Although this post does not feature an original wolf illustration from a stranger, this classic LP was a recent gift from a friend who discovered the WBS project and was kind enough to purchase this album for me at a local thrift shop. I simply couldn’t resist posting it as the last installment in March 2012: Music Month.
Today’s Song/Video: The language and music of the Wolves
(narrated by Robert Redford)
From a stranger in Long Island, New York
Enjoy a few facts about that alluring and mysterious call of the wolf: the howl.
Wolves howl to contact separated members of their group, to rally the group before hunting, or to warn rival wolf packs to keep away. Lone wolves will howl to attract mates or just because they are alone. Each wolf howls for only about five seconds, but howls can seem much longer when the entire pack joins in.
Biologists have found that wolves will respond to humans imitating their howls. The International Wolf Center in Minnesota even sponsors “howl nights” on which people can howl in the wilderness and hope for an answering howl.
Wolf howls may be audible to the human ear up to ten miles away in good weather conditions.
While howling, wolves change pitch to achieve harmonic as well as discordant effects.
Since lone wolves have no established territory, they rarely howl.
From Emily in Castaic, California
This piece is a little long, and probably shouldn’t fall under the “less is more” heading, but trust me… it’s worth reading.
“Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold
A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.
My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.
I am convinced that Mother Nature can offer no image that is more soul-stirring than that of the lonesome lobo, perched triumphantly upon a monolithic promontory while the silver moon anoints its fur with a shimmering glaze of light. There is so much emotion tied to this one image, so much longing and regret, so much desire and sadness, all of it intersecting at this one point. It’s enough to capture the deepest reaches of the human soul that have yet to be explored by introspection and dredge them up to the light of day that resides inside the conscious mind. Laying eyes upon this creature is like tangentially connecting to a universe in which we are merely strangers and yet we know that in some far away time and place, in some distant history that was never recorded, this was our home.
As much as we long to belong to this wild and wondrous scene, we must be content to exist in a world in which we have taken our own selves as prisoners. We may admire the wolf at a distance, but we are not of the same breed; yes, we are all made of the stuff of stars, but in some different formula. Only the wolf knows his own world, and disappointing as it might be, this must be accepted. We may touch this wild and strange world of wonder every so often, but we are not wolves, ourselves. We are not the fearless, wandering conquerers of the moonlight skies.
We are not “Acquainted with the Night” as they are….
“Acquainted with the Night”
By Robert Frost
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
From Frank and the University of Missouri.
There is perhaps nothing capable of raising the tiny hairs on the back of one’s arms and neck to such a chilling degree as the mysteriously plaintive call of the wolf. For centuries humans have been intrigued by various forms of animal communication. In fact in modern times this study has entered the realm of science where no doubt more mysteries than answers will evolve. But no matter how much or how little definitive information is revealed to us about these various communication techniques, one fact will remain: no cry elicits an emotional response quite like that of the lonesome lupine.
When one examines the work of art featured above (which depicts a somewhat disheveled wolfman crying out towards the moon), a certain question is no doubt raised: If the howl of a wolf is able to invoke such an emotional response from man, then what does it suggest about the emotional condition of the wolf? Is it reasonable to assume that the wail of a wolf indicates a certain degree of cognitive emotion within the creature?
Look at it this way:
Generally, as a result of the typical tone of the wolf cry, the timing of it (usually at night), and the circumstances under which one hears the cry (for most people this would occur during activities like camping or removing themselves from their typically urban or suburban setting), the cry of the wolf is often described with words such as ‘lonely,’ ‘plaintive,’ and ‘mournful.’ But… simply because this is the way that the sound is often described and perceived, does this mean that the cry is actually driven by a gloomy disposition within the wolf? Also, would there be a difference in the emotional quality of the traditional wolf and that of the anthropomorphic wolf? One might suggest that since the anthro wolf is a much more rare breed, and since it is trapped between the human and animal world, its cry would be all the more lonesome.
I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this matter. Also, thanks again to Frank from the University of Missouri for submitting this fantastic anthropomorphic wolf portrait.
And finally, if you would like to read more information about wolf howls and wolf communication, check out this link.