Wolf song

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Their howls woke me just before daybreak while moonlight and stars still swept the sky. They always begin the same way. One wolf raises her voice to the heavens and the others soon follow in unison, filling the valley with a most beautiful, haunting wolf song. As I laid in the old, borrowed, pop-up camper listening to their soulful howls, something stirred inside, like cosmic dust shifting deep within my bones, calling for remembrance of a wildness lost long ago. By the time their song quieted and the hush of the valley lifted with first daylight, an intense need lay prominent in the silence, a need for the connection between their ancient, native language and my very own.
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A wolf’s eyes are piercing and penetrating, colored by a depth that can break through any masks draped by ego and fear. Perhaps this is why the wolves draw so many people to the sanctuary. Perhaps this is why people of all kinds come to stay, work and volunteer at Mission: Wolf for months, even years at a time. The wolf embodies raw, primal wildness and holds no pretense, no lies or falseness like the kind our society so readily provides. All kinds of people stay at the sanctuary working for the wolves, many of them seeking healing, truth and integrity, bound by an unspoken desire to be seen as they really are–flawed, yet infinitely wild and free.

“To look into the eyes of a wolf is to see your own soul.” ~ Aldo Leopold

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Wolves, in the Native American tradition, are deeply respected as powerful teachers and guides. They are intelligent, social, and free spirited animals, loyal to their lifelong mates and to their strict, pack order. Most Native American cultures would never think of killing a wolf. A wolf is their kindred spirit, a brother and sister. Having watched these beautiful animals play, nuzzle, and greet humans with friendship, it’s hard to think of them as the terrible predator that they’ve been targeted as. What makes me sorrowfully ill is the existence of people and websites that promote the hunting of wolves for sport, claiming them to be the “top predator of the Northern Rockies”. Oh the irony…I say look again sirs.

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As with most of Earth’s wildness, somehow we have come to believe that if we can tame something, we can possess it, and by possessing it we can do what we want with it. Human affliction is obsession with possession. The pain and repercussions of the lies we tell ourselves is felt by every living thing on this planet. Slowly, the language of our own wildness has been lost, pushed far beyond recognition. The reality of this lies before us every single day. People have been breeding wolf and wolf/dog pups for years, selling them to humans who want to possess them as a pet. The friendly nature of wolf pups can have people fooled. Soon they learn that the independent spirit of a wolf cannot be tamed, contained or owned liked dogs. As the pups grow and mature, problems arise, particularly if genetically they are more wolf than dog. Wolf and hybrid owners eventually lose control of their pets, causing them to be euthanized or shot unless a sanctuary can adopt them. Wolf sanctuaries like Mission: Wolf exist to save these pet wolves and hybrids if they can. More often then not, pet wolves and hybrids are turned away due to lack of space and limited resources. Mission: Wolf, named in reference to the movie title Mission Impossible, has the primary goal to eliminate the need for wolf sanctuaries. People like Kent Weber, the founder, are trying to make amends for human error by making a difference. Healing for our human recklessness in every sense, can begin with just one person–or one animal inspiring us to do the same.

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On the day I met wolves, I didn’t know I would find myself looking into a mirror. I didn’t know that a wolf could reach into my soul and pull pieces I’ve left un-mended, challenge a truth I’ve left un-attended. I walked away from those wolves wanting deeply to change that truth, and become something entirely different, something already coded inside with a divine, primal right to embody my own bold and wild soul.

It was the afternoon of our first day when Kent sat us in a circle before entering the Ambassador wolves’ enclosure. Mission: Wolf trains certain wolves who particularly enjoy human company as Ambassador wolves. Ambassador wolves travel the country educating groups about wolves, allowing people to meet them, touch them, and hopefully understand them better. Currently, there are three, Abraham, Zeab, and Magpie. On this day, we were a group of approximately 15 visitors, some having had the privilege of meeting these wolves before. Kent explained that a wolf’s nature is not like a dog’s. Most dogs seek your attention and approval, needs it even, but not a wolf. In a wild setting, wolves are afraid of humans and will hide from them. In a setting like the the sanctuary, where they see and interact with humans regularly, they do not feel any obligation to humans. In daily relationships with humans, wolves will begin to treat them as another wolf, including disciplining them, seeking order and rank just as they do in a pack. Wolves must earn the respect of another wolf in order to be in their family, their pack, and a human is no different.

Wolves can sense deep fear, insecurity, instability, just as they can sense strength and confidence. In other words, they know immediately how a person feels about him or herself and will treat them accordingly. If you see your self as less than an alpha, so will they. Kent also let us know that wolves love small children and feel protective of them. They often will approach children first, sniff them, inspect them, even lick them. I don’t find this unusual, younger children have little need for self doubt as their wonderful, wild spirits shine through their skin, still unspoiled by the confines of ego. The wolves see this and are drawn to it. So am I….

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Wolves depend fully on a social order that is dynamic all the time. The one they truly need acceptance from is their alpha, their leader. They are drawn to alphas and will look for them in a group of humans such as we were. They greet the young children first, then the alphas, then move down the rank. Kent told us that as we walk in to the enclosure, walk in tall and confident, like we could care less there were wolves among us. He told us to not to appear needy or wanting of their attention because if we do, we will be ignored. In a culture where humans hunger and crave attention, recognition, praise, approval, acceptance and the need to be “chosen” so we can feel our own self worth, it can be difficult to pretend indifference to be chosen by a wolf. What Kent didn’t tell us and what I soon realized, was that pretending was useless. Within minutes of being in that enclosure, acting was utterly unnecessary. The wolves knew, just by walking by, how you felt about yourself. They could sense in an instant if you were trying to be something you were not, or something you weren’t sure you could be. For me, the challenge was just trying to muster authentic, self confidence, it did not come naturally. In that moment, the truth of my insecurities rushed to the surface exposing my weaknesses. I felt naked and I knew, I knew as I walked in grappling with those feelings, a wolf would not find the alpha in me, because I could not find it either.

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In a culture where our worth is based on what we think we own and possess, our titles, and our degrees, and how we think we are perceived, it is easy to confuse what our true worth is with what we acquired both materially and egotistically. Wolves cut through the bull with one look. They can see right through you and leave you exposed and vulnerable with feelings you thought you had buried, or even worse–could live with without repercussion. And herein lies the lifelong journey to answer the questions that surface in all of us. Is it possible to strip away the burden that keeps us weighed heavy and hollow? Can we find the self acceptance, love and forgiveness needed to be the strong, confident, self-assured alphas we all have the capability of being? What keeps us down? What keeps us afflicted? What keeps us from finding the worthy treasures hidden within?

“Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?…The universe buries strange jewels within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic

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It’s been nearly three months since our trip to Mission: Wolf and I can tell you that in that time I have accepted the challenge of excavating my raw, authentic voice. Daily, I face unforgiving mirrors and embrace my weaknesses before transforming them into strengths. I continue to climb every edge and stand at high noon, inviting failure to be another badge of courage. I am answering the primal call to seek and unearth the alpha. I can tell you that I have faced fearlessly the parts in me that have kept me tethered to ego and fragility, challenging the need for approval from anyone but my own powerful voice. I can tell you there is little use for coincidence when divine energy knows you want to abolish the shackles that binds the wildness hidden within. I am stepping into the skin that has been waiting for me and I am no longer afraid of my purpose. I am raising my voice to the heavens, answering the wolf’s howl with my own undaunted, gritty, and beautifully wild wolf song.

Much love

XOXO

meeting Mr. Collins

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A book haven of any kind–independent, corporate, a local library, or the one in your home, carrying spines and pages of any kind–used and tattered, new and pristine, is like walking into a rainbow garden of blooming roses, enthralling, intoxicating, and potentially dangerous if my wits aren’t about me. Easily sucked into the undertow of titles, cover art, and synopses, I could submerge for hours and inevitably re-emerge with an armful of life-preserving stories, adding buoyancy to my own library at home. You do know what I mean :)?

Well, I have to tell you that on one of these excursions, a shorter one than most since I had the boy with me, I met Billy Collins. That’s right, the poet. Okay, well, I’m not sure exactly he was Billy Collins. But it only takes a speck of a moment for imagination to leap to possibility, all hope bolstered by infinite excitment. Could it really be?

The boy wanted a book, that’s how it all started and who am I to hinder a budding reader’s new found joy and eventual addiction (or so I hope). He found this one by the way, though that’s not part of this story.

“Do you mind if I stop in the Poetry section?” I asked him.

“Sure, Mom.”

“I’ll only be a few minutes.” Yes, I fibbed.

And so a few minutes turned into another few minutes and eventually I just plopped down on the floor within arm’s reach of a treasure trove of untraversed poetry. I love exploring new (to me) poets this way. Just reach, read, and fall in love. Soon, the boy joined me on the floor with his new book, patient as ever…. what a love.

A man walking in a manner where his shoulders seemed to pull the rest of his body along sped behind us on the floor. Shoulder-length, wavy, white and gray hair, cargo pants, Columbia vest, hiking shoes, and simple wire frame glasses on an unshaven face. He looked like he could be a sociology professor at CU, a scruffy, yet sophisticated, hippie type. If he wasn’t gazing at us so intently as he whisked by, perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed him. His gaze didn’t slow his pace though and soon he was around the corner and gone.

Or so I thought as he returned within seconds, as if he had forgotten something very important on the other end of the store, rushing, rushing, like the white rabbit in Alice and Wonderland. He stopped abruptly where we sat, as if a Stop sign was posted in lights above our heads.

“Which poet do you like to read?” he asked.

It was such an obvious yet unexpected question that I fumbled over my words–first in surprise, and second because I didn’t know who to answer! I had so many favorites, where do I begin?

“Mary Oliver is wonderful, but then so is Charles Bukowski, but wow they are very different. I like Yeats, and David Whyte too, but there aren’t any David Whyte books here. ”

I felt like I was a college student trying to impress my professor. Who was this guy?

“Oh? Well, I like Billy Collins myself. He is just great.” He reached into the sea of poetry and grabbed one of Collins’ books.  “Do you read Billy Collins?”

I shook my head and slumped inside a smidge for not being able to meet his enthusiasm and familiarity.

“There is one poem that is absolutely my favorite of his. I can’t remember the name of it….(long pause)…Mary Oliver, huh?” He returned the Collins book, then grabbed one of her many volumes lined on the shelf and thumbed through it.

“You can’t go wrong with any of her books, she writes such beautiful poetry, and is quite prolific, too,” I said in a rambly sort of way, happy to have introduced someone to her natural magic.

“Yeah, well prolific is a very good thing” he said absentmindedly, then turned and walked off as abruptly as he had joined us. I can’t remember if he kept the book or not.

I couldn’t help but smirk a little. What a strange, interesting, delightful man. Quirky and unique, I liked him for his oddity and social ineptitude. As the shadow of his presence began to mingle with my imagination, I thought, entertainingly, how wonderful would it be if that was Billy Collins himself. And from there the thought grew like a weed on a rainy day.

Yes! Billy Collins might be that kind of writer, casing poetry sections in bookstores searching, observing, tinkering with the minds of readers, sniffing for new material and new ideas, or just for the fun and hell of it because he can.

No, I had never read any of Billy Collins’ work, but because the seed was planted that he might be ambling around the store, and because I suddenly realized his new book was everywhere on the shelves (oh my god, “he’s” there to promote his new book!!), as improbable as it sounded, I urgently felt the need to read his poetry, get to know him quick, before “he” comes back and wonders if our little interlude had any impact at all!

Too late. Within minutes, he was back. Billy Collins moonlighting as a sociology professor at CU?

“I just remembered what my favorite poem of his is.” He reached for a book called Nine Horses, opened it, and began to read aloud to me right there.

“It’s called Love,

The boy at the far end of the train car
kept looking behind him
as if he were afraid or expecting someone

and then she appeared in the glass door
of the forward car and he rose
and opened the door and let her in

and she entered the car carrying
a large black case
in the unmistakable shape of a cello.

She looked like an angel with a high forehead
and somber eyes and her hair
was tied up behind her neck with a black bow.

And because of all that,
he seemed a little awkward
in his happiness to see her,

whereas she was simply there,
perfectly existing as a creature
with a soft face who played the cello.

And the reason I am writing this
on the back of a manila envelope
now that they have left the train together

is to tell you that when she turned
to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her
and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted

when they are looking up at God
when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God‘.”

He closed the book then looked at me, “Isn’t it beautiful, I love that, just the way he was looking at her on the train.”

I was moved and speechless, and feeling very awkward and unknowing in how to respond to this complete stranger. I think I said “thank you”, but honestly I don’t remember, I hope I did. My son, who had wandered off to the atlases in between this man’s appearances, had returned and broke the quiet awkwardness, “Can we go now?”

Sensing his cue, “Well, it was nice talking to you, I’m meeting someone for lunch but had time to kill. It’s nice to meet someone else who likes poetry.” And with that final word he was off again in a flash, following his shoulders to his lunch date on the other side of the world.

Despite how fantastical it would have been to actually meet Mr. Collins, I didn’t, at least not in the traditional face to face sense. Thanks to that strange, scruffy man at the bookstore, instead I was introduced to a brand new poet, as well as the wonderful drift my imagination can take when I am surrounded in a sea of stories :).

xoxo