Letter to a Yellowstone Wolf

I felt I needed to write to let you know our meeting wasn’t what I would have wished. It’s true I’ve been imprinted with the classic images: you in a ruffled granny cap salivating through slick teeth, or closing in on Jack London’s north woods fire. But I never took those to heart.

I would have wanted an encounter of equals, two creatures passing in the copse of vulnerability, pared down to sinew and synapse, the copper wires of our wits holding the whole thing together. One of those meetings where energy and mass trade places in a flash of eyes. A meeting where everything funnels and explodes in the same moment.

But the way you paused and turned your lowered head to look back at us made me think you felt pursued. Why did you stick to the ribbon of road? We never saw where you came from, just rounded the bend and there you were. We slowed the car and waited for you to take off across the snow, but you kept loping along the pavement. A few cars passed you going the other way, and you just moved over, and kept to the road. We could see the gleeful faces when they passed us.

So this was our meeting: you loping ahead, us rolling along in our bubble of amazement. We had time to wonder: were you banished from a pack? Was there a fight? You seemed fatigued, and yet you kept going, never rested. Why?

You have your history, and we ours. When was it we parted? Once, we inhabited the same land, the same territory. In that time, I would have understood the bargains you made to stay alive. Ribs undulating across your flanks would ignite a flash of recognition and kinship in me. Cold bursting in upon my lungs would remind me how the same cold was shocking yours. My empty stomach would tell me how hunger massed the last resources of your body to search for food and how it kept you riveted to your prey.

You weren’t wearing a collar like some of your Yellowstone kin. Every pack is named, every wolf numbered. (I have to admit this numbering makes me think of other human counting schemes: digits shelled out to prisoners, tattooed on wrists– if those are dehumanizing, what is this?) I saw the reams of data on the internet, every detail of wolf movements, kinship, pairings, quarrels, deaths. Some people write to complain about helicopters descending on wolves, and photos of researchers proudly posed behind drugged-out wolves, their tongues lolling. I could see their point. I’ve seen a similar expression before, in the old safari photos. It says: This is my story.

And why was I on the internet? I wanted something there to tell me where you were going, why you were alone. But once inside that mess of sticky facts, I got a trapped feeling. I’d flown into a spider’s web, and she was making her way down the silk. I turned off the computer, and walked away. For a long time I sat thinking of dominion.

Yours is a tiny population, and one clever virus could take you out. Of course, we could be the ones to go. But being human, I can indulge a fantasy: maybe you are making your way across a single narrow plank into the future, an unrehearsed time without tranquilizing darts and renderings about whether you get one last chance to stay away from sheep. In that future, your life and death will no longer be in human hands. It will rest in the same invisible hands that once kept salmon thrashing upriver, bats billowing into starlight, bees hauling their garlands from field to field. Life dancing long into the night, beads of sweat flying everywhere like a thousand seeds, and awakening at dawn to the first breath of primordial light.

Even though I didn’t see you in your prime, you sent a bolt of your power into my chest, and it’s still there. Sometimes, before I drift into sleep, I see you loping, and that gives me a strange feeling, a small wet hope just opening its eyes. After all that has happened, we are still connected.

I wish you well, Yellowstone wolf. I wish you well.

Yours Truly,

Joan Kresich

About the Author

Joan Kresich is a poet who attempts to pare the words down to the moment they heat up, a sort of alchemy of language. She is a long-time educator, with many years teaching in public schools. She currently works to bring restorative practices to humans and ecosystems in her communities in Livingston, Montana and Berkeley, California; in one place listening to the cries of wild geese, and in the other, to the intriguing mix of dialects spilling onto urban streets. She is the author of Picturing Restorative Justice. Her work has appeared in CounterPunch, Adanna Literary Journal, Chrysalis, and Albatross Poetry Journal, among others.

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