For Whom the Wolf Howls
Send Not to Know, It Howls
BY DISTANT THUNDER
I recall the early days of wolf reintroduction, and the problems with it—not some lack of appre-ciation for the wolf’s place in nature, or any disdain for wolves, but the disingenuousness of the discourse.
Psychologically, the call to bring wolves back into our midst after they had been eradicated said as much about the psyche of those making the call as the merits of reintroduction, and on various counts, one being that the acti-vists dismissed the burden others would have to bear so that they, the activists, could realize their personal dreams. I cannot say it is an unworthy dream, it’s just that like others at the time I had the consequences in mind.
Downplaying or dismissing the fact that wolves would leave Yellowstone National Park, attack and kill sheep, cattle, dogs, llamas, and anything else that resembles a handy meal, that they would cause real harm to ranchers (and their stock) who did not deserve to be made victims, so that people in some distant place could feel good about having wolves in the GYE, was either arrogant or dishonest, and if not an act of willful denial.
Yes, funds could compensate for losses, but the inadequacy and difficulty associated with the process and the trauma involved leave much to be desired. Not only that, but ranchers’ hands were tied. Fair play would seem to dictate that if he has to endure the threat of wolves on his property, a rancher ought to be able to shoot them as he sees fit, as with coyotes and other vermin. But no, an adolescent dream was to prevail, as with children who expect to get what they want and leave the hard part, the paying for it, to others.
I can hear the howls of protest as I write these words. Those howls will subside, somewhat, as I describe in greater detail the nature of the denial, for it is a manifestation of a subconscious process in which we all share, one that ought to be brought into the light of day.
Why, after all, should there be wolves running around in our backyard after they had been eradicated? What purpose did it serve in a practical sense to bring them back? The answer is that it serves no practical purpose. We were doing fine without wolves, and now that we have them back, we remain pretty much the same, except for the victims of the policy—ranchers, their dogs, and the sometimes 20 to 100 sheep killed in a single night after a bloody raid, in which animals are eviscerated alive, maimed, and left for dead. It is upon hearing about such reports that one recognizes why people felt compelled to eradicate wolves in the first place, for though it may come as news to those who sit contentedly in front of their big screen TVs watching Animal Planet, they’re not simply big fluffy dogs who happen to live in the wild. They are especially determined and one might reasonably say highly inefficient killers, inefficient because they more than occasionally kill and maim far in excess of that which they consume, and with utter cruelty and abandon. They are, after all, wolves.
They also happen to be fascina-ting, possessed of a remarkable spirit, part of our wild and natural heri-tage, but let’s not pretend—someone pays the price for this dreamy venture of restoring wolves in proximity to the modern world, the result of a desire to recapture the pervasive edenic wilderness that existed 300 years ago, while in the meantime roads, ranches, schools and rural communities have taken root and flourished, that which FWP commissioner Ron Moody describes as “the persistent urban legend that ‘somewhere out there’ a vast pristine wilderness still exists where wolves can roam free of human interfer-ence.” (See page 9.) And that’s where the denial comes in, as with a lost youthful love affair one seeks to rekindle, but cannot.
Before you begin frothing at the mouth in reaction to such politically incorrect phrasings, know that I understand the dream, the need, the impulse to return this world to the state in which we found it, to somehow regain that which was lost, the nature of things before the white man, before the fall, and these are the true parameters of the debate and the reason it is characterized instead in the jargon of ecological science, rather than the cadences of soulful dreaming and vision quests. What, after all, were you who fought for reintroduction really trying to accomplish? What does it do for you now that it’s done. Or, more to the point, what was your true motive?
I have said it is an impractical one, mischaracterized using the dry ultra-rational verbiage of ecologi-cal science and pseudoscientific justifications that assert some pressing need for the reintroduc-tion of wolves, while the actual motive remains hidden, unstated, denied.
And why is it people who so vigorously champion the balance and harmony of nature, values worthy of a Taoist poet, speak and write as if they’ve never been outside the dry cloister of a university classroom? Could it be because the motive of which I speak is one buried beneath a pile of mental concepts and eco-jargon that disguise an underlying desire, even to those who hold it, though it is native to us all, one so evident and readily felt as we enter and explore the natural paradise that surrounds us, or through the simple act of resting one’s head upon a rock in the mid October sun, hearing the screech of a hawk beneath the clouds, then allowing one’s gaze to drift over the Yellowstone or Madison as the ethereal clarity of autumn pervades all the eye beholds, all that is sacred? Add to that scene, later as night falls, the night sky, perhaps a distant howling wolf, and all seems whole, at least to the depths we are able to perceive in our present state of spiritual realization.
What is it about Nature that is so beautiful, so indescribable, yet so removed from who we are? How is it that, once immersed in it, the longing to return to that which reson-ates as the landscape of the soul lasts a lifetime? And what is this wolf, this incarnation of beauty, severity, playfulness and freedom that reminds us of all we have been and could be as free creatures of the earth?
The motive denied then is to bring back that which is lost, the true reflection of who you are, and the chance to exist once more in a reality that resonates with the soul. And let us say that we humans who harbor that desire in myriad ways, failing to adequately know ourselves in the truest sense, suffer from self delusion regarding our place in Nature—a denial we project onto issues of the day, ecological debates and politics out of frustration for knowing deep within that we have lost our way, our native estate, and seek desperately to return.
For a more on Wolves, see Of Wolves and Men and Another Hunter in the Woods (this issue).