To Be Wooed By A Wolf…

This piece is about two entities I harbor very ambiguous feelings for, men and wolves. I blame fairy tales for my distorted views on both. Like most people, I too grew up believing the fairy tales my parents read to me as they tucked me in to a warm bed and assured me of my safety from the two inevitable evils: witches and wolves.**

**Witches (women) and wolves, both persecuted, hung and hunted for their strength, courage and character.

I never thought fairy tales could skew my ability to process reality but they totally did and they continue to do so, sometimes without my awareness of it. I only come to realize that I subconsciously regurgitate fabricated truths in my everyday words and actions when I experience things first hand and debunk their premise for myself. For instance, until recently, I thought a custom-made soulmate, a Prince Charming if you will, would just burst forth into my life, serenade me with an intoxicating song, proclaim his vigorous feelings for me and kiss me breathless. I couldn’t help but wonder, what other false impressions I’d subscribed to as a child from reading these fictitious bedtime tomes!

It grew evident to me a few days ago that I had also bought into the myth of the wolf. Hook, line and sinker! I believed the authors who painted Little Red Riding Hood as an innocent, well-intentioned protagonist, and rendered the wild wolf as a ravenous, insatiable villain. I thought the wolf, and I mean the actual animal, was mean, vicious and terrifying, when in truth this fairy tale’s description of a “wolf” is entirely symbolic, it represents a man’s carnal appetite. Symbolism is lost on a ten year old, so I thought a real wolf was waiting for me in any and all wooded areas. Why couldn’t my mom have stopped at the ‘strangers with candy parable?’ Why ruin wolves for an impressionable toddler? It wasn’t the only story that stigmatized wolves, The Three Little Pigs damaged the wolf’s already tarnished standing with me. I guess not all press is good press after all! Particularly not when such press predisposes entire generations of people to detest an animal they haven’t even gotten to know properly.

So imagine my surprise when Rudyard Kipling left his lead character, Mowgli, in the care of a wolf pack! I was mortified, it gave me an existential crisis before I could conclude my first decade on earth. Hold on just a tick Mr.Kipling have you any idea what the wolf tried to do to the three pigs or Red? It was all profoundly confusing and inconsistent. I wanted to believe Mr.Kipling because I loved animals, and he spoke of wolves as family, as loyal caregivers. This narrative felt far more congruous with my experiential worldview of the animal kingdom. I was torn between two very different portrayals of the wolf.

It took meeting a wolf to get over my general unease and uncertainty about the animal. I can’t say dating in Manhattan has helped address any of the unease or uncertainty I harbor about men. The myth of the wolf is easier to confront and overcome than the concept of finding Prince Charming. I didn’t know what to expect. As I walked along the path, I was given a slew of instructions by two staff members at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (located in Colorado Springs.)

My wolf guide began the briefing, “You are going to meet a male Timberwolf, also known commonly as a gray wolf. He is a beta, his name is Kekoa. The alpha is a female, but she won’t approach you. Wolves are elusive, they don’t much care for human contact.” Then the other staff member interjects, “You cannot pet a wolf. You don’t pet wolves. Wolves are not dogs. They cannot be tamed. They have social structures and hierarchies within that. You have to know your place in the pack. Knowing your place means petting the head is off limits. Just think of it from his perspective, you are bringing something he cannot perceive down on him. He will regard that which is beyond his eye level as a threat to his welfare. To relate to a wolf you must be a wolf too, you crouch down on all fours, and maintain eye contact with him. Acknowledge him. Be respectful, and he will respect you in return.” That sounded reasonable enough, so I reconfirm my list of don’ts, and parrot “So he isn’t like a dog at all! If I pet him he won’t perceive that as an acknowledgement. It is an act of aggression to him. I shouldn’t go to him, he will come to me.” Then I ask about the Dos, “Umm so what can I do that won’t offend him?” There was some part of me that was still nervous about being in an enclosure with a full-grown male wolf. It wasn’t a rational fear, I work with wildlife, and I love animals, this discomfort was being triggered by some illogical part of me that still felt the wolf in front of me could slip into a nightgown, don on slippers and glasses, convince me he was my grandmother, take advantage of my inability to tell apart an elderly woman from a thespian wolf, and eat me.

This is me, laughing like a chimp, partly out of fear, and partly out of joy. Not sure what is to come. Photo Credit Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.

“Do not challenge his authority. Offer your hand, palm open below his face so he can sniff you, then he will approach you on his terms. He will direct your hand.” “He likes being scratched under his neck!” “Be sure to dig in, a wolf has thick fur, so you need to really stick your hands into his coat and scratch him. But before he lets you do that he will try to kiss you.”

I clarify, “He’ll do what now?”

The wolf guide continues unfazed by my reaction, “Wolves lick each other in the mouth to discern the pecking order, to pick up on scent, check in on food consumed, and to groom one another. The main reason is usually social, it is to assert dominance, express affection or display subordination. A wolf kiss is a complex and loving language. Do not be afraid of his kiss, because that’s his way of letting you into his family, into his life.” I quip up again, “So this guy who is bigger than a German Shepherd is going to lick my face now…” “And try to lick you in your mouth, you can part your lips a little so he has the chance to truly connect, some people open their mouths fully.” I look disconcerted by this, so the guide assures me, “Wolves don’t have bad breath; they have incredible oral hygiene so it’s not going to be a smelly lick. Whatever you do, don’t push him away or pull away from him, because this will make him try to hold onto you, out of affection with his mouth, this is not an attack, it’s his way of saying, ‘don’t leave me yet.’ Alternatively he may also walk away completely and not accept you.” At this point I decide to just embrace the plethora of mixed emotions brewing within me by packaging my issues in a brave grin. I sit down and wait for the wolf to connect with me. At first he was disinterested. Now a male playing hard to get is not news to me, but a wolf being nonchalant and aloof instead of a manipulative, cross dressing killer was.

You had me at first sniff. Photo Credit: Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center
Short of words, and full of awe, I cannot help but surrender to his majestic presence. Photo Credit Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.

I observe him as intently as he observes me. I catch myself thinking, ‘he is so regal, so majestic, yet steely and intimidating, clothed in tones and tints of gray.’ (That’s right, I think in poetic phrases.) To put it simply I was overwhelmed by his stature, beauty and poise. Part of me was already hyper conscious about his tongue’s whereabouts, as i knew it was only a matter of time before it was going to be on my face and in my mouth. However, I knew better than to pull away. He brought his snout close to my nose, and inhaled me in. He sniffed my hair, my knee, my face, and a few seconds later he began licking my face. His tongue however, dexterous as it was, quickly found my mouth, and because it was impossible not to smile at the thought of being licked enthusiastically by a large predatory carnivore, his teeth soon made contact with my teeth.

I was beside myself! It was hard to fathom that an apex predator could be this affectionate, and soon I felt his tongue on my own because once you smile you let the wolf in.

Tongue to tongue, eye to eye; locked in a wolf French kiss I couldn’t help but think, wow that alpha female is one lucky girl to have such a doting male by her side. He then pulled away, looked me in the eyes and used his paw to direct my hand to his neck and chest. So I scratched him up like you would a happy dog, just with the kind of pressure that would make an ordinary dog yelp. His coat was indeed thick and coarse. Nearly impossible to penetrate. So my fingers got tired, but every time I tried to retract my hand, he would direct my touch back into the depths of his fur.

How refreshing to be in an interaction with a male that knew how to make proper eye contact, kiss with integrity and communicate his needs explicitly.

It dawned on me then, Prince Charming does exist, he just found expression in a different species. Let’s go back to that checklist I hoped for with the opposite sex of my own species shall we?

I was hoping to find a custom-made soulmate, a Prince Charming if you will, who would just burst forth into my life, serenade me with an intoxicating song, proclaim his vigorous feelings for me and kiss me breathless?

A wolf is monogamous and loyal. He mates for life. He bursts into your reality and lets you know you are the only individual he is relating to in that moment, he howls (which if you ask me is the most haunting song ever), and then he lets you know just how much you mean to him by kissing you breathless. Really. I couldn’t breathe a few moments into that eager kiss, he actually left me breathless.

It is no wonder that a wolf achieves happily-ever-after with its mate so poetically and effortlessly. Wolf love puts all human love stories to shame.

A wolf is by nature, what we hope to nurture.

I look so stupid happy that this expression is officially a new emoticon state for me. This kind of giddy love only happens when you find the wolf within and connect to the wolf beyond. Photo Credit Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.

Later that morning I hung out with wolf puppies, and they made me realize I could never give birth to anything as delightful, abundant with energy and covered in fur. They tugged at my heart strings by being so accepting of me. It took less than a second for them to pull me into their play pen. They also made me feel ample inadequate for being a non fluffy, bipedal, ape descendant, incapable of howling at a wolf pitch, who in all likelihood was going to end up with carpel tunnel syndrome from swiping left on an ever dwindling pool of mate choices. The alpha female wolf clearly didn’t need an online app to find lasting love, nor did she have to apologize to her mate for being a strong female archetype. Not surprisingly the wolves seem to have figured out equity and equality between the sexes… and I could be wrong here, but given the sheer number of women’s marches that happened a few months ago, I’m inclined to say our species is still a long ways away from gender egalitarianism.

Wolf Puppy Love! Filmed by Marije Terellen, Rocky Mountain Wolf Project

I couldn’t help but wish I was a she-wolf, capable of finding such a striking, green-eyed, expressive, devoted ‘Prince Charming’ mate for life, and having a litter of howling, self-reliant, toilet trained, fluffy kids who instinctively fell in line with the family’s needs, because they know ‘family comes first.’ Wolves live as a family until death does them apart. They are incredibly connected, deeply relational beings that represent the spirit of E Pluribus Unum more consistently than we humans ever have. As Rudyard Kipling put it, “The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf.” If I have another stab at life, I intend to come back as a wolf. Oh! To be wooed by a wolf…to be able to duet, I mean howl, as one….sigh!

In the interim, I have decided to help wolves be wolves in this life. So I just got involved with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, to help preserve and reintroduce wolves into their native range in Colorado. This way no American kid has to grow up pondering if a wolf is his or her arch-nemesis, they can each debunk this ridiculous myth of the fairy tail,*tale*, wolf for his or her own self!

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Some of you might be curious as to what a wolf kiss looks like, here’s a kiss I shared with Amarok, a slender, tall, black faced Timberwolf, who is not only playful but unbelievably endearing. He was rescued from the wildlife trade and recused to the Santa Fe Zoo, from where he was adopted by the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.
It starts with a gentle sniff. Photo Credit Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center
And ends in a solid snog. Photo Credit Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center