Survival of the Fittest

I was driving down the Gunflint Trail the other day, happy as a clam, even though it was wicked cold outside. Must be some sort of physics to the sub-zero weather that makes the sky extra blue and the sun extra bright, the landscape particularly spectacular?

I was alone, listening to the Lou Rawls Christmas album. I never think to listen to Lou Rawls any other time of year, but he is so smooooooth. Check out Christmas is the Time. You might be surprised that you have to have it too!

All was well in my Christmas card world—when I came upon a wolf, trotting down the centerline. As I pulled up to him, he spooked a little, but when I stopped the truck, he kept on his course, and ended up right next to my car door.

I had a good long time to study him.

I’ve been thinking on wolves a lot lately. We see them so often- impressive and healthy—they’re the talk of the neighborhood. I wonder how can so many wolves find enough to eat? As the temperature drops, Denali gets hungrier earlier and earlier for her dog food—predictably twice a day. How often does the pack get a snack?

As this wolf approached, I noticed he was unusually skinny, he looked a little pink. Then I could see he had no fur on his belly or legs. He was sort of bloody in spots. And when he looked in my eyes, even his eyes were looking bloody; a very sad sight. I’ve read about mange in wolves-caused by tiny mites that attach themselves to their skin or fur—causing fur loss, and lesions-this seemed like a nasty textbook case.

When I see wolves this close—and they make direct eye contact, I imagine I can read their eye language. One time, I was stopped in my car, the kids just got on the schoolbus- a big guy strolled next to me—he gazed at me and my wildly barking Denali—calmly in a way that made my neck prickle, like “I know where you live” and I said back to him (with my narrowed eyes, if he could read them) “If you come any closer my to my kids or my dog, I swear I’ll kill you.” This alarmed me, I’d never considered killing a wolf, ever, but I sent the message just the same. Once at the garbage dumpsters I was honking to get two of them to move –they looked up from eating garbage “You gotta be kidding, WE’RE not moving.” Or once I whistled Denali away from playing with two adolescents they looked at me like” Wha……are we supposed to come too?” The two gigantic ones I saw this fall, too cool for their pelts , looked at me like I was insignificant in their path—an annoyance if anything.

This mangey guy’s eyes were pleading with me…. like “Do you have a sandwich or bacon or something in that warm car?” The painful cold seemed to take the wild animal out of him. Maybe he had a pack, and they turned him out. I had my camera, I could have taken a photo, but it seemed insensitive. I can’t think that he could still be alive now. I was looking in the bloodshot eyes of death, in a survival of the fittest world.

I know, evolution is supposed to work that way, and strenghten the wolf population. But I was still sad as I drove on, I had to turn off Lou. Just wasn’t in the mood for him, or it didn’t seem respectful.

All of a sudden I realized the pristine wilderness I was driving through was as cruel as it was lovely. And I was part of it. I had to figure out if I was doing my job…after all, as a mother, I’m to prepare my children to survive in this world. Are they “fit” enough? What does that mean? Should I be teaching them primal survival skills, just in case? Hmmm, am I even qualified for that? Not so much. What does it mean to take care of yourself, and what does it mean to be part of the pack….and the bigger pack, and the world pack and…

As I approached mid-trail I saw an animal dart and thought—Woah…there goes another one. Closer I could see it was just a large fox. A very healthy fox, with a winter coat that they can fluff somehow. He was fat and fit and furry—. Wow, he was so healthy, I’ll bet he could have taken out that wolf…

I don’t have mange, but I sure felt part of a pale and furless and weak species. Should I be bringing soup to somebody today? Should I be paying for universal health care? Or should I be filling our basement with cans and working like crazy to inform potential canoeists? Too many questions, I can’t wrap them up.

So I turned on Lou again. But I wasn’t singing along. Just listening and thinking. He is really smooth.