Saturday, November 08, 2008

Seeking the Blessing of the Wolves

A few years ago, when I was on the board of a local environmental-education group, I helped organize a couple of presentations by the staff of Mission: Wolf, a sanctuary located one county south of me. As part of their mission, "Socialized ambassador wolves travel nationally, offering public education while stimulating people to care about and respect nature."

Often they have the audience sit in a circle on the floor, if the group is small enough, and the leashed ambassador wolf comes around to give each a quick sniff. If you get a wolf kiss (and I have), that's supposed to be something special.

One day last summer, M. and I were at the farmers' market in Florence, Colo., and people from a different, smaller, wolf sanctuary were there. They seemed less focused on environmental ed. and more on magic, in the form of "Cheyenne, the Healing Wolf."

I don't see it on the web site, but the people from this second sanctuary insisted that their oldest wolf could diagnose cancer and other illnesses. They were less into teaching about wolves in the wild and more into presenting these predators as healing beings.

Third, at the beginning of October, M. and I returned to Yellowstone National Park for the first time in some years. Our last visit, in fact, came just before the reintroduction of wolves to the park in the mid-1990s.

And how the northern edge of the park, in particular, had changed. There were wolf tourists. Every pull-out between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance contained serious-looking individuals with spotting scopes and expensive telephoto lenses, scanning the hillsides of the Lamar Valley. The nearby Slough Creek Campground, which used to be half-empty in autumn, is always full.

Imagine, if you have not seen one, a full-size tour bus with wolves painted on it, picking up forty or so hikers who have been on a wildlife walk to look for . . . wolves, of course. When someone sees a wolf, the news spreads around the park by "bush telegraph."

Not everyone is keen on wolves, however. I spotted this sticker on a truck in Cooke City, Wyo., just outside the park.

Cat Urbigkit's Yellowstone Wolves: A Chronicle of the Animal, the People, and the Politics is a definitive history of the issue.

But I think that is the minority view. It is as though we have flipped 180 degrees from when Barry Lopez wrote Of Wolves and Men in the 1970s. He was trying to convince readers that wolves were more than mere vermin. Now they are emissaries of nature religion, furry saints.

American nature religion often has a therapeutic slant, that's for sure. "The wolf will heal you." It's a change from "The wolf will eat you," but is it any more truthful from the wolf's point of view?

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Blogger Yvonne said...

Not so much "Dances with Wolves" as "Makes a lot of money from Wolves"...

3:55 AM  
Blogger Steve Bodio said...

Allegedly the old Canadian who caught some or all of the reintroduction wolves said "the environmentalists think they live on mice and the ranchers think they live on cows. They're both full of shit."

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

And we all know who was responsible for the "wolves just eat mice" story.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm very bummed now, having just read about Farley Mowat through your link. I read his books as an impressionable kid and loved them. First Annie Dillard, now him! damn.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous anne hill said...

The whole "wolf as healer" meme is interesting, Chas. It reminds me of the night about 12 years ago, when a young wolf literally showed up at our door in Sebastopol, after apparently jumping out of some guy's pickup truck. It was way more wolf than dog, about 2/3 of my height on all fours, and just wanted to play. Not only with our five kids ranging in age from 4 to 14, but with me, much to my chagrin. Every time I went outside he was right there, walking alongside me while pushing against me until I was off the path and he had claimed the middle. Unnerving, to say the least.

At the time I was having a lot of wolf dreams and puzzling out all my different symbolic connections with wolves. It turns out that wolves are incredibly healing creatures when they do calming, transformative things in dreams. But if they show up in real life and want to come into your house and wrestle with your kids? That's where animal control comes in.

8:54 PM  
OpenID smartdogs said...

[wolf blessing brain bleed]

Wolves are wonderful, beautiful beasts. But there's no esoteric magic in them.

Speaking from experience - once you've been face-to-face with a wild wolf, alone in the woods, you will not see him as the Disneyesque, spiritual healer that has - too much - become the fashion today.

You'll see him as predator -- and yourself as prey. And that's a valuable bit of perspective.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Lonnie said...

There was a great special on PBS recently about a naturalist, Ernest Thompson Seton, who was one of the first people to really challenge American's notion of the wolf after his own encounter with an exceptional one named Lobo"

My own perspective is that predators are just that. They are neither beneficient nor evil. Like all creatures they play a role in the balance of things. I feel that we need to strive to achieve balance ourselves with these animals mainly because it is the right thing to do. Besides, there will come a day (if it hasn't already arrived) when each species genes will be far more valuable than the rarest book. By destroying these species, we do a grave harm to humanity worse than those who burnt the Library of Alexandria.

11:51 AM  

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