Wolf child, wolf child who are you?
Sniffing at the edges, autumn dew.
These last 2 1/2 weeks I have been intensely wolfish for me. Timothy away in the California backcountry, having wolf-adventures of his own, means Julie alone in New Hampshire with the dogs, full-time. Something happens. Dogs full-time, full-time wolf children, means being more in the forest each day, being more in the house with only dogs to share the space. Because dogs don’t engage in discursive thought, we connect through touch, nuances of voice, and immersion in the wonder of a shared, wild world.
In the morning, we take off from the end of an anodyne suburban cul-de-sac, tumble down a narrow gravel path, then climb back up through tall ferns into hemlock and beech woods, surprisingly vast for standing so near to stuccoed houses. We cross bridges slick with the previous day’s hurricane-tail rain, and thread our way between parallel rises of glaciated stone.
Elliot and Chloe stick their noses into a nest-full of wasps, who swarm and sting wherever they can reach through the deep fuzz of dog-suits. I can both feel and see the jolts, the maddening quality of unseen sharp venom. Come on, come on, I urge Elliot. Let’s get out of here! A little ways up the slope, he shakes out the pain – a tail-to-nose, nose-to-tail whirling, sending pain and insects flying, resetting his whole system. Then that’s it. No further thought of the stings, as far as I can tell. Much later in the walk, I find a wasp still burrowed in the fur at his shoulder, and fish it out with a stick. Has it stung him? Is it stinging him? Other wonders occupy his attention.
We wind up the Appalachian Trail to a higher ridge – bare granite, deep evergreen needles cushioning our steps. Somewhere far below, a faint hush of road connects home and campus. But, here as wolf children, we stand on listening feet. We sniff the air. We remember that we are vast, well-adapted, full members of this place and time and body.
The trail loops around and winds down, then, bloop! through another fern-clearing, out into the same cul-de-sac. A gateway no less wondrous than the wardrobe to Narnia, and seemingly no more visited by its near neighbors. Forest-bathed and freshly reminded of our aliveness, we hop back into the car.
In the afternoon, I take us to another big forest, also not more than ten minutes away from home. Here again, a gateway: we park at a bend in a road near an abandoned barbecue (FREE), with two ugly throw pillows balanced on top. The wilderness opens upward. On a whim I take an unmarked trail. When it ends, I head uphill, following the yellow-gold light through the leaves. We climb and fall, now on a ridge trail, passing between old, blackened mushroom-corpses, and thriving new caps just pushing up to greet new moisture. Chloe keeps a steady pace maybe fifty yards ahead, and Elliott dashes here and there, coming back every few minutes to check on me. We move in a familiar, comfortable pack-mode.
I don’t know precisely where we are. Practicing a kind of tolerance for uncertainty, I decide to keep walking till I understand. Aha! I take a sharp V back in the direction we came from, recognizing a loop I took years ago with a friend’s dog, in the winter. Yes! Here we are, there we were. The afternoon stretches open under hemlock-shade, unhurried, able to reveal itself at its own pace. We arrive at another junction, and take the path home.
Before I had dogs, before I was married, before we owned a house, sometimes weekend space would close in with a kind of dread. What am I to do with myself? Where do I belong? What will set this restless mind at ease? Now, I feel we belong here, in these words, in this studio, sleeping near each other in this quiet room. People have all kinds of theories about why being around dogs is beneficial: touch, emotional support, committed, giving relationship. All of this is true. And yet, in the life I lead with Chloe and Elliot, immersive trust in these beautiful beings’ basic desire to walk with me has been most transformative of all.
Walk with me, as a command, has deep and mutual roots. I'm the one who says it in words, and yet every day, the dogs say it in being. Walk with me. Leave behind the phantoms of what you might want to do, or think, or be. Leave the house, and come with me through this gateway into a large and thriving world which needs no ordering, to be orderly. Walk with me, to where death and life intertwine and trade places, self-evident and self-liberated.
I walk with two wolf children, one at each side, or, one in front, one behind. I sleep with one dog at my feet, and another on the floor at the foot of the bed. It is an old way: a woman living (temporarily) on her own, some animals, some writing, a garden growing wild, a forest opening onto a vastness that few people tread. We see almost no people on these expeditions: no children, no adults, no older people. Why? People are at work, or at school. Women are afraid to be alone in the woods. Hardly anyone trains their dogs to be off leash, and to come back when called. People are afraid of ticks. And yet. What about their wolf children, starving?
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now