There are wolf tracks on the gravel road.
Normally I can walk the circuit the dog and I take each morning and not notice anything disparate or out of line. But these tracks halted me. They ran along the side of the road for nearly half a kilometre and if you weren’t paying attention you could easily mistake them for the paw prints of a large dog. But they belonged to a wolf.
Here in the mountains that shouldn’t be odd. But it is. There are small packs of coyotes that dwell in the ridges behind our home. We’ve seen them and heard them many times since we’ve been here and come to accept them as neighbours. But wolves are oddities here. I can only recall seeing them once before so the tracks surprised me.
Down the road a ways there are some cattle but the open grazing land is occupied by horses. Someone raises turkeys nearby but they’re barn raised for the most part, and scavengers and predators don’t have a whole lot to attract them here. Of course, some of our human neighbours are less vigilant about their refuse at times but not to the degree that wolves should come calling.
But they’re here. Standing at the side of the road, while the dog snooped about at the strange scent, I felt the aura of wildness all around me. There was nothing about, but the feeling of potential was awesome.
The tracks angled off into the trees eventually, aimed toward the ridge across the road and the backcountry that loomed a few kilometres off. Still, the wolf’s presence was palpable and exciting.
It brought with it whirls of ideas and shards of knowledge. I’ve never been close to a wolf but I was raised with the same mythology, rumour and gossip as anybody else. Wolves are creatures of mystery. They are beasties of the full moon and long shadow. They are remnants of our own primordial past prowling the perimeter of our genetic memory; lank, lean and patient as hell.
Returning to my workspace, switching on the computer, checking e-mails and reading the latest baseball news from spring training, it occurred to me how easily we create distance between ourselves and the real world. Steps away from the head of the driveway, a wolf lurked. But instantaneously I’m in cyberspace and galaxies away from that connection. It was a jarring realization.
I remember when I rejoined my people. I was twenty-four and the biggest part of that reconnection experience was the feeling of the land. In northern Ontario, the bush is everything. Whenever my family took me out into it, there was a keen thrill that ran through me. As strange as I was to it by then, there seemed an almost cellular memory that connected me.
Even in our mountain home, I felt that kinetic jolt of connection when we first came here and I feel it every morning when I walk. But it seems so easily forgotten. Despite the spiritual calm that descends on me, despite the pervasive sense of belonging that happens and the joy, I can seal it off completely behind a closed door.
That bothers me. As a native person, whose ceremonial and spiritual sense comes from a relationship with the land, I don’t feel comfortable knowing I can shut it off like a light switch. As a human being with stewardship obligations to the planet that’s my home, I’m embarrassed.
As a writer often expressing themes of kinship, I’m stunned by it. Looking up from my desk there are trees, a lake and mountains all around me—but I’m locked into technology.
Sure, the easy out is that we all have to work to survive and my job involves computers. Moreover, the world demands a certain distance of us. We can’t be meditative and Earth-conscious all the time. But I’d like to think that we can.
Maybe there’s something bigger in a wolf track than anomaly. Maybe there are teachings in things, like my people say, meant to draw us back into relationship to our kinship with the planet. Or, perhaps, jolts of wild are necessary conduits to a reordering of how we spend our time here, reminders that we are animals too and we need to form a pack and help each other.
I don’t know. All I know for sure is that something as simple as a wolf track in the mud of breaking spring is enough to confound me.
That’s what’s worth holding—that palpable mystery. That charge in the belly that says, ‘we are not alone’ and ‘you can not order everything.’ The planet is not here for us. Rather, we are here for the planet. Something as simple as a wolf track can take us back to that.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org