Wolf is the holy heartbeat of wilderness. ~Lucinda Bakken White
As an overly domesticated woman, housewife, and mother back in 1999, reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D awoke something primal in me, and my heart longed to be near wild wolves. Estes wrote, “Wolves and Women have been tarred with the same brush. They’re supposed to be cunning and treacherous and untrustworthy. But the aspect of the Wolf that the Wild Woman relies on is the idea of freedom.”
Sadly, by 1930 wolves had been hunted to near extinction in the United States. At the time that I found myself reading Dr. Estes’ book in my home state of California, no wolf had been documented since 1925, which reinforced for me her view that wolves and wild women are both an endangered species.
For twelve years I thought of Wolf as my animal totem and obsessively studied Wolf behavior. Then one day out of the blue, I received an invitation to go wolf tracking in the snowy Northwoods of Wisconsin! Electric and enlivened by the news, all of a sudden my life felt sacred, as if I were being guided by something greater than myself. I knew it in my bones. Something big was going to happen with Wolf in Wisconsin.
Two weeks ago, I received my second invitation to go wolf tracking. Synchronistically, it happens to be exactly seven years since my first track. I feel joyful for the opportunity, animated by the mystery and also scared of the unknown. This is a polar vortex winter and I am not snow savvy – nor am I a skilled tracker in the wilderness.
When this blog is published, I will already be in the Northwoods tracking Wolf. I look forward to sharing in a future blog how this wild adventure unfolds – and most of all, what I learned about Wolf, Womanhood, and the freedom of my Wild Woman Nature.
In the meantime, I leave you with the following story about my first wolf tracking expedition in 2012, as excerpted from my memoir, Confessions of a Bone Woman: Realizing Authentic Wildness in a Civilized World
The image of wolf paw prints pressed on white snow is primal, harkening back to a time when our hunter-gatherer ancestors considered wild animals their kin and evolved by modeling their behaviors. Observing the hunting and survival skills of wolves, our forebears learned how to track prey with all of their senses.
Wherever they go and whatever they do, animals leave a trace. Remnants of fur snagged by a twig, old or fresh scat, foliage slightly compressed, and the wet print of urine are signs of animal activity and behavior. With keen observation and strong intuition, any seeker of a connection to animals can read their signs and patterns.
Visible, tangible spoors hold a wealth of information. It’s possible to know by reading the tracks and signs the approximate day and time of an animal’s presence and where he or she was going. The tracks might also reveal if the animal was walking, playing, feeding, hunting, or being hunted — and even if he or she was calm, stressed, courting, or pregnant.
Spiritual trackers know how to create a telepathic connection. They are able to feel the animal’s body, heart, and soul by imagining their own hands and feet inside the animal’s paw prints. In this way, tracking wolves becomes a metaphor that echoes the ancient way of hunting animals for sustenance. Wolves, as predators who hunt and eat prey, can teach a modern tracker how to seek food for their soul.
Wolf sightings in the woods are rare. Finding a wolf track in the vast wilderness requires experience and time. Even those lucky enough to discover fresh tracks might never see a wolf, because remote observation is difficult in a dense forest. As one might imagine, wolves are keenly aware and leery of humans. They sense our presence and remain elusive.
For our week-long wolf tracking immersion, our group’s quest was to find and follow any tracks laid out before us in order to feel the essence of Wolf. Following the trail, we were to imagine the animal, what it was doing, where it was going and why. We understood that the ultimate, most intimate opportunity would be for the tracks to lead us like the pull of a string to a wolf den, rendezvous, or kill site. To come upon a place where wolves had birthed new life, rallied with their pack, or gained sustenance from death would be an extraordinary and mystical experience. Of course our odds were slim, and it was important to simply embrace the journey.
On day three, we got lucky. One of the scouts found some fresh wolf tracks that stepped off of a fire lane and into a dense forest of pine, hemlock, spruce, and fir. As we moved into the woods and looked at the tracks before us, my heart did a flip. We saw by the shape of the tracks in the snow that a galloping lone wolf — we intuitively felt she was female — had raced up onto a ridge, possibly running for her life. Her power and speed were palpable as she threaded through tight tree trunks, weaving between and under snapped branches sticking out like sharp knives. Leaping five feet here and there over fallen logs, she had impressive precision. After the wolf came down off the ridge, we lost her trail and eventually gave up.
The next day we were able to find more tracks and saw evidence the wolf was in pursuit of a deer. At one point two of us fanned out to the left of our group for a broader look. When we walked by a spruce tree, my partner casually pointed down at a large shred of fresh deer hide. He kept going, but I stopped to inspect the white fur. As I touched the deerskin, it compelled me to stand up and turn around. When I did, my body went still. The silence was palpable. And then all of a sudden it registered.
As I looked through the trees before me, I saw in the distance a wide stretch of vibrant-red blood painted on snow. Standing on the edge of a portal where death begets life, I was silenced by the scene before me. The site told a beautiful, potent story, pulsing with red blood that symbolized both life and death. My heart raced as I felt in my viscera the brutal force that took the deer down. We saw marks in the snow where she was dragged, ripped apart, and devoured. And after a moment, I felt a warm sensation in my stomach as I imagined the wolf filling her empty belly with nourishing meat and the substance of bones.
Moving in closer, we inspected more details and were able to piece together more of the story. The wolf was indeed a female; we confirmed it with urine markings. On the other side of the site, we saw more wolf tracks racing in from different directions to assist with the kill. We saw marten, fisher, and fox tracks coming and going too and the wing tracks of a raven where he had lifted in flight from the snow.
By aging the tracks, we deduced the deer’s life had been a three day feast for a band of forest animals. Knowing the deer was a prey animal, I understood it was her higher purpose to serve as food for the wolves and others. In that way, the wolf and the deer had conspired to feed life on earth.
Nearby we found a rounded-out bed in the snow. Someone told me it’s common for wolves to sleep near their kill. When I saw the circular imprint of the she-wolf ’s body, it tugged at my heartstrings to imagine her sleeping curled up in a ball with her tail covering her nose. I immediately laid myself down inside her frozen hollow and curled my body to fit. Curved in the wolf bed with my eyes closed, I felt the holy heartbeat of her wildness coursing through my veins.