I started the journey with Meadow and her pack as long as November. Trying to map out this journey was difficult as the environment that they lived in, as I was writing from a perspective I have never written from before: a young wolf on the cusp of finding her own identity, feeling and seeing from her perspective, joining her on her journey to decide her future path. This year, I wrote a fable that hopefully talks about courage to speak, to find yourself and the complexity of family ties. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Meadow was a small wolf…. she wasn’t the smallest or the smartest wolf. She wasn’t even the heart of her pack. Meadow was a small wolf.
It was day. The fir trees were frozen from the cold, bare to the elements and the marks of bears that have long gone to sleep. The pack had just stopped moving, their breaths flowing into the white of the sky, and in their forest, they decided to lie down and camp. Their forest was cold, the ground even more so, that even without the snow was hard and chilled their fur, their paws. They were on the outskirts of the wolf-lands, but since Samson died, they’ve been without a champion in their traditional grounds, a champion that could stand against the other packs in the forest. Food was scarce around these parts, particularly in this season, but their parents, their leaders all the same, wanted to make one of those pups into the next champion. The one that would take care of them, of the ones that they had taken care of.
They lay all together, keeping tight and making a chain of warmth, keeping in rank as much as they could. They would change the rotation every night, making sure that each one of the pack had a fair share every night. Warmth was something to be respected, and you had to give back what you take. On the other hand, Meadow usually didn’t get enough of the warmth, as the others would forget where she was and when it was her turn, and no one wanted to argue just in case the parents would get involved. She always thought it was an unfair situation, but she never really complained, or at least openly. She rested on the idea that she would get there soon enough. The pack had their favourites, but Meadow was a small wolf, and wasn’t their champion.
Soon they all fell asleep as the sun started creeping up, while Meadow, attempted to sleep under the white sky. She was aware of the rustling of the leaves, the feel of the pine needles, and the sounds of the breaking wood. While they were all asleep, and in their sleeping minds still at play, Meadow’s eyes would be open.
This winter was tougher than the most. They felt the bite a lot harder and the bark at night was deafening. They felt alone together, and for them it was something they had become used to, but they were truly isolated in the light of day.
The day before, the hunt had been disastrous. With only a few small, boney mice for the lucky ones, and a smattering of red berries where they could get them, they didn’t know who would survive the winter. If any would survive at all, if things were going to continue in this way. They felt a collective guilt, shared liberally amongst them for failing to find what they needed. If there were any more new-borns, winter would grip them and not let go, their mother would be glad enough, but danger would still be around whether it had a face or not.
They only had enough food to pull around and sedate their sore stomachs and their pride, but not a lot to share around. So they were going to prepare to dream of food of all kinds: the different deer they could try; the rabbits that they couldn’t spare; the weasels caught in their jaws; teeth into flesh and the taste of blood on the tongue, eating and drinking, eating and drinking ‘til twilight.
Meadow usually dreamt of running, always of running. She didn’t wonder about the future as much as the others, she wasn’t obsessed with the next victorious kill, or to practice for the day an enemy would creep up behind them. She would always be running. Sometimes she would be running for a reason, but she sometimes she simply ran for fun of it. She would run when she was awake, it made her feel alive, and when she dreamt she could go even further, even deeper into the forest, into lands unknown to them. The amount of running in her sleep made her legs jitter and kick, sometimes leaving bruises on the rest of her kin. She was always apologetic, but they did not return the favour. Running is something you do, not what you are. She kept it to herself.
Running is something you do, not something you do for fun. You are evading capture, you are the hunter, you are keeping toe to toe with your prey and you’ve got them when they make that fatal mistake, and then you enjoy the victory. You are avoiding the edges of the cliffs, and the trees falling and then killing you. You can play and practice and run and chase but running is not your life, it is survival.
You spot the deer, you can smell its wet fur, you can hear it casually chewing away as you hide, maintaining the perfect distance. You tell your brothers and sisters, you tell them that you’ve found their next meal. You are looking forward to the pursuit, and looking forward to the first bite, you see the steps in the ground and smell the scent on the bushes nearby. ‘You run with intent’, Meadow’s mother used to say to her.
Her mother was her harshest critic. While she was hard on them all, on their foibles and in the moments they weren’t thinking straight, she would always look over to Meadow and the rest of her pups, it was a hard love that allowed them to survive, her love. She forbad them from pointless dithering, and she could see every time Meadow’s mind wondered. She regretted much of what she had to do and what she had to say, but it had been for the right reasons. If one wrong turn meant death, as one wrong turn could in this forest, she would rather inflict temporary pain or discomfort than learning of death too early. She made sure to teach them all she knew, what her mother and father had taught her and the lessons she had personally grabbed along the way. Their father was the leader, but their mother had the vision. She didn’t foresee Samson’s death.
As they were resting, they hungered all the more, and they also feared privately. All needed strength for all, and apprehension was never permitted. The pack works for one and one for all, Meadow tried to remind herself. Meadow did not fear often, but it was hard for her hide her fretting, she had to hide her hopes and her dreams. The pack were more important.
Small flakes touched their wet noses, their breaths were steady, their eyes aflutter as they drifted into sleep. All except Meadow. She struggled to lie down, to rest, tossing and turning, making her coat more ragged and unkempt, covering it with lines of mud warmed by her body, but did nothing to help her. Her mind was running at a thousand miles per hour, she couldn’t settle down.
Was it the hunger? Was it the cold? She didn’t want to think about it, but there it was, the true question coming to her like a thief in the night; is she right for this pack? What would happen if she was gone? Would it matter? She stood up and looked over her family, tiptoeing and seeing not only their breath rising, but their warmth seemed to be as steam exuded by their bodies, rising from them into the bright white sky, mostly hidden by the deep canopy of pine and spruce.
She saw her father, his deep scar notably marking his kind face; her mother’s sharp teeth struggling to be kept behind her lips; Ajax, shivering in his impressive white and black coat; Apple curled up and bored to be asleep; Lake lying on her back with her tongue out; Pine lying still.
Did she belong? She loved them, but did she belong to this rabble? This collection of schemers and jokesters? She experienced great joy with them, but she felt belittled and picked upon, especially when questioned as to why she didn’t have enough blood on her fur… that her kills of small rabbits who had been too fast and lacked the fat on their cheeks… that they had wanted her to guard, but she would end up searching for phantoms, that…
She decided to walk away, just walk away, to see what would happen.
She got up and moved around the sleeping wolves, and make it into the woods. The snow started falling heavier, making each of her steps deeper as she crushed the stone underfoot, leaving a trail behind her which quickly got covered over of where she had wandered.
As she wandered down the valleys, and wandered up the hills, she saw the berries, winter and mistletoe, building up lashes of snow and cold, and saw everything was still and at peace.
As she approached a hillside, she started climbing up, forgetting that it was a mountain that she was about to face. She ran up, climbing over some rocks, making sure to not slip down below. She got farther and farther and looking back, the world started looking small to her. She climbed and climbed, and soon the rocks turned into hills and the hills into a mountain. She made sure to not slip down below, she had no fear of the world that was growing small beneath her. She was far away, but she turned to look back.
She stopped in her tracks, staring at her land, her territory, the land of her pack. She didn’t finish climbing to the top of the mountain, but she saw home.
Home to her was extended as far as the end of the valley basin, white and green for miles and miles, surrounded by peaks and the cold. The air was fresh up there, and after so much wandering, she felt, for the first time in a long while, content. She knew that the world down there was different from the world up here. She promised herself that she would never forget this place.
She took in the view for longer, thinking of her family and what they’d make of this, being beyond where they’d ever been and of telling them of what she had just seen. Another thought came quickly, another shock to her, she thought that she could leave them. She could find out what it was like on the other side of the mountain, that she could find pastures with countless deer, sheep and goodness knows what else? She looked up to the tallest peak covered in snow, and also thought that there might be death up there. She hadn’t known of a wolf, a bear or a man that had come back from the other side of that mountain, so whether it was paradise or hell on the other side, the mystery remained yet to be solved. Dying to be wrong, dying to be right, the mountain still felt cold and alone in its beauty.
On the other side, was her home. There may be other packs, sure, but not like hers, they were not hers. Her pack made her laugh, make her look forward to life, so different now from the big hulking rocks and ice that stood behind her.
She never saw the valley this way before; the snow, the stream that broke through the miles and miles of trees, their land of winter. It might look like the other land farther on with their leaders and their packs, one that sings songs of a saviour and a man in red.
She looked to the right of the basin, and spotted something sinister: a fire and smoke, near to where the pack had made their camp. She already knew what she had to do. No questions this time. She started climbing down the rocks as quickly as she could. As she made it to solid earth, she starting running, running as far and as hard as she could. She could see the smoke rising high, until the canopy completely hid it from view.
By looking up, just to see the smoke disappearing into the immense white, she tumbled forward, separating the snow. She shook off the mud and snow, and saw bruises on her body. She howled, not only from being in pain but it also helped ease her mind. She then howled as much as she could, trying to call out to her kin. She saw blood on the side, realising that she must have been cut somewhere. A new pain came in, a feeling she had known before, when Samson died….
In her wild running, she had fallen down the steep hill, rolling down violently, screaming in panic and terror. Thud! She was out, lying still, unconscious, specks of snow settling on her fur. There was a silence, but not for the lack of the wind, because it goes where it has to. For only for a moment, she felt more helpless and trapped than she had ever before. She started to recover, but not enough as she struggled to open her eyes, she could only see the red behind her eyelids and fragments of white light.
Meadow picked herself up, and aided by blurred vision, began running through the forest, determination coursing through her body, but it was futile. She only made it through a few trees and shrubs before slamming into some timber. She willingly fell onto her side, lying down, hyperventilating.
She needed to rest, but didn’t want to. She wanted them safe, so she couldn’t have it.
She closed her eyes.
She had left a trail of blood.
She awoke at night. It was dark, still and eerie, but she was embracing the dark as a comfortable blanket. She got up, feeling rough but seemed okay until she realised that she was struggling.
She knew that she hadn’t broken her leg, but she was limping, her leg was swollen. The cut on her face felt fresh and was bleeding. She started making her way, but had to stop occasionally, resting here and there on the bigger trees, fearing that she would do more damage to herself, breaking the smaller branches into sharp spikes.
Her breathing was laboured, heavy. She tried to breathe through her teeth, but she had to breathe through her mouth, allowing the cold in while the breath she had exhaled disappeared into vapour. She had to stop. She closed her eyes, and took in the moment, the smell of pine and the cool of the evening as she steadied herself on the ground.
A twig had snapped in the distance, and her ear twigged. She opened her eyes and turned to face the threat, kneeling down and hunching her back, she struggled to get into position with her injured paw. Her vision was still partially impaired, so she was compelled to rely on her other senses. She steadied herself, growling instinctively. If she had to attack, she would. She howled.
Her opponent howled back; her father. She relaxed and howled again, louder, making sure they knew she was there, and that she was alive. Her pack howled back in jubilation. They rushed over as she howled again, gathering around her, each in turn licking her wounds.
She was still a part of the pack, and they still loved her. They had come to find her together, and that they knew what had to be done, that she had been lost. She had needed their help, that she now knew that she was important to them. Some howled again, some of them jumped for joy and some danced for the first time since the last spring. They said it was a miracle, some were just relieved.
Her mother came over to her, and looked into her eyes. She looked her over, all her injuries and bruises and her cut-up face that made her look like her father. She didn’t want to see her in such pain, but she just saw her daughter, her pup looking back to her with her intense blue eyes, and she proceeded to lick her wounds, telling her that she loved her.
The hunt had to continue, Pine interrupted. He told Meadow that they had found food, but that it was going to be a challenge. It was a big beast, and they were all needed to take it down. The beast, he said, needed their speed, their strength and their all to bring him down. Pine gathered their father, mother and the kin, and invited her to come. They needed Meadow, but Meadow declined, as she was too weak to hunt. Their mother elected to stay with her to take care of her. It was then agreed, Pine was disappointed, but he understood. The group disappeared, one by one, into the night, following Pine’s call.
Meadow and her mother were left alone with each other.
They lay down on the ground, resting between the pine trees, sharing the warm of their bodies. Meadow’s mind was at peace. She was at home, and whilst battered and bruised, they came to her as she would to them. In this state of clarity, she remembered the top of the mountain, the mountain of death and possibility, a memory that will follow her to the end of days.
And it was up to wolves to stand against it’s inevitable madness, against that miserable current. She looked up to the moon, shining through the clear sky and accentuated by the stars. The moonlight surrounded them, and despite all the other parts of the forest, it seemed to encircle them in and they drew comfort in this light.
The smoke. The fire. The memory came back to Meadow. Determined, she got up, shocking her mother. Her mother got up as well, concerned. Meadow told her what she had seen on top of the mountain, and stopped her from interrupting her. There was a fire and smoke, and if this was of the great beast, they don’t know what they were getting into.
Her mother believed Meadow, though she wanted to know why she had gone up that high, she wanted to believe Meadow more. Meadow took the lead and they started to run, but she couldn’t maintain momentum, starting and stopping to catch her breath. She felt tired and ill and all things in-between.
Her mother told her that she would lead, and even though they became separated a bit of distance before Meadow picked up the scent again. Meadow was never going to be alone again.
Her mother led the way, and even Meadow couldn’t see her, she could hear her, as she every so often howled, and Meadow would howl back. They went for miles through the tundra, the fallen trees without leaves and the snow mixed with the rotten vegetation. In short time, Meadow became stronger and stronger, with her mother powering her to continue, to strive, and to live.
‘Are you still there?’ Mother howled.
‘I am’ Meadow replied.
‘Where are you?’
‘I am here, I’m not far’
‘I am also here, I’m close by’
‘Follow my voice’
‘I hear your voice’
‘Don’t give up’
‘Only a few miles now’
‘I can feel it, I can feel it’
‘I love you’
‘I love you too’
They made it to a clearing, both silent. As they stood together, Meadow’s mother rested her head on top of Meadow’s.
They took cautious steps into the clearing and could hear themselves walking as they broke the snow piece by piece. And then, the sound of baying wolves, growing louder and louder as they progressed further into the empty field.
They turned a corner, they saw the pack in prime position, surrounding and circling their prey. They were deep into their battle as the pack surrounded the beast: it was a bull, with a temper. The bull was bloody from his wounds, its skin dirtied with a mixture of blood and mud knotted in, as the bites and the nips had punctured parts of his skin. None of the wolves had injuries, their taunts were getting louder and louder.as their hunger intensified.
Meadow told them to stop! She shouted and yelled for them to stop.
She told them of the smoke and the fire, that it was close by and they had to run. Pine dismissed this, seeing that their prize had been almost conquered. They were hungry, and they had to continue. Meadow said that they should wait for their food, they should wait for the deer promised to them. The beast was a trap, it would destroy them.
Her father questioned her, unsure himself about what they should do. The bull charged at him, and he dodged its horns by the skin of his teeth. He said he had to make the decision, and saw reason in both arguments, their convictions bold, but he couldn’t let anyone die that night or the following night.
Apple saw the fire and the smoke, BANG!
She howled for them to run!
They all heard the blast released into the air, smoke rising and sparks of flame. They had not seen the burly man dressed in red, coming out of a shining cabin hidden under dead branches. He held his shotgun high in one hand and a bright, steel lantern in the other. His shot was a warning into the night sky. The wolves had to go.
Pine relented and he led the pack back into the woods. Running, one by one, they disappeared into the dark. Meadow, who had almost looked into death’s eye, was the last one left. The man walked a toward Meadow, with his face reflected in the moonlight. She stopped see death in his eyes, but a concerned look. She would always remember that, the moment of mercy as she too took off into the dark. The man let out a sigh of relief, and attended to the bull’s wounds. The champion puffed, and took a breath, still standing.
Her father said he was proud of her, laughed as he noted that the scar resembled his own, and that they were very much alike. Pine apologised to Meadow, but she consoled him, saying he would have been right any other time. They were all still cold and hungry, but knew they would figure something out.
At the stream they drank, in the darkness they had found water. A night wasted, but a night regained. They praised Meadow, they would celebrate with her in a great feast when they had found one; they would run and dance and sing again and all else un-wolf-like. Meadow couldn’t hide her happiness as much as she tried to remain humble.
They lapped the calm flow, letting the gentle noise of the currents seep into them in the hope they would have accompanied them in their dreams in the morning. Meadow knew her pack, her family and that they were hers and they were with her and for her.
She wasn’t a champion, Meadow was a small wolf… but one of their best.
Meadow lifted her head up from the stream and smelt blood in the air. She drifted away from the stream and started to track the animal. Her mother walked to her, asking where she was going, but she just told her to follow her this time.
They went into the deep woods and up a hill. At the bottom of the hill, there was a stag who had fallen from sheer sharp edge, trapped by the weight of a fallen log, asleep and unaware of his fate, as he calmly dreamt and breathed.
Mother and daughter howled.
Meadow was a small wolf… but she was the right wolf for them.