In Praise of the Wolf

wolf.jpgLast month, a wolf was shot in Switzerland. In spite of this, a few weeks later, twenty kilometers from where I write this blog, a shepherd woke up to find some of his sheep missing. This prompted the cantonal government to authorize the killing of a second wolf…

The forest rangers and hunters are loading their guns. Meanwhile, environmental organizations are hailing the formation of a wolf pack in the area – which would only be the second  pack in our country.

I find myself elated at the wolves’ comeback, and simultaneously horrified at what awaits them if they return to the pasture that offered them such easy prey.

I have spent a lot of time this past year reflecting on our relationship with wild species. And in our region, no relationship has been more strained over the centuries as that between wolf and man.

As a result of their threat to livestock, shrinking territories and dwindling wild prey, wolves were driven to extinction across vast stretches of Europe by the mid-20th century.

Their reputation was deeply tarnished. Our culture is permeated with tales of the wolf as the dark creature of the woods. From the “Little Red Riding Hood”, all the way to “the Wolf of Wall Street”, the wolf has become a metaphor for the behaviors society condemns. An unwanted devil, preying upon the innocent lambs of this world.

But the wolf is coming back. Not only in numbers, as its swift paws find their way across the continent. But also in our psyches. And I would argue that this comeback is essential for our individual and collective sanity.

For many of us, the wolf is anything but the dark deeds projected onto him. The wolf represents ultimate freedom. A symbol of who we can become when we allow ourselves to break through the walls of our domestication.

The wolf speaks to our thirst to meet our inner wildness. Our need to: “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.” – as Clarissa Pinkola Estés so aptly captured in her compelling best-seller Women Who Run with the Wolves.

The wolf is our hope and our permission. To embrace our intuitive selves. To run with our pack. To howl to the moon. To taste the wildness that has been crushed under too many layers of concrete.

Believe me, I am not idealizing wolves, nor minimizing the real threat to unattended livestock that their return foreshadows. I am under no illusions when it comes to “the wild”. And yet, now more than ever, I would say that we need the wolves. They have an important message for us:

The wolves are nature’s teachers and guardians of balance.

On a very concrete level, the experience of Yellowstone National Park in the US shows how ecosystems benefit and recover greater diversity, when wolves are reintroduced.

And at a more personal level, wolves can teach us about the balance between the individual and the collective. About the harmonious coexistence of freedom and loyalty. About how to fit in our place as an individual, within a group that survives as a result.

It is time we find that balance.

A balance that leaves space for the wolves and all they represent. All they can teach us about ourselves, and about the world.

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