#5: PETER AND THE WOLVES
Written by Lyndon Froese // Artwork by Seth Heinrichs
Pete awoke in the woods surrounded by a pack of wolves. He had the protection of his cabin, but it was still more than a little unnerving to open the door and see that while he slept, wolves had moved in.
It was winter time. Pete had a job at the ski slopes and was living in a tiny shack near High Lake for the season, with just a little woodstove to cook his food. He made his daily commutes into civilization by dogsled.
That’s all very interesting, but we were talking about something urgent: It was morning and there were wolves. Wolves! The ones who eat children for breakfast and spread terror across the pages of the Brothers Grimm. Predators without predators.
How strange it is that some of these fierce animals became Man’s Best Friend.
The canine-human partnership was built on complementary skills – that much makes sense. Wolves have the endurance and sense of smell to track prey, but to make a kill, wolves must get in close and put themselves at risk. A hoof in the mouth and a broken jaw can spell starvation. But humans handily solved this problem with spears and arrows. Together, humans and wolves could be a formidable killing machine.
In just a few generations, the wolves who joined our tribes were no longer wolves, but dogs. They learned to read our gestures and intuit our feelings. Their territorial nature made them partners in agriculture as they protected our livestock. Their knack for herding helped us transport our flocks from place to place. They put their keen hearing into service and warned us of threats near our villages. Their desire to devote themselves to a pack made them members of our families.
But how could this partnership have begun in the first place? Their presence intimidates us and ungulates alike. Few beasts in North America command such reverence. Everyone knows how it feels to encounter an aggressive dog, to sense its power to rip you apart. And wolves work in packs.
Earlier humans would have been frightened. But wolves had us to fear as well. We did not tolerate them coming around and they learned to be wary.
Pete sensed that the wolves surrounding his camp were not interested in making little pieces of him. They just watched. They studied in silence as Pete moved around his camp, preparing for his day. With one eye on the wolves, Pete harnessed his dogs.
As the sleigh runners made tracks out of Pete’s camp, the wolves followed, still curious. It’s hard to say what wolves see in us. But in wolves we see traits that we wish to have. We see their fierce loyalty. We see teamwork. We see the way they care for the young and old among them, and the way they swiftly kill when it is time to be aggressive.
The wolves followed Pete until he could hear the whir of the snow-making machines on the ski slopes. That was close enough. They turned around.
Dogs came along with us into our camps, pastures and cities, as we became domestic together. Wolves stayed behind. Butin their howls at night there is still something familiar. The animal inside us is out there and it is stirred by the same haunting song.
Photo of Wolves on nearby Barren Lake, taken by our friend Jamie Ruggles