Way of the Wolf
By: Brad Cole

Looking for a wolf has become a ritual in my life. Nearly everyday I walk out as far as my two dear legs can carry me from the village of Tuluksak to look for wildlife. I'm especially interested in seeing a large, grey wolf. I feel the strength and virtue of a wolf is not like any other animal. Its sense of direction must be phenomenally instinctive, to say the least.

I often walk along the western edge of a long narrow pond, occasionally stepping over slick beaver slides that run from the trees to the water. A lush meadow of thick grass provides about mile of viewing space for wildlife. On the other side of the pond are three beaver lodges, about a fourth mile apart, hugging the wet, grassy bank.

My senses love of being out in nature. It makes me feel more real and well connected to what is good and healthy in our lives. The sense of clarity one feels in the wild makes the walking worthwhile. From this clarity comes strength and virtue that builds character and imagination. It is the fountain from which the human intellect has sprung. We possess a sharp sense of vision and wonder that can peer way out into the sprawling universe in order to understand it.

The ground around the pond is soft and wet and my feet sink with every step I take. Autumn is settling among the birch trees, turning their leaves to rustic gold. A rich variety of birds inhabit the grove of tall bushes, spruce, willow and birch, that include ravens, camp robbers, ptarmigan and chick-a-dees.

Standing near the trees to rest and looking out over the wind-rippled pond I remember the sauna I had the night before. Heat from the woodstove knocked me out so hard that I had to crawl and then lay down in the cooling room with the outside door cracked open, letting in the wind and rain. But it felt so fine. I was being drained and purified by fire, then finally brought back to life by the wet winds outside.

It seems that is the way rituals should be: one needs to be drained physically and mentally before purification can truly occur. Walking does that for me, and now too, the sauna. Most people are unable to drain their own crazy lives well enough to find real purification; it is a refinement that comes from nature.

Feeling fatigued I decided to turn around and head back to the village. A small airplane was descending, preparing to land at the nearby airport. I still have a lot of tundra muck to wade through before I hit hard dirt. My legs are always sore and tired. But this is a walking ritual that I have been doing for much of my life. The only way this old man will stop is at the biggest of rituals, at the opening of death's door. Without death there would be no need for rituals in our world; our cultures and religions would look so bleak. Hunting is the most ancient and vital of human rituals.

Unlike the wise wolf, I need a trail to find my way back to the village and prepare for my nightly sleep. There is so much busy work to be done that it twists our lives around in such ghastly ways. But I cannot think of a better place to live than in the North. The forest I see continues on to stretch around the top of the world and the people there still see animals and nature as givers of life. Being like the wily wolf, the rituals of hunting and gathering are a blessing and it makes them a strong, purposeful people. For out across the great snowy barrens, the forest and tundra of the north is still their true homeland, their nation.