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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Voices from the Wild

Boyz in the Woods

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

A Note to the Reader

It was early evening. Cool, but not cold—in the 20s, in fact. Warm for February. A light dusting of new snow covered the bare ground, reflecting the pale yellow light of a waxing moon. I stepped outside. Except for a barking dog in the far distance, the 'Flow was quiet. Suddenly, a shrill yip shattered the stillness. It was immediately answered by a second. The distant dog stopped barking. Silence. Then there was a third yip. And another. And yet another. And then a swelling chorus of yips and howls sounded from one end of the 'Flow to the other, their echoes rebounding from the hills and swirling over the ice.

The howling seemed to come from everywhere at once. Behind me, I heard the shuffle of a deer, moving slowly up the slope into the shadowed woods.

The chorus continued. Farwell joined me, and we listened for a few minutes before going back inside. Next morning, on the slope behind the house, I saw the deer's tracks. And those of one other creature, its clawed, four-toed hind feet all but obliterating the marks left by the four-toed forefeet. (The fifth toes on the forefeet, the "dewclaws," didn't show. They usually don't.) These tracks, too, headed into the woods, following the deer. There was no sign that the second animal was in any hurry.

Later that morning, when I sat down at my computer, I found this message. It must have been written as I slept, in the stillness of the moonlit night.

February 26, 2002

Call me Dog. Not dog with a small d.I'm not a dam' poodle. I'm Dog. Big D Dog. Yeah, sure. I know. I've been called lots of other things by your people. Coyote. Brush wolf. Pest. Varmint. But never mind all that, OK? Just call me Dog. That's not my real name, understand? You'll never know my real name. No human ever has. None ever will. But you need a name for me, just the same, and Dog'll do.

Mighty fine evening, ain't it? What you'd call a huntin' moon. But then, every moon's a huntin' moon to me and the boyz. We're hunters. It's what we do. Our job description. Not that we'll ever turn down a gift. Road-kill. Berries in season. Even windfall apples. But around here, in these hills, winter and summer, we live mostly on whitetail deer and hare.

Names. Back to names for a minute. Your scientists call me Canis latrans. Very important sounding, ain't it? Like most names stolen from dead languages, I suppose. But what's it mean? Barking dog. Not so impressive. And misleading. Sorta makes you think I'm the same as a poodle. But the scientists gave the poodle a different double-barrel name, didn't they? So we must be different, right? And the wolf—what about the wolf? He's got a different name, too. That's three different names in all: one for me, another for the poodle, and a third for the wolf. Well, OK, I'm not a poodle. The scientists are right about that. There's only one Dog. But you take your poodle and your wolf, and then you take me and the boyz, and you know what? We're all dogs! All one big family, if you get my meaning.

Yeah, sure, like most families, we don't always get along. Whaddaya humans say? It's a dog-eat-dog world? Right on. And if me and the boyz are hungry, well…meat's meat. That's when a poodle's just a snack. It's nothin' personal, understand? It's only business.

What's in a name? A lot more'n you'd think. Just ask any scientist. Scientists! Don't get me started. Bunch of pointy-headed con artists. Take this "restoring the wolf" bull, for instance. A few years back, it got everybody in these Adirondack hills all hot and bothered. Letters to the editor in every paper. Town meetings. Petitions. And almost every hill-town resident said the same thing: "Ain't gonna have no wolf on my door! No how. No way." Or worse.

Well that was a load of crap, if you'll pardon my French. "Restore the wolf"? Give me a break. The wolf's already here, and I'm him. Dog. Yours truly. And all them hot-and-bothereds writin' letters to the editor? Just like most of the scientists. Members of the One-Hundred-Percent Wrong Club. Sometimes names get in the way of seeing the truth. Shouldn't have to tell you that, though, should I? Seein' what sort of mischief your scientists got up to in the last couple a centuries, playin' games with the names for the different branches of your own family. Ranking and ordering. Measuring skulls. Calculating cranial capacities. Labelling some of you as "primitive" and some as "advanced." Even suggesting that some of you were just a little less human than some others.

Like I said before: it's all crap. Sometimes, you gotta look beyond the names. Got to use a little common sense. Gotta tell the scientists where to get off. Gotta recognize that we're all in the same boat.

Not that me and the boyz don't enjoy the joke. We do. All those folks buyin' wolf t-shirts and coffee mugs. Writin' checks to Bring Back the Wolf, Inc.. Travelin' hundreds of miles to wolf howl-ins. And all the while, day and night, Dog's right here. Doin' business and howlin' up a storm. The genuine, original Call of the Wild. It's right in their own back-yard, and they still can't hear it. Well, most of 'em can't, anyway.

What did that guy P.T. Barnum say? "There's a sucker born every minute"? Now he was a real genius. Not like those scientists.

Of course, there's family, and then there's family. Take br'er wolf, now. You know, the one on the t-shirts. He's one of us, but he went wrong somewhere. You wouldn't think it to look at him, would ya? He's a big guy. Strong, too. But he got too set in his ways. Lost his edge. Now he needs help. He's still one of the family, sure, but he's not exactly a good bet for the long haul, if you get my drift. He needs protection. He's dependin' on the kindness of strangers. He's dependin' on you.

Not us boyz, though. We're survivors. We're the entrepreneurs in the family. We can get along without your help, thanks jes' the same. That's not to say we won't take what comes our way. No indeed. When times are hard, a poodle makes a mighty welcome meal. Cats, too. The biter bit, ya know what I'm sayin'? And chickens. Even sheep. Like I said, it's nothin' personal. Meat's meat.

Of course, farmers and ranchers don't see it quite the same way we do. They shoot us when they can. But that ain't too often. We keep ourselves to ourselves, ya see. So they bring in government killers to trap us. Or poison us. Doesn't do 'em much good, though. We're survivors, right? Anything that doesn't kill us just makes us stronger. We adapt. Sometimes we hunt alone. Sometimes we hunt in packs. Sometimes we pair up, and sometimes we play the field. We hunt the woods. We hunt the 'burbs. We do what we have to. And we never forget that meat's meat. Road-kill today. Whitetail tomorrow. Pussy-cat next week. It's all food on the table. Being a predator means never havin' to say you're sorry.

Maybe you'll understand that, and maybe you won't. I suspect you will. Me and the boyz watched you standing outside earlier, listen' to us talkin'. But it doesn't matter all that much whether you do or not. We're not lookin' for friends. Your kind and mine, we're not family. We share the woods around here, but we live in different worlds. You know what I mean, right? It's always gonna be that way.

Gettin' late. Moon's almost down. I gotta go. The old lady's back with the other boyz, and if I stay away too long, some of the young studs might start gettin' ideas. And anyway, we got some unfinished business to take care of. Maybe you seen the doe with the broken leg? Got shot up by some human hunter who couldn't manage to hold 'em and squeeze 'em. He couldn't track, either. Pretty worthless all round, to tell the truth. Well, me and the boyz have been keeping an eye on that crippled doe, and she ain't doin' too good. Her leg smells awful bad now, and she's gettin' mighty weak. In fact, she's startin' to look a lot like meat. So we're thinkin' about payin' her a visit tonight.

You understand, right? I thought you would. And the doe? You could say she's been waitin' for us, I suppose. Anyway, you can bet she understands. It's nothin' personal. My old lady's in the family way. Just like the doe. But my old lady's gotta have meat, and that means somebody else's gotta die. That's life, ain't it? It ain't pretty, but it's the way it is. We don't make the rules. We just play the game.

OK. Catch ya later. I'll be around. You can bet on it. This Dog's gonna be here for a mighty long time to come. And that's a promise.

Howling at the 
Moon

Copyright 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.









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