Monday, July 30, 2007

Unprepared, with a case of asparagus

Last week I finally watched my dad’s favorite movie, which he’s been referencing for years: Never Cry Wolf. It’s based on the memoir of a naturalist who gets dropped off in the Arctic (alone with a canoe, a bassoon, and cases of beer and asparagus) with the purpose of studying wolf behavior. At the time (the early ‘80s), wolves were believed to be killing off the caribou herds. With the help of the wolf pack he observes, and the Inuit who saves his life more than once, he learns that the wolves live on mice during the winter, and that they actually keep the caribou herds healthy by hunting down the sick and weak.

We know all this now, but I think it’s interesting to look back to a time when facts that are taken for granted were unknown to modern science. Also, though the movie depicts actual events, I couldn’t help seeing it as a fable. The hero sets out on an adventure, at first idealistic but soon apprehensive of what will occur. He almost dies several times. He meets people along the way, and some who seem friendly turn out not to be, while others who might be discounted as old-fashioned are really wise. Many of his assumptions and expectations are turned upside down, most significantly that the wolf finds and observes him before he has any idea where the wolf is. Ultimately, he finds new definitions of peace and home.

Will wolves become my new obsession? Probably not, although I was really taken with the wolf pack in this movie—their social structure, their struggles and loyalties. Two years ago, around this time of year, I read two YA books, Julie of the Wolves, and its sequel, Julie, by Jean Craighead George. Though aimed at a young audience, these books are based on true observations of wolf behavior, relationships, and communication. The animal parts of me recognized and loved the human parts of the wolves.

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