Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: wolves

What about a Wolf vs. a Platypus?

A few months ago, I had my students read “The Interlopers” by Saki. It’s a cool little story about two men whose families are feuding over a worthless piece of land. The kids liked it, and I decided to have them read a related nonfiction piece and since I had just finished reading the March issue of National Geographic with its fascinating story about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone, I had them read that.

“The Interlopers” involves wolves and the National G story focused on the feud between humans and wolves over land, which made it a good piece for our state standard that focuses on the way similar themes are presented in different genres. The kids really liked it, and the discussion afterward was lively and interesting, and beyond the appropriate connections regarding theme and genre, conflict and resolution, they found a new way of seeing the pointlessness of feuds, and learned a lot about the importance of predators in an ecosystem.

But toward the end, it went were discussions of large predators typically go when a roomful of boys, even teenaged ones, is involved.

“What would happen if a wolf met a mountain lion?”

“That lion would eat that wolf.”

“No way, wolves travel in packs. That wolf ain’t alone.”

“Yeah, but one-on-one.”

“The Lion, probably.”

“What about a wolf versus a bear?”

“How about a wolf versus an alligator?”

“Wolf vs. hyena?

“Wolf vs. …?”

I let it go as we were toward the end of class and they were clearly enjoying themselves, which is an important part of education. Too often, it’s easy to forget to just have fun, but any teacher can tell you that if the kids are enjoying your class they’ll follow you almost anywhere.

I asked later if they enjoyed reading the article and they unanimously said yes and wanted more. A few asked for an article about big cats, and I suspect they’re already cooking up the “What about a tiger vs. …” questions for that discussion.

A Bargain with the Wolves

I imagine a fire eons ago. You can’t stare at a fire—even a fake one in an electric fireplace—for long without going back to those fires before history when we as a species made our bargain with the wolves. I wonder what it must have been like to hear those other social hunters out there in the night. To know how much they were like us.

When did that first wolf wander into some human encampment? Perhaps he said, if you give me a place by that fire and a share of what you kill with those nice fancy spears, knives, bows, rifles and ICBMs, I’ll help you track and hunt. I’ll warn you of danger at night. Someday I’ll rescue you from rubble and sit down when I smell cancer in your bodies. Mostly, though, I’ll stick with you even when you least deserve it.

Over time, Wolf traded in some wildness and size, domesticated himself just as we were doing the exact same thing. I read once that a key difference between Homo sapiens and our Neanderthal cousins was that they didn’t domesticate the wolf. That they somehow passed on this alliance with an animal that would be protector, partner, ally and friend.

We evolved together, us and the dogs, and that’s a large part of why it seems so right to live with dogs and so unnatural (to me anyway) not to have dogs around. But then dogs are wolves at heart, and bargaining with wolves can be a tricky thing. The wolf is likely to win, and he’ll make you not mind losing. For instance, my wife and I go to work every morning to earn the bread to put the beast into their bowls, and they lounge at home all day.

Sounds like that wolf that wondered into that ancient camp may have won that one. But that’s okay because to paraphrase The Stranger from The Big Lebowski: It’s good to know they’re out there takin’ ‘r easy for all us sinners.

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