Nicole Walker

How Flexible Wolves Came into Being

This essay is about the wolf, its recovery, the myths surrounding wolves, the way humans project their image onto the wolf, and the question of how the wolf is going to survive—and will we still consider it wolf if, because it has been pushed to alternate habitats and fewer potential mates survive, it breeds with coyotes

I sometimes volunteer with the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery project. Usually, my investment has been to write letters to the editor and to ride my bike around town with a wolf-ear headband. In fact, a lot of my writing stems from letters to the editor that begin with rage but then become tempered with the realization of other points of view and the fact that my being absolutely certain about anything is not the kind of brain I have. I slip into misgivings which I render in my writing as different points of view. I’m not so flexible that I understood the points of view of people who hate wolves, but I do get that not everyone shares my point of view—not even the wolf. In writing this braided essay, I begin with what seemed like a sure thing—the necessity of wolves, and end in a more flexible position—more like the coy-wolf. I’m a hybrid of fact and just getting by.

My research begins, but rarely ends, with the Internet. Below Wikipedia’s first entry, I found the headline 62 Interesting Facts about wolves. I’ve written about wolves before. I’ve researched them and been involved with wolf recovery projects for years. But these 62 facts interested me. I wanted to categorize them into kinds of facts: ones that pertain to wolves and humans and ones that were about wolves as wolves—the Platonic form of the wolf. The wolf a priori.

I tend to write in braided essay form but this essay takes it to a different level. In this essay, I don’t make so many explicit transitions. Perhaps the braided form is most effective when the political and the personal are trying to explain and understand each other. The process of pulling together two disparate ideas is what allows for surprise. This essay is a little different in that I use the research itself to catapult the essay’s questioning? Of the 62 Interesting Facts about Wolves, how many are really facts about humans? And, if they so many of the facts involve human and wolf interaction, can we imagine the wolf as a separate existence-worthy species? Or are wolves a reflection of our fears, violent-capacities, love of wilderness, ability to adapt? Should we save them to save these elements of ourselves?

The form of the essay—the back and forth between kinds of wolf-facts, led me to consider what humans get from wolves and how we use conservation efforts to protect the human-in-things possibly more than the thing itself.

If the essay is a chalkboard onto which we scrape our ontological questions, then this essay fits right in? Who are wolves? Are humans wolves? Can facts exist without humans? If the wolf changes, does the very being of wolf change? As climate change and habitat loss force the wolf to breed with the coyote, do we lose not only a species or two but a metaphor for how we understand ourselves?

But if the essay is about argument and definitive answer, then this essay doesn’t fit the tradition at all.

Although I thought the essay was mainly about humans and wolves, motifs of gender and sex run throughout the essay. I wrote this essay when a lot of discussion about transgender was happening in my life. The idea of species morphing into another species is as much a question of spectrum as it is about absolutes. These 62 Interesting Facts about Wolves make me think of what it means to perform wolf, to perform coyote, to perform alpha, to perform deer. This essay reminds me of how much I love mutability.