching my bag in her teeth. I laughed. Her ears twitched at my noise. She set the bag at her feet and gave a wolf-grin. "You must be quite proud of yourself," I muttered. Her and I stood starring at one another for a moment. Then I charged. Grabbing the bag she bolted across the clearing, then set it down and grinned again, as she watched me slip in the snow.
Leaving the bag on the ground, she pranced away a few steps. I stood still. She took a few more steps away. I made a dash for the bag, but so did she, grabbing it and running when I was still fifteen feet away. Morgan had come out to stand on the front porch and he was laughing, watching us. "I swear that wolf is laughing too," I said. She was pacing with the bag in her mouth, watching me. I drew a piece of jerky from my pocket. Her ears perked up and she gave a little huff. She knew what jerky was. I had given it to her before. I held it out and stepped closer. She hesitated, then took a few steps toward me. She put down the bag and backed off a few steps. I murmured to her quietly. "We'll trade. I won't cheat you. You know." She held my eyes. I set the jerky down a few feet from my bag, grabbed the bag, and backed up. She snatched up the jerky, playfully, almost, then ran back toward the trees. When she reached them, she turned back toward us, dipped her head, then turned and disappeared through the shadows of the firs.
"I'm probably teaching her that stealing my bag will get her more jerky," I commented to Morgan.
"Well, you shouldn't leave your bag where she can get it, or it's only fair," said Morgan, smiling.
That spring, another family moved in a mile downstream from us. They cut down an acre of trees, put in a lawn, and let the cut trees rot. What point is a lawn, here? I wondered. I was angry about the trees, especially for so pointless a cause, but there was nothing I could do. It wasn't our land. "They'll be missing those trees come next winter, when the winds come," said Morgan. "And they didn't even save firewood."
The wolves still came, but not from the firs as they had, for the firs were downstream from our house. They did not trust our new neighbors. The pack no longer frequented that section of forest.
Meanwhile, the neighbors were grating on our nerves. Their rusty old diesel truck leaked oil, and they drove it into town at least twice a day, a twenty-mile trip. Such a waste. Once, as I was handing the wolf some jerky (she took it from my hand, now) the truck approached, and she gave a low growl, then turned and ran into the forest.
She came to me in the afternoon. She was serious. No play, this time. I knew that I was to follow her. She led me to the woods on the other side of the lake. There, we found three dead deer, all shot with only their racks and furs missing. Meat rotting in the summer sun. She looked at me in disgust--she knew that these were not gifts, like our rabbit. She left me standing there, angry. They were hunting for sport, not taking any meat. I watched more carefully, after that. I noticed that they did this frequently.
And then it was the stream. Down from their place. Dark, oily rainbows on the water. Dead fish. Trash caught under a log.
I was furious. I went home to tell Morgan. We ranted about our neighbors for several hours.
She came to me the day after they set off the fireworks. I was sitting next to the stump, reading in the sun. Her expression was sad and very, very serious. She did not break eye contact. She walked directly up to me, stepped over my outstretched legs, and put her muzzle against my cheek. Her eyes, just two inches from mine, did not waver. The words were there in a flash in my mind. "We cannot fix this. But you can. They are your kind. Stop them." She held that stance for a moment longer, but closed her eyes, then brushed her face against mine. She turned and walked back toward the trees, but turned once more, looked at me. "I will," I assured her with my eyes. She dipped her head, then disappeared.
At that point I woke up with a lump in my throat. It was the most intense dream I have had in months, maybe years. It felt utterly real. That wolf, I still can't shake the feeling that she really exists, that I know her, and that she has laid a charge on me.
She is right. I need to speak up. I need to take action. I need to do more.