The Voice that Crieth in the Wilderness

Franklin Burroughs

Let me first establish that I am a hunter, and have been for sixty years. So I start with feelings of friendly respect for any alpha predator.
     I live in Maine, not yet a battleground state in the wolf wars. But there’s still hope. Fifty years ago, critters started showing up in Maine’s north woods, and people at first thought they were wolves, or wolf-dogs; then they thought coy-dogs: dog-coyote hybrids. Turned out they were just eastern brush coyotes. That was good enough to raise the usual ruckus: they’ll decimate the deer, slaughter sheep, raid henhouses, cathouses, cradles. No such luck. They’ve now spread into just about every nook and eco-cranny in the east, all the way down to Florida. They have proven totally inadequate to controlling our major pest species, the white-tailed deer.
     I get it that wolves are not coyotes. They are powerful and relentless; a pack of them is the closest thing this country has had to a well-regulated militia since the Revolution. They are strikingly intelligent, and look so much like the finest, truest, doggedest dog ever to grace this planet that you want to make friends with them. Don’t bother; they have already succeeded in being what they are meant to be.
     We settled this country by shooting first and asking questions later: red wolves, gray wolves, wolverines, bears, cougars, coyotes, Native Americans: whatever frightened us. This kind of behavior is habit-forming, so now we shoot each other, wholesale, and fill our gun closets with weapons suited for no other purpose. But we cannot pretend that we’re frontiersmen, competing with other alpha predators for a limited protein supply. More and more of us live in cities and suburbs and cyberspace.
     But a lot of us go outdoors, hunting or hiking or skiing or sledding or surfing. It’s healthy and soul-soothing and so forth, but face it: we also go there in order to experience a trace of fear, awe, loneliness, exhilaration, the chance of going on and on, losing ourselves—each of those possibilities dependent on the others; all of them amounting to a sort of shiver down the spine. Even if we don’t actually do these things, we like to imagine that we do, and watch movies and television shows about them.
Fifty years ago this year, I spent a summer as an understudy to a timber cruiser in northern Quebec. We cruised roadless country that had never been cut. A float plane flew us over miles and miles of conifers, birches, lakes, muskeg, rock; set us down in the middle of somewhere with a canoe, food, a tent, and a map showing us where to go to count and measure trees. My cruiser and I usually traveled with another cruiser and his assistant, staying a week or so in one place, then being picked up, resupplied, and put down in the middle of somewhere else. It was a paid adventure, with just enough responsibility and discomfort to make us feel important, and we enjoyed it.
     In June the twilight had gone on and on, barely dying out to the west before the its first adumbrations began in the east. But by August the dark came early and it came quick. We’d sit around the fire and talk after supper. The loons that had been part of the long evenings no longer had much to say. One of the cruisers had a harmonica, and he might squeak away at that for a while. The fire and the music, such as it was, made the night and the woods and the big lakes all that much bigger, a mighty surrounding silence and invisibility. The four of us were barely out of adolescence, old enough to draft but not to vote, full of the big talk and bravado that come from knowing, deep down inside yourself, that you don’t know a damn thing.
     One night, past midnight, I went out to piss. The moon was down, the sky was utterly black and the stars, numberless as the sands of the sea or the sins of the forefathers, glittered starkly. There was frost in the air, and it was so still that you might have been inside a bank vault, instead of out here, away from the tent, under the mighty vault of the heavens.
     First it was a yip, and then another; then a howl that rose, full-throated and full of power, wavering and quavering on and on. This from our side of the lake, probably not close, although it was so startling that it seemed close. Then from across the lake an answer, the sound carrying over the water and spreading echoes in its wake. It was close. The howling, some of it shrill and puppyish, became general, call and response from one shore of the lake to the other. It sounded more forlorn than frightening, and it seemed, from where I stood, directed upward and outward, toward the merciless stars.
     Now, years of explanations have passed, and I can tell myself that what I felt was that my life had at last become like something out of a book, and that is because wolves—gray, shadowy, just beyond the circle of flickering light where the lost child sits shivering—lurk around the shadows of so many children’s stories, symbolizing the fears we secretly love. But at the time I felt, and I still feel, that hearing those wolves meant something. It had to. It was a variety of religious experience, in the same way that falling in love is: it does not commit you to a creed; it does commit you to trying to be worthy of a gift that came out of thin air.
     As a country, we rely on the bottom line to settle every argument. Or so we say. But we also, collectively and individually, disregard it, and live beyond our means. Wolf hunts won’t generate much revenue; wolf predation won’t have a measurable impact upon Michigan’s GDP. We aren’t going to settle this matter by arithmetic and bookkeeping. Wolves have haunted the psyche of the Northern Hemisphere out of all proportion to their danger. The reason for that is because they are so beautiful, so much like the dogs we have domesticated and yet so superior to them. We ourselves seem a bit small and grubby by comparison. For some people, that is exactly why we should kill them; and for some, myself among them, that is exactly why we should not.



Marybeth Holleman

My husband drove the five hours to Denali National Park, where he met up with the park biologist. The biologist brought him to the hunting guide’s house, and the guide’s wife showed them to the shed, where the carcass hung on a rusted nail. While my husband loaded it into a plastic bag, he made small talk with the guide’s wife. Then he drove back with the biologist, stopping to see where the guide’s client had made the kill shot, right next to the road. He drove home; he flensed the carcass; he buried the soft tissue up in the mountains and the bones down on the beach.
     I walked down to the beach with him a week later, and he showed me the spot: several large boulders on top of the burial site, a yellow line tied around a silver-gray stump that had washed up years before. Some dog, or bear, had discovered it, and partially dug it up. A dark red skeletal paw reached up through the sand. Without fur or muscle, each toe was very long, like a finger, each articulated joint visible.
     He reburied it deeper, found two more boulders to place on top, and we left.
     I had planned on doing some sort of ritual, some kind of funereal speech, but I didn’t. The last alpha male of the most well-known wolf family group in the world was now just an ordinary pile of bones.
When my son James was eight years old, he started a petition asking our governor to stop predator control in Alaska. The petition was for kids only, no voting-age adults. He gathered over 100 signatures, from King Salmon to Fairbanks. I typed it up just as he dictated it, and drove him places to post it. And I met with his principal after she took the petition off the school’s community bulletin board and called me to her office. She had received calls—some at home, at night—from several people in the town of Tok who were upset that her school in Anchorage would take a side on this issue. They were angry and rude to my son’s principal, but it was my son, and the wolves, who would pay. The petition was not allowed to be circulated on school grounds, she said.
     What’s more, she said, she didn’t see how an eight-year-old would be able to come up with this on his own; it must have, she said, looking straight at me, come from the parents.
     Oh, I wanted to say, of course my son could not possibly have that much intelligence and compassion, that much ability to think for himself and that much empowerment to act on his own beliefs—not coming out of this school system, where instead he was being taught obedience and cleverness, how to keep out of trouble and do well on standardized tests.
     But I didn’t say it, because I knew my son. In spite of the education she was providing him, my child had retained his perceptions of the world’s interconnectedness. He could still see beyond the walls of the school building, through the worksheets and report cards. He still saw wolves as part and parcel of the whole, as seamlessly related to him as his friends on the playground.
When the Toklat alpha male was shot and killed by a trophy hunter who wanted only the hide and the head, my son, now 13 and in eighth grade, was behind in his schoolwork, so he and I couldn’t take the time to go with my husband to retrieve the wolf’s body. My son was constantly not turning in homework, forgetting assignments, screwing up left and right—and his grades plummeted as his teachers clamped down with late work policies.
     James had started middle school with high hopes. He was excited about having different teachers for each class, about having electives so he had some choice in what he learned. He’d be a big kid, he’d have some freedoms, he could chart his own course. But it quickly boiled down to an endless list of small tedium, seven different classes, seven different teachers, all of them handing out a stream of little assignments, which did not add up to anything more than a lousy report card. Every morning I once more heard the refrain that I had hoped would fade with the new school: “I don’t want to go to school. I hate school. Please Mom can I stay home from school today?”
     He didn’t fall into the malaise of lowered expectations immediately. At the start of his second year of middle school, he learned that his social studies class was doing a citizenship project; they would pick an issue, learn about it, take a position on it, and take some action. The first step was for the kids to pick an issue—not the teacher, the kids. James thought of the wolf control issue, or of bear baiting, or even of what to do about Maggie, the solitary elephant at the zoo, depressed since her companion had died. But instead the class chose school lunches. Evidently there was some debate about school lunches, something about nutrition. So that’s what his class worked on all year, school lunches. James was not an enthusiastic participant, and his grades showed it.
Meanwhile, wolf control amped up way beyond our wildest nightmares. The Board of Game opened up more and more of Alaska’s state lands to trapping, snaring, and aerial gunning. They’re allowing methods that haven’t been legal since before statehood, back when there were bounties on bald eagles, Steller sea lions, bears, and wolves. Now, state biologists are gassing wolf pups in their dens. They’re gunning down entire family groups from helicopters, a method that was outlawed in the 1960s. They’re going after bears now, too. Hunters can bait and snare both brown and black bears, and can climb into bear dens with lights to kill cubs and sows while they hibernate.
     The Board of Game, which makes these decisions, is comprised entirely of hunters, trappers, and guides. One member of the Board of Game, who makes his living selling wolf traps and “processing” hides, posted a video on YouTube discussing the Toklat wolves while skinning a wolf at his tannery. He explained that the book of Genesis in the Bible tells us we should subdue nature and control it, for God gave us dominion over nature.
     Already, over 95 percent of Alaska’s land was open to trapping and hunting, and several thousand wolves were killed every year. But that still didn’t produce enough moose and caribou to satisfy the Board of Game. Now over 70,000 square miles are open to state-funded predator control; with four new programs approved, including two on the Kenai Peninsula, that number will grow by at least a third. The Board of Game is also attempting to spread predator control into national parks and wildlife refuges, even though federal land managers struggle to keep it at bay in order to uphold their management mandates.
     But there’s more. There’s a hidden predator control program that’s much worse, hidden under the guise of legalized hunting and trapping. It’s far less expensive to have private citizens kill wolves. Increasingly liberalized hunting and trapping across the state is now the largest de facto predator control program Alaska’s wolves have ever endured. Ever.
     Hunting seasons now run as late as June and as early as August 1, even though late summer wolf hides are virtually worthless. These liberal seasons also mean hunters kill adult wolves when their newborn pups are still in the den in June, and when their pups are still entirely dependant on the adults in late summer—this effectively kills untold (and unaccounted for) numbers of pups.
     This hidden wolf control kills as many as 1,700 wolves each year. What’s more, this annual number only includes kills reported through the sealing process; most villages traditionally don’t seal wolf pelts, so these kills are not reported. In addition, the number of pups that die because the adults are killed is entirely unreported but certainly high.
     And the Toklat wolf, the one my husband retrieved, he lived in a protected wilderness, in Denali National Park, alpha male of a long-lived family group. First Adolph Murie and then Gordon Haber had studied this family group, a continuous 70 years of research, making them the most well-known wolf group in the world. But there’s a sliver along the northeast boundary of the park, the Stampede Trail, where the caribou migrate in winter, and the wolves follow. This area, just outside the park, is part of the Toklat’s territory. And unprotected.
     Two men trap in the Stampede area. Two men, one of them a state employee, neither of them relying on trapping for a living, lie their traps in wait along the park boundary, take out the wolves that hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world come to Denali every single summer to see.
James wrote letters to the Board of Game at every oppor­tunity for public comment; he asked them to please stop killing wolves and bears, to instead reign in human hunting pressures. But they didn’t stop; they sent back a form letter, and dispatched more gunners in airplanes and helicopters.
     James slipped behind in class again, missing assignments, failing to write the thank you letter to his social studies class guest speaker, a salesperson from a local bookstore.
I didn’t want Rick to get the Toklat wolf carcass. And I didn’t want him to bury it in our yard, as he had planned. I didn’t even want to see it. It was hard enough knowing the story of how the wolf was killed; to then have to look upon its skinned, headless body, to then have those sorrowful remains buried in the yard where my son and dogs played, where I grew vegetables and flowers, was not something I could handle.
     I didn’t want James to do poorly in school, either. I had been a straight-A student all the way, a good test-taker and compliant note-taker. I’d taken those top grades all the way to the bank, getting a full four-year scholarship to college. I was always a well-behaved student—except in seventh grade, when I simply took a strong dislike for the teacher, and refused to do anything he asked of us. I was expelled, the same week that our family dog, Pepi, was hit and killed by a car, and was buried in our back yard.
Still, I wasn’t surprised that Rick went to get the carcass.
     “I just can’t stand the thought of it being thrown in some dump in Healy,” he said. On that point, I agreed. And for that sentiment, I loved him.
     When he and I were first seeing each other, he lived in a small town, in a small untidy house, and worked as a marine biologist in a shack on the docks. In his little house, which was once the home of the church minister, there were so many bones, so many skulls. Of a black bear, found on a forest trail. Of a Steller sea lion, found on a beach, complete with the bullet holes to the head that had killed it. Of a wolf. The wolf, I asked how he got it.
     His secretary had come in one day and told him that she and her husband had trapped a wolf. She was proud that they’d taken such a grand animal, and told him all about the hunt and the gorgeous brown skin they now owned.
     “What did you do with the carcass?” he asked her, prob­ably with a polite smile pasted to his face.
     “In the town dump,” she replied.
     In the dump. Rick couldn’t stand the idea of that wolf tossed into the dump, so he left immediately, went to the dump, climbed over the trash, dug and found that wolf body. He carried it with him, took it to his office—late, after she had gone home; he never told her what he did—slid it into a mesh bag and dropped it into the water below the dock. He knew the sea would clean it, and thought those bones might have something to teach. Then the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef, and his world turned upside down.
     A year passed before he remembered that wolf in the water. He pulled it back up and found a full clean skeleton. Over the years, he gave away different pieces of it. A few ribs to a friend who had cancer, to help him heal. A few ribs to another friend, who ground them up and drank them. Some to a friend’s son, who wanted to study wildlife. All he now had left was the skull.
     Rick did not retrieve the skull of the Toklat alpha male. The hunter took it, head and skin. It was a black wolf, which evidently made the hunter even happier with his trophy.
I didn’t want that wolf in our yard because I didn’t want to remember every day how we had failed that wolf, how some guy from Pennsylvania had jumped out of the guide’s pickup and shot him, so excited he at first forgot to unbuckle his seat belt, right beside the dirt road of the Stampede Trail, shot the last remaining adult male of the Toklat family group. I didn’t want to think of the gorgeous black fur of that young wolf on some guy’s wall in his den, overlooking his pool table and wet bar. Didn’t want to think of how he must brag to his buddies over a cold one, brag about whatever kind of skill or courage he thinks it takes to fly on a plane to Alaska, drive out in a pickup truck, and shoot a wild animal that, having lived within the boundaries of Denali National Park, was so used to people who wanted only a glimpse of that black beauty, he didn’t run from the sight of two men in a pickup. I didn’t want to think of how his mate had been trapped and killed in that same area a few months earlier. I didn’t want to think of how he had stayed by her side, wandering that area nearly two months after she had gone. I didn’t want to think of the remaining pups, who would likely not survive, unable to get food on their own. Didn’t want to wonder which wolf would be next, and how it would go down, and how that death would be trivialized by our government, our media.
     I was saying no to what I thought I couldn’t change. I had been so busy teaching my college students and trying to help James get all his assignments in on time, that when the wolf was shot I barely let myself think about it.
Somehow, I knew my son’s failing was our failing. He’s a bright boy; he tested into the gifted program in third grade. Once he decides he wants to learn something, he does, and he never forgets it. Ask him to explain how a camera works; ask him the latest on electric cars. Ask him what percentage of Alaskans hunts (fourteen); ask him the success rate of wolves hunting moose, of the time it takes a wolf pup to mature. By the age of eight, he’d read books on wolves that most adults would find too dense and difficult, but for James, they were like candy.
Did this Toklat wolf’s life matter any more or less than any other wolf that has died in these years of widespread trapping and aerial hunting? Predator control has wiped out entire families of wolves. State workers have cleared thousands of acres of wolves. There are wolf dens that this summer lie idle, the flowers growing up around the entrance, the interior dry and dusty, empty. There are moose and caribou that stand around, watching, but never see that slink- ing shape, and begin to change how carefully they walk the woods. I wonder if this makes them easier for the human hunters who will descend upon them come fall.
     There are tourists on the buses in Denali National Park right now, looking through binoculars for sheep, moose, caribou, brown bear, and most of all, for wolves. But they won’t find the Toklats, who had become so immune to the sights and smells of humans in vehicles that they often trotted down the road right past buses loaded with gape-mouthed tourists, gasping and clicking their cameras. They’d become so oblivious to us that even their little fur-ball pups would stand by the road. The Toklats, most often-seen wolf family group of Denali, the wolf family that Adolph Murie studied, and Gordon Haber studied, for seventy consecutive years, are gone.
     What we do know is that wolf family groups can only sustain so much killing before the entire group fragments, dissipates, disappears. The Toklat male was killed almost two months after his mate, the alpha female, was trapped in the same area. She suffered in the trap for two weeks, and all that time he stayed near her. When she was gone, he continued to frequent the area, often seen howling all alone. When he was shot, all that was left of the Toklats were six two-year-olds and yearlings, inexperienced young wolves that hadn’t yet learned the boundaries of their territory, the hunting traditions of their family group.
     For we also know that each wolf family group has unique behaviors and traditions that they have passed down from generation to generation, behaviors that are finely tuned to their specific territory. To the east of the Toklats lived the Savage family group; Gordon Haber documented several unique hunting traditions the Savage wolves routinely used, traditions that disappeared for good with the Savage wolves in winter of 1982–83, when the entire family group was killed by illegal aerial hunting.
     Do the Denali guides tell the tourists what happened? Or do they ignore the truth, let the tourists believe they still might get a close-up view of a wild wolf? The tourists may not know that those lovely photographs they sell in the Denali gift shop, of wolves, and wolf pups, that one we have hanging in our hallway of the dark wolf pup standing along the road, are images of animals who are dead. If they did know, would they still buy them?
My son’s eighth-grade Language Arts teacher was a clever woman. She made them read some excellent books: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Tale of Two Cities, The Martian Chronicles, Farewell to Manzanar. Good classic reads. She broke things down into bite-sized pieces for them, too—quizzes, vocabulary, summaries. And she was strict: by midpoint in the year no late work was accepted. Not even one day late. This was more strict than the graduate school where I teach. But her late policy was grooming them for high school, and she chose what they read and wrote and discussed based solely on what they needed so as to do well on standardized tests.
     Her intentions are good, and for these intentions, her plan works well. But all she was preparing them for was more school. She is an eighth-grade teacher preparing kids for high school. In high school teachers prepare kids for college. In college, where I teach, we prepare them for jobs. My son’s teacher was not focused on helping James enjoy the books, the learning. Not helping him discover what he was passionate about, his true calling. Not helping him fit what she fed him into the real world, the one we all inhabit, where wolves pad tundra and men shoot them from heli­copters.
     The park biologist that Rick spoke with didn’t think the loss of that particular male wolf meant a thing. He is a systems manager, and he is concerned only with the popula- tion of wolves, not the individuals. He is a clever man; he knows a lot about wolf biology, probably as much as in all of James’s books. He knows the body of a wolf inside out. But he was trained to view the park ecosystem as only so many moving parts. Studying the park wolves, he doesn’t concern himself with family, lineage, the particular behaviors and traditions of a cohesive long-lived family group. He wasn’t interested in the unique character of this dead wolf, of what this wolf did and learned and survived in his seven-year lifetime.
     He was not even concerned with the significance of a black wolf to Native Americans. And he wasn’t concerned about what the tourists who saw that wolf last summer and the summers before, alive and well and padding down the Toklat River with his family group, might feel knowing the wolf they saw, and took pictures of, and dreamed about months later, was now dead.
Eight-year-old James did finish that petition drive, and sent his hundred signatures to Governor Knowles. The governor didn’t alter his course; he didn’t reply to James, not even with a polite form letter. Nothing.
     But a local group, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, asked James to speak at a rally they held in downtown Anchorage. It was a panel discussion of opponents of predator control—two biologists, a tourism representative, an attorney, and my son. I sat behind him up on the stage, and Vic Van Ballenberghe, who has studied moose in Alaska for 25 years, leaned over and whispered to James, “Lucky you. I wish I had my mother here.” James just smiled brightly, wiggling in his seat.
     When it was his turn, he walked up to the podium, stepped up on the stool they’d put there for him, and took two small stuffed wolves out of his pockets. He put one on either corner of the podium, looking out at the audience of well over 100 adults, and began to speak in a clear voice.
I didn’t bring James to see the wolf bones buried in the beach sand. There have been so many wolves killed, so many losses of any sort of restrictions on hunting and predator killing, so much silence by so many people, that I fear he has forgotten what he knew at eight years old. I fear he is dis­connecting from the wolves, through his disillusion with school, with the factoids they spew at him and expect him to catch and keep, cluttering his mind and edging out any room for compassion, for intelligence, for the wisdom found in the green fire of a wolf’s eyes.
James’s teacher and the park biologist walk into their offices every morning and focus on standardized tests and school ratings, on population numbers and data points. It doesn’t matter if they’re staring at a computer screen entering pop quiz grades or radio-collared records, doesn’t matter if they’re talking to a new student or watching a wolf shepherd her pups across a river. They are focused on the parts and not on real life, not on the way we feel and think and walk through our days.
     I don’t blame them. They are not horrible people. They are simply products of their educations. They were trained for a particular career, maybe even one they thought of as a calling at some point, but whatever might have been the passion behind that calling—to help kids grow and learn, to pursue a fascination with wolves—is so long gone that they probably don’t remember it.
     Wolves know no boundaries of national parks, of state land, private land, farmland, wilderness. Learning knows no boundaries of biology, math, seventh grade, seventh period, school, house, woods. The more we try to place boundaries over everything, the more we compartmentalize the world in an attempt to make sense of it, the more we only distort it and make it impossible to understand.
     Like a pile of bones buried in a beach. Like ground bone drunk in desperation. Like a pop quiz on Shakespeare. Like a skin hanging on a wall in a house a thousand miles from a wolf’s natal den. Tests, grades, reports, numbers: all runes without a code.
     When Rick and I returned to the beach the next spring, the Toklat wolf’s bones were gone, washed out with the winter ice.


Fire in the Path

Christopher Camuto

Destroying the unknown creates confusion.
     Diga’kati’yi: “place of setting them free.” Once a site on the Tuckasegee River where the Cherokee released their prisoners of war, now the word could be used to refer to the backcountry acclimation pen for the Tremont wolves.
     Wolves seem to have a prejudice that they do not belong in pens. When watched from out of sight, they do nothing, or very little. They sit, walk about, feint at each other in spiritless adumbrations of dominance and submission, eat when food comes with no memory of having hunted, defecate shyly like dogs. There is no drama in captivity. Wolves don’t howl and hurl themselves at the chain-link fence. Suspended from real action, the mind of this creature designed for constant engagement retracts, coiling not like a snake but like an overwound spring.
     When you approach a wolf pen, the wolves slowly panic, stirred not by fear but from lack of choice. The closed geometry of captivity turns flight into a neurotic motion. The juveniles race half circles together, running an arc through the mud and shit in front of the corner opposite the gate where the humans are gathering. This creates a constant pounding that is unaccountably loud. The wolves change direction without apparent effort or motive, their uncharacteristically pointless behavior driven by some tic that will not serve them well in the wild. Intellectually, these young wolves know that they should not be near humans. But captivity forces them to entertain a contradiction, not something for which the animal mind is grooved. Occasionally one of them will stop and shyly pull a gape into a half snarl, vaguely assaying its power, careful not to fix its eyes on any of the men or women who are now entering the pen. Ears back, the wolf will lock its forelegs, which are spread defensively, involuntarily raise a ridge of hackle between its hunched shoulders, and tentatively clamp its tail down in the tense semaphore of threat display. But even the elaborate communication system of wolves is no match for the ambiguity of this situation.
     The adult wolves stand aside, wasting no energy, eyes sliding back and forth across the humans gathered now on the inside of the gate. They keep as much distance as possible, moving distinctly a little over and back to this spot or that, like knights in chess. They do not bark and snarl as captive feral dogs will. They watch and think.
     Despite the disclaimers in the technical literature, the wolves are red, some more than others—laced through the back of the ears and neck and splashed through their shoulders and haunches and legs. Not bloodred, gi’gage’i, but wa’dige’i, the brown-red color of certain animals like the copperhead and the grouse, a forest red that easily darkens to brown or black in a wolf’s shoulders and across its back and flanks, or bleeds into the ruddy yellow that fades to the pale fur of its underbelly. What a connoisseur of trout fly hackle would call furnace, or like the tawny blend of a cross-phase fox or of a fox squirrel in winter. Red in the signature way that a red-tailed hawk is red. Red as a point of departure. A red quickly hidden in the flowing motion of a running wolf, when the animal turns darker, almost black, not red at all.
     Once we are in the middle of the pen with an odd assortment of gear piled around us, the adults join the juveniles in their pointless race around the inner perimeter of the enclosure, effortlessly accelerating and decelerating, dancing the dance of the dispossessed. This is too much even for them. The family runs bunched up, stumbling over one another in a way they never do in the wild, stopping in the corners where they literally hang their heads and create a collective stare that is as intense and centerless as the strange sound of their running. Then they run again, silent ahead of the galloping sound, intent on their half circuits, as if they might create space with motion.
     The gathering of those faces in the corner of the pen, ancient images hovering in front of the gleaming chain link, is what I remember most vividly. I remember one face— the face of the red wolf—and different faces—these six red wolves that I would come to know as two generations of numbers: 337F, 357M, 520M, 521M, 522F, 525M. I liked that they were named with numbers. It made the subsequent narrative of their lives austere, almost abstract. The numbers protected them from human emotions, which is the only thing that can harm them. In history and mythology, red wolves had suffered from either too much love or too much hate. The numbers allied them with the other side, with Kana’ti and Selu and with the ancient Wolf People who failed to stop the Wild Boys from starting history. Whatever the taxonomists eventually decided, Canis rufus was one of the race of wolves that had made it into time. And here it was, about to be released into one of the fragments of that original world.
     The face of the wolf is one of the extraordinary masks of being—a triangle in a circle, a blend of bear and fox—a dense totemic look, a forest visage. The medial line of raised fur that divides a wolf’s face is one of the great edges in nature, keen diameter of perfectly balanced predatory senses. The bilateral symmetry of a wolf’s face comprises one of those rare, finished images of creation, something that could be improved no further. Another 10 million years of evolution and not a hair would move—no more than the shape of sharks will ever change. The wolf’s face, like the face of the bear and the mountain lion, is not so much a mask as nature’s embodiment of the idea of the mask, something final, like the form of salmon or falcons.
     The face of the red wolf is a further refinement of the idea of a wolf—the snout elongated, the eyes more narrowly set than those of a gray wolf and tilted more steeply, the ears almost dainty. There is a foxlike quality to the look of this wolf, but drawn heavier and bolder than a fox, as if the idea of a wolf had been whittled down to the idea of a fox and then molded back into a wolf as a finer form stained with new shades of fur. There must be at least a dozen colors in the swirling pelage of a face nearly lost to extinction and still shadowed by an uncanny hatred from which wildlife management alone will not rescue it. The juveniles have more white around the muzzle and larger patches of grizzled fur above their eyes. They have not earned their colors. The faces of the adults are darker, redone in those shades of bled umber that take red into black and brown over the underfur of gray and cream, an art that makes a red wolf in dense vegetation no more visible than a grouse on the forest floor.
     Eight people have entered the Tremont pen to witness or assist in the preparation of these animals for release: Chris Lucash of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who is in charge of the Smoky Mountains red wolf reintroduction; his assistant Barron Crawford, then of the National Park Service; Lucash’s boss, Gary Henry, a veteran of endangered species work who oversees the project from the Asheville, North Carolina, office; two student volunteers; and two cameramen from a Knoxville television station. Lucash directs the work, but all the principals know what they have to do. The first time I walked into Chris Lucash’s office, a government-issue house trailer planted near the Cades Cove Ranger station, he was on the phone haggling for cattle carcasses produced by a tractor-trailer accident on I-40 east of Knox- ville, an unexpected bonus for the wolf program, which was always looking for roadkill. And Lucash was, first and foremost, a pragmatist who was well aware of the obvious contradictions of trying to manage wildlife and of the supreme irony of trying to manage wolves. But his job was not speculative. A windfall of wolf chow might not make the pages of the Journal of Mammology, but here in the Great Soggies, it made life a little easier.
     With an undergraduate degree in zoology, Lucash had worked his way up through the ranks in the wolf business, first in Minnesota with David Mech’s gray wolf project and ultimately for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From 1985 to 1990 he was one of the backcountry biologist-caretakers at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in coastal North Carolina, site of the first permanent reintroduction of red wolves and a breeding source for some of the animals he was handling now.
     Fish and Wildlife sent Lucash to the Smokies in October of 1990 to test the feasibility of red wolf reintroduction there while Crawford was doing his study of the park’s coyote population. A year of experimentation with free-ranging wolves in Cades Cove convinced Lucash that the red wolf could survive in the mountains without undue controversy and simultaneously convinced Fish and Wildlife to put Lucash in charge of that effort.
     When I first talked to him in 1991, Lucash told me so emphatically that he wasn’t a “wolf groupie” I assumed that he once had been. Tried it in college, perhaps, but hadn’t inhaled. But if this dark, wolfish-looking midwesterner had brought any Romantic feelings about wolves east with him, he had worked through them during his tour of duty at Alligator River while living in a dank houseboat moored to a mosquito swarm from which he sallied forth to poke gingerly—there were alligators at Alligator River—around blackwater swamps radio tracking Canis rufus through the cypress, cedar, blackgum, and sawgrass.
     By the time he had gotten set up in the Smokies, the thirty-something Lucash was seasoned and all business. Except for defending their significance as a unique North American canid, he never expressed any feelings about the animals under his care. And he seemed to pride himself on how well his operation took care of its wolves without coddling them. His acclimation pens were well-run, minimum-contact staging areas, not zoo exhibits. The whole point was to prep the animals to leave and never voluntarily come near humans again. With an animal as psychologically sen­sitive and socially complex as the wolf, quality of captivity was critical.
     I grew to appreciate Lucash’s clarity of purpose more and more as time went on. He and Barron Crawford knew exactly what they were—and what they weren’t—doing. They were neither practicing science nor dancing with wolves. They were physically delivering an apex predator, a major North American carnivore, to what was left of eastern mountain wilderness—right under the nose of the twenty-first century and flat in the face of American history.
     The pen is the standard fifty-foot chain-link square surrounded by an electrified fence. Two roofed plywood boxes serve as rudimentary shelters. A few trees have been included within the perimeter to provide shade in summer, but the ground has been churned into a barren, muddy yard. There are water troughs and the black-haired carcass of a wild boar that has been eaten down to its nose, a delicacy that even here didn’t pass muster. When the wolves are not running, you can hear a stream tumbling through the foggy woods. This pen is maybe a dozen miles and half a dozen headwater drainages from the Cades Cove acclima- tion pen. The big spine of mountains, heart of the Smoky Mountain backcountry, rises abruptly to the south, which explains why the small stream runs so hard.
     The site is remote enough to have made it necessary to helicopter the fence sections into what was once a logging camp, the last in the area where, in a final spasm of greed, the Little River Lumber Company destroyed a watershed of old-growth forest that had made it to the brink of preservation before handing the stumps over to the federal government to make a national park out of in the 1930s. Skidder cables and other rusty junk still lie strewn through the ­second growth of mixed oak, hickory, and maple where, with a little forebearance you might have seen trees twenty feet around whose roots reached back to the contact. The surrounding woods are as lean as the wolves, which are themselves a kind of second growth.
     The idea is to release another family of red wolves here—at a backcountry site where the prey base is smaller and more widely scattered and where the terrain is rougher than at Cades Cove. To see what wolves off the tourist route will do. As a release point, the Tremont pen comes as close to what is now called wilderness as it is possible to get in the southern Appalachians, which is to say we’re a few miles into some quiet woods visited only by the occasional backpacker and trout fisherman.
     Lucash is clearly enthused about this release although somewhat daunted by the prospect of having a dozen wolves at large. But keeping track of the Cades Cove wolves had already become routine, and by December the project needed a few new wrinkles. And the Tremont release was intended to have less predictable, more interesting effects. If these wolves stayed in the backcounty, they would be much harder to track but they would give Lucash and Crawford a better idea of how red wolves used mountainous terrain and the great variety of vegetation zones for which the Smokies were famous.
     The home range of the Cades Cove wolves was unusually small and their movements perhaps less complex than they would have been without the centralized prey base provided by the woodlots and pastures. The movements of the Tre­mont animals should provide better information on the red wolf’s relation to deep-forest habitat where apparently it had once thrived. That readaptation was essential to the red wolf’s long-term survival, since the edge was, even within a national park, not the best place to be. And beyond national parks, there is nothing but edge. It’s quite likely that massive deforestation made the wolf, and many other North American animals, much more creatures of edge habitat than they were naturally. Fish and Wildlife needed wolves that, like the surviving population of black bear, were inclined to stay in the mountains.
     Unlike the Cades Cove wolves, which were a natural family, the Tremont wolves were a makeshift arrangement, not unusual in captive breeding programs—for wolves or other species—where candidates for release are often in short supply. But given the importance of early emotional bonding in wolves—between parents and offspring and among siblings—the adoptive status of three of the juveniles raised questions about the bonding within this composite wolf family, which had been pacing off the dimensions of its pen since summer.
     The four-year-eight-month-old female, 337F, was born at Alligator River, where she had a run of ten weeks in the wild before being paired with the three-year-eight-month-old male, 357M, which had been born at the Texas Zoo in Victoria, Texas. They mated and then bred in April of 1992, producing 525M and three other wolves that died soon after birth. Around the same time, a large litter of seven pups was born at Alligator River to a pair of red wolves out of the Horn Island, Mississippi, and the Bull Island, South Carolina, facilities. Three of these pups—two males (520M and 521M) and a female (522F)—were transferred at two weeks of age to the Tremont pair. Adoption in the wild was not unknown among wolves, so this strategy had some precedent.
     In any event, Fish and Wildlife couldn’t afford to be too picky; the Red Wolf recovery program was still racing to escape the narrow genetics of the founding population of wolves. At the time of the Tremont release, in early December of 1992, the original band of fourteen red wolves had increased to several hundred animals, a small but increasing fraction of them wild born. Most of the captive-born wolves were at least born in open-air acclimation pens in wild settings, which exposed Canis rufus to the sights and sounds of a portion of its historical habitat. But the relatively small size of the red wolf population left considerable genetic overlap among the wolves available for release—and even within a given wolf’s ancestry—a breeding density that was an afterglow from the species’ brush with extinction on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast in the 1950s.
     The last of the original red wolves died in 1988. The Tremont female was two and three generations removed from that founding stock, closer than most wolves in the program. The male’s bloodlines went back three, four, and five generations to the last free-ranging wolves. Between them, they shared seven of the fourteen founders. Of the female’s twelve ancestors in the program, all but one also appear in the male’s family tree. Within the male’s ancestry, four wolves showed up in both its maternal and paternal lines of descent, with two of those animals also shared within its maternal line.
     You did not have to be a geneticist to see that the evolution of Canis rufus was starting over. Twenty-five years after the species was first listed as endangered, the people at Fish and Wildlife who were piloting the genetic recovery were staring at some dangerous if slowly improving readings on their instrument panel—distribution of the founders’ alleles, survival of founding genomes, retention of wild heterozygosity as well as an inbreeding coefficient they watched as intently as a rate-of-climb indicator during a foggy take­off. The recovery program’s goal was the same as it had been from the beginning: Increase the population and genetic variety of red wolf stock and expose as many animals as possible to the shaping forces of natural selection within their historically known range. With any luck, the Great Smoky Mountains would have two litters of wild-born wolves in the spring of 1993, and the natural history of Canis rufus, never studied under natural conditions in any part of its historic range, would begin to unfold as it had in and around the blackwater swamps at Alligator River.
     The cage in the woods was history, the eye of the needle.
     The work in the pen is routine. The student volunteer approaches the racing wolves with the kind of long-handled net used to boat salmon or steelhead. When she has a wolf singled out, she intercepts it along the fence, trapping it with a lunge and instantly snapping the net mouth to the ground. As the wolf surges in the net, rocking the net handler about, Crawford grabs the animal’s head from behind while simultaneously kneeling on its body, the aluminum rim of the net helping ro turn the glaring teeth away. The wolf struggles until it exhausts its options and senses it is pinned. Then it idles, mixture rich, breathing hard and straining in a controlled way, cycling its muscles through a continuous test of the possibilities of escape.
     The mesh is pulled back enough to enable Lucash to tie a strip of cloth around the middle of the wolf’s snout as a temporary muzzle, at which point the net is pulled out of the way. Crawford shifts his weight about like a wrestler to keep control over the animal’s head and back so that it can neither bite nor jump upright. A nylon muzzle is exchanged for the cloth noose. The wolf is now all eye—black and amber outrage—but struggles only if the pressure on its neck or hindquarters is eased. Then it will surge against the opportunity and try to free its head and get to its feet, which are soon loosely tied together.
     The wolf is inspected for injury, vaccinated, and then weighed. Finally the animal is fitted with a radio collar. The crew works methodically but quickly. All this takes about ten minutes but seems much longer, as if in the presence of wolves, wolf-time takes precedence. Lucash is keenly aware of the dangers of contact time. Not the danger to the handlers, which is minimal, but to the wolves, which is enormous. Then the legs are untied, the muzzle is removed, and the wolf, unhanded, springs away without a sound and stands off with its mates, distinguished now by the thick, brightly-colored collar.
     Despite all the handling, intimate in its way, there doesn’t seem to be any contact between man and wolf in this exchange. There is no oohing and aahing over these beautiful animals. No one says anything to calm the wolf being handled, as you would to a dog at a vet. The animal is rarely alluded to in what little instrumental conversation goes on. The wolves have not been given pet names, as was once the odd fashion in wolf research, and although their numbers will take on character and narrative significance once they are released, in the acclimation pen the studbook designations are merely a bookkeeping convenience, tags to each animal’s genetic ancestry and medical history that now are pegged to a radio-tracking frequency. This intense work goes on in an emotional vacuum with the tacit hope that the necessary handling, all the better for being perfunctory and a bit rough, will not ruin the prospects of release.
     The adults are the last to be prepped and collared and are noticeably harder to deal with, partly because they are twenty pounds heavier than their young but also because of their stronger emotional, or psychological, reaction to this contact. That intransigence is a good sign, since both are well traveled and have been handled before. Good wolves never get used to this.
     Not surprisingly, the Tremont male is the most difficult. For a zoo-born wolf, 357M is assertive. He wants no part of what is happening to him and cannot be handled in the open. Eighty pounds of healthy, independent-minded red wolf doesn’t make for a docile patient, and shouldn’t. If the proponents of the red wolf are correct, this bristling canid represents the wildness descended from all those red wolves lost in history.
     Somehow 357M is driven into the three-foot-square plywood kennel, the sliding door of which is quickly closed. Perhaps he just dives into it to escape the net handler’s futile moves. Once in, 357M settles down. This is escape, not aggression. The wolf is seeking space he can’t find, a wolf’s fate.
     When the roof is slid off, the Tremont male seems stunned to find itself confronted from above. The animal looks trapped but not frightened. It has no moves to make in this man-controlled world. Crawford gets a long-handled noose on the wolf, and Lucash lowers himself into the box to pin the animal with his knees. The noose is the last straw. The Tremont male bares its teeth for the first time in this struggle, a silent, neck-twisting, eye-bulging snarl, momentary flash of gleaming dentition—that ridgeline of incisors, canines, premolars, and molars archaeologists love to find—a New World tool that can be traced back to the Irvingto­nian, when the idea of canine predation hereabouts was refining its resourcefulness in a real-life diorama of Smilodon and mastodon, ground sloth and tapir. The wolf in the box has come a long way, its slashing jaws the working edge of a timeworn wildness.
     Crawford controls the animal from above with the noose while Lucash does his work—cloth noose, nylon muzzle, inoculations, radio collar. The juveniles suffered the indignity of being hog-tied and hung upside down for a moment from a large spring scale. The big wolf’s weight is guestimated. The animal is covered with mud and shit, as is Lucash. But this muddy, shitty, cold, and bloody work—Lucash has cut himself with the knife he’s using to trim the excess length off the radio collar—is how wildness gets back into the world. A man and a wolf wrestling in a plywood box. It’s come down to that—this unruly inheritance from the Wild Boys.
     Lucash is done and out in ten minutes. Crawford releases the noose and the kennel door is opened. The Tremont male bounds out and reoccupies the netherworld of the perimeter where it has taught itself to wait. Its posture is neither submissive nor aggressive. The young wolves watch the elder wolf closely. Judging from its neutral body language, 357M seems psychologically unharmed.
     Physically, the Tremont male or any of the wolves could have pounced on the human intruders and taken a piece out of someone, but there was no suggestion of any such possibility. There is so much natural separation between man and wolf, this intrusion is accomplished quite casually. Wolves, too, observe taboos, adhere to a rational nature when they are allowed to do so. The animal is a predator, but predation is not the same as violence. No one who knew wolves would think of bringing a weapon into a wolf pen. The danger is all on one side. Except for what history has done to them, these wolves have come through the prep unharmed. All they need now is to be allowed to take their numbers into the woods they have been observing with great interest for half a year. They watch us with intense indifference.
     The prep is done in an hour. The gear is gathered up and we troop out, backs to the wolves. Someone stops to chain and padlock the gate. The gap in the electric fence is restrung and the juice turned back on. This is not to keep the cunning, rapacious beasts at bay, in case they should pick the lock, but to protect them from humans for one more night.
     Last I saw of them, the mud-spattered Tremont wolves stood together on the opposite side of the weird enclo- sure staring obliquely at us through a dismal grain of sleet. I remember the filthy boar’s head and the hull of muddy ribs and that the wolves looked more like lean, offbeat survivors in a Beckett play than sweaty heroes in a Jack London story. But Canis rufus had run the gauntlet. Six wolves were headed home.
     As we moved down the trail single file, I realized that except for that eerie pounding of their paws on the frozen mud, the wolves had not made a sound. All the language, all the vocalizations I had heard that morning on Anthony Creek, they kept that to themselves.
     When, on the way back down to the vehicles, I asked Lucash when he would consider the reintroduction a success, the pragmatist threw an unwittingly Emersonian answer over his shoulder.
     “When wild-born wolves give birth in the wild.”
     Then he stopped and we stood aside and let the others troop by with the nets and gear.
     “When we’ve got wolves out there that don’t remember this shit. Then we might have something going.”
     The next day, exactly two months after the release of the Cades Cove family, the gate on the Tremont acclimation pen was left open and the backcountry wolves were free to leave. The crew from WBIR had mounted a video camera over the gate hoping to capture the moment on film. Whoever opened the gate turned the camera on. That afternoon the first winter storm of the season settled into the mountains, and the recovering forest slowly filled with snow. Some time after the videotape ran out, the Tremont wolves stepped into the woods to begin, in private, a recovery of their own.



James Galvin

When you walk into a stand of old-growth redwoods, when you walk into Sainte Chapelle, when you encounter Bernini or Michelangelo or Caravaggio, when you see a wolf pack or hear their haunted song, it touches an ancient place in the psyche, a place that was made to receive it, a place at least as old as the cave paintings in the south of France, a place called awe. You don’t even have to believe in anything. You have that place. If you don’t have it, you should seek help immediately because awe is the only thing that makes life worth living. Making life worth living is conducive to survival. A wolf’s gaze, that deep, steady knowing, is all you need to know. To quote Victor Hugo, “We are all under sentence of death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve.” To save the old-growth redwoods we turned to the spotted owl. It was a legal argument. But it wasn’t the real reason. Those trees are sacred. We would be impoverished, spiritually, without them. Same with wolves—just knowing they are there. Why would you want to fell a redwood? Money. Why would you shoot a wolf? Economics, if you are a rancher (but really, the government has you covered). To destroy its grandeur and feel superior to it? A trophy? Like a Vietnam­ese ear? And let’s face it, if you are not going to eat it, which in the case of a wolf you are not, you have come to a place where you identify slaughter with pleasure, the ethos of genocide (the destruction of a tribe). Why should we not genocide wolves? Same reason we should not throw stones at the windows of Sainte Chapelle. Same reason we should not take a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pietà. Same reason we should not shoot Martin Luther King (wasn’t his fearless grandeur fearsome to some?). Same reason the caves of Lascaux need to be closed, so they don’t disappear. We need to know they are there. Walter Pater says, “… we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more…. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time…. For art comes to you frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for the moments’ sake.” The presence of wolves comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake. We need their song, an occasional sighting. We need to know they are there.


Dreaming of Wolves

Ken Lamberton

South of Big Lake, black and naked trees stand skeletal against an oyster-shell sky. In places the spruce and fir still show green. Then the forest returns, untouched, only to retreat again to bristling charcoal. I drive through a gerrymandered map of forest peeled back by fire and laid desolate. The largest blaze in Arizona’s history, the 530,000-acre Wallow Fire, torched this part of the state for the entire month of June last year. I’m worried, and I feel the weight of it on my chest. “Beneath any landscape,” writes author Craig Childs, “is a desert.”
     But this is not a desert yet, I try to reassure myself. This is a place of return, of life restored, of once the wildest now wild again. This is where in only the last couple of decades the Mexican wolves have come home.
     Along the forest road, I navigate the low carriage of the Kia Rio over dozens of diagonal waterbars the size of overturned sofas. Signs warn that “Low Clearance Vehicles Are Not Recommended,” but I press on, scraping bottom. This late in June, I have a narrow window of maybe one week before the first monsoons arrive in these mountains, the ­seasonal thunderstorms having already begun pelting southern Arizona. And when the rains come, the roads will go—waterbars or no—as deep layers of ash turn to mud like slick, wet cement and whole hillsides tumble and roll before relaxing into the newest angle of repose. By the 4th of July, the US Forest Service will close the entire region.
     At five p.m. I make my campsite with a couple hours of light to spare. I’m completely alone. I can see that the Wallow Fire swept through the undergrowth, but giant ponderosa pine still forest the deep canyon I’ve chosen. Willow and alder still thicket the banks of the river.
     This is good, I consider with some relief. The river runs clear, and five days ago telemetry in this area located the Bluestem Pack.
On March 29, 1998, eleven captive-raised Mexican wolves, the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in the United States, were released for the first time here in the Apache National Forest near Campbell Blue Creek. The last recorded wild Mexican wolf in Arizona was killed in 1970, although few had been seen since the 1950s. The release did not go well. Left alone, the wolves were fine, doing what wolves do, hunting elk, having more wolves. The alpha pair of this, the Campbell Blue Pack, even produced the first wild pup of the recovery program.
     But by the end of the year, in what appeared to be an organized effort of sabotage, most of the wolves were dead or missing.
     Wildlife officials would not be denied, however, and the following year, in the midst of the controversy, the lawsuits from the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association, the angry threats from ranchers, the government brought in Dances with Wolves author Michael Blake and released twice as many wolves in five packs covering two states. Wolf recovery by shock and awe.
     The Bluestem Pack came along in June of 2002. Nine wolves—an alpha female named Estrella and her mate, two juveniles, and five pups—took to a home range that spread out over this national forest and into two adjacent Indian reservations, even making forays into the ranges of other packs. After seven years as the alpha female, Estrella left the pack and her daughter became the alpha female. A year later, a hunter illegally shot Estrella, bringing an end to a legacy that included twenty-two pups—six of which became leaders of other packs. At her death, she was the oldest living Mexican wolf in the wild.
     Reports say the Bluestem Pack survived the Wallow Fire with pups in tow. And this year, as one of the most successful wolf packs of the program, the Bluestem has denned again.
     Today, about sixty Mexican wolves in eleven packs haunt these woods, from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations in Arizona to New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, the so-called Blue Range Recovery Area. Last year, at least thirty-four pups were born to these packs. Three hundred additional wolves live in captive-breeding facilities—all of them descendants of five Mexican wolves captured in 1973.
After setting up camp, which for me amounts to rolling out my sleeping bag onto the pine duff, I pull on my fishing vest and walk to the river, threading my fly rod through a mesh of alder branches tight enough to screen bear. I tie on a #18 parachute adams and get a strike on my first cast, the fish retreating in a swirl of dark water and yellow underside. Apache trout!
     Moments later I land a nice brown trout. Then, finally, a ten-inch Apache. The official state fish of Arizona, and officially … my breakfast.
     At seven-thirty, the light fades. A Clark’s nutcracker caws from looming pines. I eat a dinner of Triscuits (dill, sea salt, and olive oil) and Jarlsberg, crawl into my bag and switch off my headlamp. An eggshell of moon bathes the forest, turning every burnt stump into a bear … or wolf. I think about the two wolves from the original Campbell Blue Pack that showed up at the camp of some hunters and, as they watched, began dismembering a deer they had killed. Careful, I try not to release my trepidation into the woods where it could take on steel-white teeth designed for shearing and tearing, and claws as hard as obsidian. Instead, I try to comfort myself with the thought that a mountain lion is more likely to make a meal of a human than a wolf.
     Then I start hearing a soft padding in the gray ash and seeing pairs of green eyes.
     At three a.m. my brain shakes me awake to the imagined howls of wolves. Or were they imagined? I can’t be sure, but I hear nothing now. I sleep with my eyes open, and sometime between the blackness of moonset and the bird song of dawn I dream of wolves. There is movement among trees, like the shadows of shadows slipping past each other. And breathing, a wet, deep-chested huffing. I dream of wolves with my hazel eyes wide open.
In the morning I find tracks near my camp. Everywhere are the cloven prints of elk, like giant plant stomata plump with moisture. Bighorn sheep, too, from a cluster of ewes that came to the river for water the evening before. These tracks I remember. But then I see the palm-sized imprints: four toes and a center pad. “X marks the spot” I hear my daughter say as she points out the diagnostic cross pattern of canine pads. Jessica is the Wildlife Linkages Program Coordinator for Sky Island Alliance and an expert animal tracker. She has seen wolf tracks here. She has seen wolves here. But I’m not sure if these are wolf or very large dog. Maybe a dog … I just know I didn’t see them yesterday.
     I take photographs of O’s and X’s, and print my own letters on paper to remind myself to ask Jessica how to read the language.
To see a wolf is to see an animal two million years old. This is about the time the ancestor of Canis lupis parted ways from what would become the modern coyote. But the story of the wolf is really much older, older than the dinosaurs, as mammals go—at least the gopher-sized insect-eaters that slept in the shadows of dinosaurs and only came out at night.
     What we begin to recognize as “wolf-like” appears in North America after the great extinction of sixty-five million years ago when a group of slow and clumsy carnivores called creodonts gave way to the carnassials with their special teeth for shearing flesh. Ten million years later or so, this group of carnivores split into the two great divides, the Cat Branch (cats, civets, mongooses) and the Dog Branch (dogs, raccoons, bears, weasels, seals, walruses). From this latter branch, the first canid, the fox-sized “dawn wolf” took to the trees, walking on padded toes or stretching out its long, supple frame among the limbs.
     In the following epochs—Oligocene, Miocene, and Pliocene—while the cats honed their basic stealthy, ambush form, the dogs explored many variations on a theme, molding and remolding their bodies into a cornucopia of predators. While one line tested out flippers and tusks, or a massive bulk with huge heads and marrow-extracting jaws, another tried longer legs and compact feet, a shorter tail and broader snout. It’s during the early Pleistocene, nearly two million years ago, that we see the greatest development and diversification of the North American wolf.
     Now comes the rise of Canis. C. edwardii, the first wolf. C. rufus, the red wolf. C. armbrusteri, a giant wolf and sister to the dire wolf, C. dirus, the largest bone-crushing wolf ever to exist, which became extinct only 8000 years ago. And C. lupus, the modern gray wolf.
     Some researchers think the progenitor of the gray wolf crossed the land bridge to Eurasia and evolved there into Canis lupis, crossing back again into North America where they shared the continent with dire wolves. Both had already established themselves here as the first Native American people, trailing their domesticated wolves, came over Berin­gia around eighteen thousand years ago.
     Human packs living and cooperating with canine packs.
After millions of years of evolution, of nature sculpting organs, muscles, bones, and the orderly wires of instinct to create an animal designed to hunt together in packs, to kill together in packs, I hear my first wolves. I’m camping near Hawley Lake on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, home to the Tsay-O-Ah, Maverick, and Paradise packs. It’s just before sunrise and the land is still and wet. A mist boils off the lake’s iron skillet. When the howling begins, in the moments it takes for my brain to register “wolves,” the blood pools in my chest. I feel no warm surge of pulse. I stand half in and half out of the world. Light slides over my paling skin as their calling moves through the forest like an unexpected hush. It is the sound of angels mourning their immortality.
     Then it ends as suddenly as it started, my foot still lifted, poised mid-step over the threshold of a connection.
Being pack animals ourselves, we either have an alliance with wolves, or we compete with them. In the beginning, before we drew out and formed from their stock our canine familiars, it was all alliance. Today, I’m afraid, it’s mostly competition. We speak the same language, but like so many other human traits, we’d rather polarize than compromise. The politics of predators like the politics of insects. No compassion. No concession.
     But the nature of wolves lies outside whatever we may think of them, beyond alliance or compromise, beyond our science and our myths. They are as real as the sound of their voices through the trees, as vital as breath. Their way is as evident and mysterious as a trail of blood in the snow.


Shadow Dance

Terry Tempest Williams

Wolf eyes
Wolf wise
From the edges of wildness they watch us—
We want them dead.
We do not recognize them for who they are—
We see them as ourselves—
blood-thirsty and ruthless
hiding in the creases of cruelty.
No wonder the wolves howl—
Wolf eyes
Wolf wise
Here is our folly as humans: Kill the wolf
and he-she remains, haunting our hearts
forever, familial, fierce, and hungry—
From the edges of wildness they stalk us—
We want them dead.
Wolf eyes
Wolf wise
We are afraid of our own shadow.


Head of a Stag

Geoffrey G. O’Brien

If you go to Madrid and walk past the austerity coating everything and enter the Museo del Prado and drift chro­nologically through it, which many do though few can, you end up encountering a melting thought about who and what gets to occupy the center of the canvas. Sacred history gives way to an exclusive portraiture of nobles and kings which then in turn slowly, begrudgingly, admits others within its frame, rich merchants mostly, some clowns and fools, and then even commoners make it into the oil, though usually in groups and either at work or drinking and gaming after, still not admitted to the slow, solitary sitting times of the wealthy. This morphing down through the history of Western painting is often reprisable in the work of a single painter, and at the Prado the most obvious case is Velazquez. When you walk through his work you traverse this same slow accommodation of beings beyond the holy or monarchical, including his famous rehumanizing portraits of court dwarves, but then you are pulled up short in front of a canvas called Cabeza de venado (Head of a Stag).


     Here, a deer has been swapped into the central space of human portraiture and regards you with a look as fictional yet full as those of Velazquez’s dwarves. The painter’s startling decision opens a temporary abyss behind portraiture’s human face and instead paints that human face’s contingent self-authorization precisely by removing it and showing what else could happen there; traditionally both the subject and object of the gaze, the human face of the observer, including mine, feels different when even a fictive two-dimensional nature stares back. As the end of a sequence of decentering authority that began with kings and nobles and gave way to dwarves and peasants, this deer’s stare still feels social because of its location in that sequence, but it is an impossible sociality because it cannot carry any social meaning even if we grant the fiction of the stag and grant that fiction a mind. It’s embarrassing for everyone, for kings and nobles who are suddenly no more kingly or noble than the stag who supplants them, and for any observer in the Prado, stoned from overconditioned air and the relentless stream of genius, who expects to see yet another face and suddenly finds herself first having to do the more difficult work of granting Cabeza de venado a face before encountering the depths of its flat and impossible stare.
     It is no longer 1626 or 1635, the possible dates of the painting’s composition, but in 2013 that stag looks as vulnerable to me as it might have at the end of a hunt par force de chiens (in which a royal deer is chased to exhaustion by dogs before being killed by their masters). It looks vulnerable to human economy whether that takes the form of medieval hunting and its hierarchizing functions for aristocracy or present-day territory depletion and population control (something wolves are, or used to be, but which humans can only do). The absurdity of its staring from portraiture, shorn from the universe and pent in a narrow human frame, is now also the obscenity of real deer staring out of a nearly totally built environment (there are only seventeenth-century clouds behind this stag’s head but they will soon scud over subdivisions). With the wolf, their natural predator here in North America, the situation is the same but the absurdity is even more farcical and deadly because it’s an apex predator.
     Which means humans find the wolf more comparable to themselves. They too sing, work together, play according to consensual rules, produce hierarchy that in turn produces uneven benefits to the participants. But unlike humans and unlike capitalism, wolves do not produce unnecessary surplus, nor is the uneven distribution of resources in a pack necessarily disastrous. They bother economy and its agents with the beauty of their mere survival, a being-social without money.
     The hunter is one parody of this survival, the rancher and his excessive territory another. Both hate the wolf inordinately, or enjoy killing her, because this animal lays bare the mediated, non-necessary relations to the physical universe that capitalism requires. Enough is not enough, instead one must kill for sport on the weekend because of the invisible injuries sustained during the workweek and its paltry psychic life; or dedicate an enormous tract of land to the fattening of livestock in order to make a “living.” When wolves live on the edges of that living they reveal its economic absurdity: a capital offense in every sense. From the Montana Record-Herald in 1922:

Livingston. A notorious lone wolf, said to have killed during his lifetime more than $10,000 worth of cattle on the range of Wallis Huidekoper, well-known Montana stockman and president of the state stockmen’s association, is no more. The head now is on display at the local taxidermist’s shop, and Mr. Huidekoper’s cattle graze undisturbed.
     For fifteen years, Mr. Huidekoper says, the demon ravished his cattle, slipping down almost nightly from the mountains to kill a valuable animal. Year after year all efforts to end the wolf’s career failed, but a few weeks ago the raider was shot and killed. Since that time no loss of stock has been reported.

     The wolf can be both demon and careerist in the same sentence because it’s an incoherent repository for the capitalization of life and action: this wolf apparently kills dollars not cows. The only form of harmonious nature available to this economic worldview is the decidedly nonnatural pastoral action of grazing cows “undisturbed” by any possibility of being embedded in a food-chain that extends beyond the human. The end of a “career” like this can only be a spectacular commodity, a stuffed head in a shop that stares out without life, filled as much with the social meanings of total conquest as with the taxidermist’s materials.
     Photographs too are stuffed heads, instants of animal action removed from context and abstracted into human values. There are many photos of wolves captured, like the stag of Velazquez, as though staring at an implied human observer. To a casual environmentalist, those yellow eyes might look reproachful or have an air of nobility, the nobility of being free from nobility, from human social divisions entirely. To a hunter or rancher it’s the implacable stare of a demonizable competitor or foe. But it’s none of these, it’s what the outside of capital looks like when caught, when seen, from within it.