Last week I was sat in front of a tall chain link fence at a wolf sanctuary. Part of a group spending the afternoon there, we had been given time to be alone in silence with the wolves.
I was just sitting there in the dirt, enjoying my shorts becoming covered in dust and gazing softly at a giant wolf who was lying asleep. The back half of his body was in a hole he had dug, probably because the dirt was cooler down there. It was hot that day; 100F when I’d arrived.
We were told to bring the wolf a question. The one that came to mind for me was, “Why am I here?”
So I sat there, rather embarrassingly, silently asking the wolf why I was there in front of his cage.
I couldn’t even see his face and I wanted to. When was he going to look up? When was he going to walk over here and stand broad shouldered, looking down at me, and speak to me, mind to mind, in a deep breathy wolf voice, some amazing life-changing wisdom?
Impatient for magic, quietly breaking the silence rules, I curled my tongue against my teeth and pushed just a little bit of air through, making a soft, high-pitched whistle.
I tried again. Still nothing.
I knew what I needed to do.
Beginning a whistle again, barely loud enough for me to hear it, nevermind the person about 50 feet away at the next pen over, this time I pressed my tongue increasingly forward as I blew, making the pitch rise higher and higher.
(At some point during my youth my interest in the physics of sound and hearing had crossed paths with my learning how a dog whistle works. I’d figured out that if I raise the pitch of my whistle until it stops, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped whistling. It just means I can’t hear it anymore because it’s too high-pitched. Practicing with my own dog, I had learned to make a dog whistle with my tongue.)
Sat with the wolf, I raised the pitch of my whistle until I couldn’t hear it, then with a puff, I pressed all of the air I had left in my belly through my tongue.
His two pointy ears shot up, followed by his head, which whipped around over his shoulder and faced straight towards me. It was bigger than I’d expected and his eyes were so yellow. I’d never seen eyes that yellow before.
Finding nothing interesting except another strange human sat on the dirt staring oddly expectantly at him, he promptly returned his head to the dirt and closed his eyes.
If he wasn’t going to come to me and teach me in real life, then maybe he would in my mind. I closed my eyes for a while. Listening for the light breeze gliding down into the valley. Feeling the sun heat my skin.
With some encouragement, in my mind’s eye, finally he came and stood as I’d hoped he would. He stood before me and looked at me waiting for my question.
“Why am I here?” I asked.
Unfortunately, when he spoke, his voice was not deep and breathy. It sounded just like mine.
“You come to places like this to see people like me…”
(Yes, he said people. I didn’t bother to correct him.)
“…so that you can reconnect to your wild nature.
You think you put us in cages and part of you feels bad for that, but it’s not us you are caging off.
It is the wild itself you put in a cage.
You are as much trapped as we are.
You say it is for our own good. To be out there would be too dangerous. We’d hurt someone. They’d put us down.
Maybe so. And yet that has been our destiny for many thousands of years.
More tragic though is how you do it to yourself. You protect yourself from your own wild. You don’t trust that if you were free you wouldn’t hurt someone. That you would not be put down.
But that too is your nature. To risk that is your birthright.
What are you really so afraid of?”
With that he turned and walked back to his hole, laid down and forgot about me.
I opened my eyes. Chance (that was the wolf’s name) was still lying where I’d imagined him to be.
It was not in the way I’d expected, and he’d left me with another question, but he did give me an answer.
For awhile now I’ve been aware of a calling back to the wildness that made up much of my youth – in the sense of spending time in nature, my adventurousness, being often disruptive and disapproved of – but I’ve answered this call mostly infrequently and at arms length.
Chance’s words were a slap in the face at my trite actions to rewild myself. He was right.
Taking his question rhetorically, I’ve been asking it a lot recently.
What are you really so afraid of?