"I am haunted by the howl of the Ghost Wolf"...Me
"Ghost Wolf Fever Dream", graphite on Bristol, 14 x 11in.
I have a memory, living fiercely inside of me, that I frequently call on of listening to wolf howl at the edge of a wild lake in Minnesota's remote northern wilderness. I was camping with my three children, alone, surrounded by over one million acres of primordial woods and water. My daughters, then aged 3 and 6, were asleep and dreaming in our tent of nylon, while my son, 14 at the time, and I sat by the warmth of a fire under a tent of stars. The fire crackled and the waves lapped and we were having the kind of conversation you can really only have with your teen son when the fire glow and the moon glow conspire to make you more vulnerable and open. And, so, we breathed our words in and out to each other, next to that fire. At the far reach of the campfire's light, the walls of the tent were breathing in and out from the night breeze, like the soft breathing bodies of the little ones inside. Somewhere on the cobalt lake a loon wailed to her mate; bat wings stroked the inky black of the sky; and the night could not have gotten any better...until it did.
I threw my head back and closed my eyes to feel the light of the moon on my face when I heard it. The first lines of a verse from the choir of wolves. The sound of wolf howl comes in through your ears, but it settles in your belly. It fills you, roundly and soundly. It is heard there, it is felt there, and it lives there forever after. At your core. In your belly. All the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention, like one thousand centuries of ancestors, or more, who all knew the cry of the wolf before you, and who stood alert at its sound. It is in your DNA that your hairs will stand, that you will feel the vibrational resonance of their calls in your belly. We have not evolved far enough to avoid it. Of course we haven't! There I was, a mother and her young in the depths of an ancient wilderness where somewhere, out there, a wolf pack howled. It ignited my fear receptors, it activated my protective instinct, but it also reassured me that the wild is still there. The wolf is in the woods, and I am in the woods, too. And, there I belong. It reaffirmed a dream I have long had, that one day I would live among Canis lupis, that one day I would know intimately the song of the wolf.
Image from the Internet
Another dream that is as old as my time, is to camp among the wolves of Isle Royale. Located less than 15 miles from the shores of Minnesota and Canada, in the cold waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is an island 45 miles long and 9 miles wide, surrounded by 450 smaller islands that make up the Isle Royale National Park. At one time, lynx dominated the island, preying on caribou and snowshoe hares. Then humans decimated them all, save for a few hares, making the coyote the primary predator. Coyotes shared the island with red foxes, ermine, mink, muskrats, and squirrels. Several species of bats ruled the night. Garter snakes, redbelly snakes, painted turtles, frogs, and salamanders made their homes in the lowlands of the island. And then came the moose.
The first Moose (Alces alces) swam across the waters of Lake Superior from Minnesota in the early 1900's. They found plentiful food and safety on their new island home, and were thriving there. Winters tended to be harsher, then, and in 1949 a pair of wolves crossed an ice bridge that had formed, from Ontario, changing the way of life for all on the island. This began the fight for life and balance on Isle Royale.
Photograph by Rolf Peterson
In the decades that followed ecologists have conducted a long-term study of the predator-prey system, between moose and the eastern timber wolves. There is a cyclical relationship between the two animals: as the moose increase in population, so do the wolves. Eventually, the wolves kill too many moose and begin to starve and lower their reproductive rates, the scales of balance always moving in a delicate dance. When initially studied in 1958, many researchers believed the two species would eventually reach a population equilibrium (which is believed to be about twenty-five wolves, and 1,500 moose). They have not yet shown any sign of settling into one, instead tending to fluctuate unpredictably. The most dramatic decrease in the wolf population occurred when the canine parvovirus was spread to the wolves on the island, introduced by a park visitor's dog (breaking the rules of the national park) in 1980 or 1981, causing a crash in the population. Climate change has proven to be, perhaps, even more catastrophic, as it has meant warmer winters, and less opportunities for new wolves, and their fresh bloodlines, to cross ice bridges to the island. By 2015, the moose were at about 2/3 of their historical maximum, where as the wolf population was nearly extinct with only three severely inbred wolves present. At this time, there is a heated debate as to whether humans should intervene. Introduce more wolves to the island, thus strengthening the gene pool...or, let the wolves die, ending their existence in that place. There are those who say we shouldn't interfere, as though humans haven't been doing just that, to the mortal peril of the wolves, since antiquity. We are hesitant to intervene to help the wolves, but not to destroy them. What about the human's infected dog? What about what human's have greatly contributed to climate change? What about even long before that? From the time of our ancestors we have been hunting and poisoning them until near extinction.
"Ghost Wolf Fever Dream", detail
Take Wolf's Bane (Acontinum nepellus), under the government of Saturn, and the element of Water. Also known as Aconite, Leopard's Bane, Monkshood, Thor's Hat, and others, though I almost always call it Wolf's Bane. Used magically for invisibility and protection. Used to ward off werewolves, and also to cure them. But, poisonous. All parts of the plant, extremely so. Most known, historically, as a means of killing wolves, poisoning them with aconite-tainted meat. I have a stand of this plant growing in a poison garden. I have often dreamt of her, and she has been present in all of my Ghost Wolf dreams. But it is the lost wolves who haunt me. My dreams are of the lost wolves of Isle Royale. And beyond. Beyond the big, cold lake. Beyond even the landscapes we inhabit. Into myth. Their souls come in through my mind's eye, at night, and leave me tossing and turning and in a feverish sweat. Tumbling into a night panic over the loss of wolves. So, I carve sigils. I tie knots for protection. You see, I need wolves. I need to live in a world that is ripe with dens, and packs, and the infinite wisdom and mystery in the eye of an Alpha. I need to live in a world where the haunting is in the howl that comes in through your ears, but settles in your belly, when the moon glow conspires to make you more vulnerable and open.
"Ghost Wold Fever Dream", detail
"Ghost Wolf Fever Dream", detail
Among wolves, no matter how sick, no matter how cornered, no matter how alone, afraid or weakened, the wolf will continue. She will lope, even with a broken leg. She will strenuously outwait, outwit, outrun and outlast whatever is bedeviling her. She will put her all in taking breath after breath. The hallmark of the wild nature is that it goes on.