Revel’s new favorite book is about animals and ecosystems and when you turn the page it makes the sounds of the animals. The quality of the sound is terrible of course but you can still make out the flapping of bat wings, the songs of the summertime insects, and tigers roaring. He asks us to read it almost every night.
His favorite part is the tiger with it’s orange stripes and sharp teeth. It’s a great page, the roar is really satisfying and loud and I can see why he likes it so much. But it’s not my favorite one.
My favorite part is the wolves.
On the wolf page the sky in the picture is purplish-blue and there is a huge silver moon painted low over some rocky, craggy looking hills. The wolves are gray and white and they are clustered in a small half circle with their faces turned towards the sky. The book has a tiny speaker and their voices come across tinny and too high pitched. But even under such conditions the sound is beautiful and melancholy. Haunting and holy and wild.
I’ve never heard a wolf howling in real life. Only in movies and on television, or on the occasional new age soundtrack kind of song. Coyotes yes, many times. But wolves never.
I’ve never seen a wolf except for a few sad souls in a rehabilitation center in Texas and maybe at the zoo when I was a kid but honestly I can’t remember if there were any wolves there or not.
Wolves were mostly extirpated from this area by the late 1800’s with one or 2 packs remaining through the turn of the century. But by the early 1900’s every last one had been wiped away along with most of the old growth forests and the indigenous people who once called this place home.
The closest wolves to me right now here where I sit typing this are in a refuge about 15 miles to the north. The population there is mostly wolf-dog hybrids abandoned by owners who gave them up for one reason or another. I imagine they must have longed for the companionship of man’s best friend but were surprised when they got the cunning mind of the wolf instead.
The nearest wild wolf population is at least several states away. In fact, the entire population of wolves in the lower 48 numbers fewer that 6,000 individuals and is restricted to only a handful of regions.
So why then, does the sound of the wolf howling, even through the shitty little speakers of my little son’s book, call to me so loudly that it is all I can do not to throw open the doors and wander barefoot under tonight’s just-past-full moon?
A few days ago I read online that the game commission had released 2 adult wolves into the 500 or so acres of a local park that runs along the nearby river. Later I was heartbroken to find that the article was a joke and that the game commission had no plans for any such thing. What kind of joke is that? I thought. Are we so far gone that the thought of an intact ecosystem elicits some kind of humorous response?
In this too-tame landscape of GMO corn fields, suburban sprawl and broken, patchwork forest, there is no room for wolves. The shopping malls and restaurants and manicured lawns and parking lots wouldn’t stand for it.
Ours is a world rendered wild-less.
There is no place in this domesticated ecosystem for wolf howls. There is no place for hunts that rage into the night, or wolf pups born into dark dens, or the blood stained teeth of the carnivore.
And yet, that wolf howl is a language I can recognize. It’s buried deep in the coils of my DNA. It’s written in my cells and in the marrow of my bones. Fingertips trailed over my soft skin can read the message just like braille.
There is still something sacred here it says. There is another world buried beneath the asphalt and the cement. It is hidden in the ancient memories of the GMO corn and the blades of the brilliant green, chemically fertilized, grass.
Barely bridled wildness, seething beneath the surface, visible in the brilliant blue of the chicory flower growing in the crack of the sidewalk and the hawk plucking squirrel from the edge of the yard.
We are just visitors here, remember?
My hands were made for more than just typing. They can also hold babies, and carry arrows, and weave baskets, and knit sweaters, and clothing, and rugs. They can pull the still warm skin from a fresh kill, and gather berries, and hunt fish with nearly invisible line. And they can chop trees, and carry water,and plant seeds, not as a farmer would exactly, but as something else entirely, as a person who wishes to see the world come back alive from the brink it is precariously balancing on.
I know the wolf. She is me and I am her. We carry our babies the same way, beneath a cage of bone, in heavy and swollen bellies. We feed our children from our breasts. We hunt, we eat, we play, we live, we make love.
Yet there is no place for her here at this table. She has been caged up, paved over, chopped down, and pushed out. She and her kin are clearly not welcome here in this neutered and diluted landscape.
But, if she and I are the same,
then where in the world do I belong?
Am I just a tinny and too-high-pitched version of the person I could have become?
There is still something sacred here.