Cry of the
by CJ Grant
I was sitting at my computer one cold winter’s eve, when I heard a howl off in the distance. Although I live in the woods, I hear the neighbor’s dogs barking every once in a while, so I really did not pay it much mind. After surfing the net for bit, I realized that sound was still coming from the woods.
The calls this animal was making sent shivers up and down my spine. I had never heard the neighbor’s dogs making this particular howl. It sounded like a coyote or a wolf. Of course, I reasoned to myself, that would be impossible. Wolves are no longer indigenous to Pennsylvania, and the game commission did import coyotes into the area.
But the haunting, lonesome cry aroused my curiosity and I went out to the deck to see where the noise was coming from. As I stepped out on the deck, I tried to hone in on the location of the desperate cries. It seemed to be coming from the woods.
I have heard coyotes howling in the Arizona desert, as they mournfully cry at the rising moon over the horizon. This did not sound like any coyote I had ever heard before, though. Instead, this sounded more like the wolves I have heard on television. It was a distinct bellow and it persistently came from the same location in the woods.
The desperation in the howling gave me a feeling of panic inside. At first, I thought maybe one of the neighbors was in trouble, or even that a hunter was hurt and stranded in the woods and a hunting dog was crying for help. That was when I decide that I had to find out one way or the other exactly what it was.
As the bitter winter wind whipped through my clothes, I went in and put my heavy coat, gloves, and boots on. The final streaks of daylight were waning in the Eastern Hemisphere and the desperate calls were coming from somewhere deep in the woods across the valley. There were no houses there. After determining the direction where the barks were coming from, I headed out in truck to try to help.
I waited for a minute to let my truck warm up and to build courage to go face whatever was beyond the valley. There had to be some kind of trouble there, but I knew I could not sit long because there was little daylight left before the woods would become a darkened peril.
I drove down in front of where my house overlooks the lower road that follows the stream and splits the valley and strained to see any movement in the woods from the hill on the other side of the stream. I could not see anything, so I got out of my truck and listened for the cries of help or any signs of life.
The howls beckoned me again and suddenly I spotted a flicker of movement. I walked back to see more closely exactly what it was. In the distance, I made out a dog of some sort. There was no sign of a person with it. I moved closer, stopping in front of it, across the stream and about fifty yards away. I stood there awestruck for a second. It was definitely a wolf.
There I was standing in the woods of Pennsylvania with a wolf staring back at me. I saw a couple of problems with my situation. One, the wolf had its ears back. From all I have learned about dogs, when a dog has its ears back, they are not happy. Second, after calling to the wolf and trying to be friendly, the howls back in reply no longer seemed desperate. Now they seemed predatory.
It occurred to me that this animal could have rabies or something and I was not in too safe a position. I was about sixty yards from my truck now. I tried to judge how long it would take me to get back to it and how long it would take the wolf to come out of the woods and forge the stream to get me. I decided there was no way I could beat it if we were both moving at full speed and I slowly moved back towards my truck watching the wolf’s every move to see if it would go for the chase. For some reason, it did not come after me, and when I finally climbed back into the safety of my truck, I sighed with relief while trying to stop my legs from shaking.
After growing up in the city of Phoenix, I had some sort of street sense. This was different though. Yet the woods hold stories that run parallel in purpose. This situation reminded me of the time I had been walking down a deserted alley and heard footsteps coming up fast behind me. I ran then, knowing I was in danger. Now I had to move slowly back to my truck. Seems different strategies work on different predators. Wild animals will usually chase anything that moves quickly, where in the city, the predators are a bit more leery of fast moving prey.
I knew I had been in grave danger in that alley, though. Danger comes in many forms in the woods and in the city, but once you fall prey, you know this feeling well. At some point, you ask yourself, "Why did I put myself in danger?" If you are like me, you probably conclude, "Because I was stupid."
Having once more discovered stupidity in myself, I wanted to get out of there, out of danger. I drove up the lane to the next turn around, still shaking from my encounter but curious about the wolf. Why was it stranded alone in the woods? Why was it howling like death was its next visitor? If it were looking for prey, why had it not come after me?
I drove back and pulled up to a spot with the wolf directly across from me. I kept reassuring myself that I was inside the truck and safe. As I looked across the woods, snow flurries started kicking up and I saw the wolf move, but it did not move far. Then it occurred to me that it might be caught in a trap, but as far as I knew there were no trappers in the area.
After figuring that I could be back inside of my truck from here well before the wolf could get me, I got out of the truck to see. That was when I spotted it—a chain around its neck that was caught somehow in the brush. It hindered the wolf from going more than a foot in any direction.
I did not know how the chain had gotten around the wolf’s neck at the time. All I knew was that I could not leave it there. I knew what I was about to do was extremely dangerous. I also realized that I had to do whatever I was going to do quickly, because daylight was running out. There was no time to get help, the wolf was trapped in a one foot by one-foot dungeon, and I was not sure if I could find it again in the dark.
As I proceeded over the embankment, the wolf looked fiercer than before. It not only had its ears laying back, it was also growling and showing its teeth. I knew both of these were signs of danger. I stopped in my tracks and tried to talk myself out of this endeavor. Who did I think I was? Grizzly Adams?
I sat down right there in the snow as the two sides of my mind argued with each other. One side of my mind, the logical side, was telling me that this was completely stupid. The other side of my mind was thinking about the trapped and probably starving wolf that now stood only twenty yards away. It did not look healthy. Its ribs stood out clearly even from a distance, and I could see a brown leather collar around its neck. Someone had tried to make the wolf a pet, and instead abused and enslaved a wild creature for the sake of ownership. It had obviously broken free and in a run for freedom, the very barriers that had kept it captive were the barriers that now threatened its life.
We have all seen how wild animals were driven from North America because they were predators. By moving their natural habitat, we felt safer. But confining them to a narrower habitat pronounces a doom that will come inevitably to all of our wildlife. I saw before me the plight of the ages in the eyes of that enslaved wolf. This was the wolf’s reality, not just the chains that bound it to the deathly spot. At this point, there was no question that I would try to free it. The only question was how was I going to do it.
I could see that the chain was wrapped around two branches of a fallen dead log. I could get close enough to break off the branches, but this would leave the wolf destined to be trapped again by anything the chain snagged. It would also put me within distance for the wolf to get hold of me.
The second thing I figured I could do was to get a long stick and try to untangle the wolf from a distance. With darkness closing in, I would have to work quickly. But I did not want to move fast around the wolf. It had calmed down a bit as I talked sweetly to it. I did not want to test my womanly charm.
I started to look for a long stick. I spotted one about ten feet away and slowly rose to a standing position. When I did, the wolf spooked and I could see the strain against the collar, chain, and limbs that bound it.
I asked myself what I was going to do when the wolf got free, and what the wolf would do when it got free. Then a scene from The Wizard of Oz flashed through my head. I remembered a thorn being removed from the lion’s paw. As I moved slowly towards the long branch, I kept talking to the wolf and realized it was baby talk and was thankful that no one could see or hear me. I picked up the branch. After working with the stick for a few minutes, I could see that there was no way the plan would work. The chain was much too thick to unwrap with a stick that broke every time I tried to use it.
Staring at the wolf now, I realized that I was quite close to it. Somehow, the long stick had made me brave. I knew the wolf could not get at me on its short leash, but I also knew that if it broke free I could be seriously hurt.
Maybe if I took my coat and somehow got it over the wolf’s head, I could unbuckle the collar. I stood there and talked to the wolf, this time not baby talk. I told him the situation as I slowly removed my coat. The wolf pulled tightly against the chain in the other direction as I came closer. The snarling intensified. I looked directly into the wolf’s eyes then. I could see fear; I could see hunger; I could see anger at my intrusion. Its look reminded me of the look a drug addict desperately in need of a fix gives someone who offers food or other help instead. I was intruding on its untimely death, I suppose. I paid no mind and took advantage of the wolf trying to get away from me by edging closer. I had to get close enough to blind the wolf with my coat and get the collar off of its neck.
Finally, with my coat over the wolf’s head, I got close. The collar was strained against the bound chain and I could see exactly where to unhook it. My heart was pounding in my chest as fear flowed out of my pores. I knew the wolf could hear and smell my fear, just as that night in the alley, I was sure the person who was following me could sense my helplessness.
I moved quickly until the wolf chewed through my coat. I felt a tug on my sweatshirt as I finally got the collar undone. Then before I could do anything, the wolf was gone. My sleeve was torn, but it had not broken the skin. I crouched holding the collar, knowing the wolf was free with a skin that held a price of containment and rules. I realized then that our lives were similar in many ways. As a woman, I live in fear of a predator stronger than myself. I would survive this adventure unmarked outwardly. I knew that the wolf had just begun to see the marks of its future, and I the parallel tracks of my life with his.
While finishing her BA in Creative Writing, CJ is currently studying screenplay writing at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. She would like to travel next to Afghanistan, to write about what is really going on there.
(c) CJ Grant
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