Saturday, October 19, 2013

Spirit of the Wolf - Two Years Later

Spirit of the Wolf - Two Years Later

Quick pen sketch, Lygia Chappellet

I wrote this song in October 2011 and recorded it during 2012. Let me tell you about writing the song. I was in a writers workshop in Big Sur. Johnsmith, a wonderful songwriter from Wisconsin, teaches this course at Esalen once or twice a year. One of our creative exercises that year was to draw a card from a deck of Native American totem animals spread out on the floor of our yurt. I had no preconceptions about what animal I might draw. I closed my eyes and drew blind from the pile. I opened my eyes. The card was the Wolf. That moment still sends chills through me. I knew I had a hold of something powerful.

We then went into a meditation period. During that meditation, I saw the image of a mountain ridge, the light was deep twilight, almost evening. There was a blanket of fresh snow on the trees and ground. I felt the presence of the wolf. It was a female wolf. She was magnificent. Poised and steady. Confident. A light dusting of snow was on her coat as well. She was looking out over the ridge. Far below there were lights. We stayed there in my vision for some time. Finally, she said (without speaking) to me. “This was our land”.  I knew what the song was about.

I wrote the song over the next day or so. It was an emotionally charged experience. The parallels between the wolf and her native American brothers were striking. It was like a confluence of many fragmented pieces of my life.  Readings about wolves, time spent in the Black Hills, a visit in Yellowstone many years ago when wolves were just being reintroduced, the stories of Black Elk and others, and many other small shards of memory and impact.  After a few drafts, it became clear to me that the narrator of the song had to be the transcending wolf spirit, who had witnessed everything across this great arc of history. That night, while I was sleeping, the image of a wolf came at me in my dreams and startled me awake.

10 months later, I performed that song in a room full of people in the mountains of Oregon, outside of Sisters Oregon. It was a room full of songwriters and others there as part of the Americana Song Academy Camp held the week before the Sisters Folk Festival Each year.  I told the story of the totem cards and meditation that brought the song to me. As the song neared the end, the audience joined in for the refrain "This is our land, this is our land, this is our land" and the room was full of an incredible energy.  I felt as if I were floating somewhere a few feet off the ground as I sang the final line "I am the spirit of the wolf... and I am witness.... to it all."

Later that night, a fellow songwriter and avid kayaker told me his amazing story of a wolf encounter during a kayaking trip.  I've heard many stories from listeners who explain what wolves mean to them, what they symbolize, or how they've been changed by seeing wolves in the wilderness.

The next day, a woman who was in the audience the night before introduced herself to me and handed me an envelope. In it were excerpts from her copy of a book on Native American totems.  She explained that she had met my instructor, John Smith, the year before and they were discussing ideas for his upcoming songwriting workshop and she suggested the totem exercise. Full circle. More chills down the spine.

My earlier interest and readings in wolves and native american history and culture were rekindled after this experience. Many people probably have no idea that several northern states managed, through a sickening maneuver in Congress, to remove Federal protection from wolves in their states.  I began to find information on the sad state of the “post delisting” plight of wolves.  With states in control again, hunting has been expanded, and a culture of fear and hate has been further enabled by so called "Wildlife Management" efforts in these states.  It is a modern tragedy playing out in these states.

I learned of the death of Lamar Valley's ’06 late in 2012 and it struck a deep nerve. She was shot and killed by a hunter, not far from the Yellowstone Park boundaries.  "06" as she was nicknamed, or 832F to researchers, was the female alpha of one of the most watched wolf packs in Yellowstone.  People from all over the world had seen her.  A magnificent leader, hunter, mother, and icon.  The New York Times picked up the story.  Condolences and outrage flooded in from countless people.  

Having seem Jimmy Jones' photography and read his heartfelt blog post on what the loss of "06" meant to him, I reached out to him with the idea of using a selection of his photos to make a video. Jimmy graciously agreed and I sent him a list after culling through his web archives. He mailed me a disk of photos. I spent the next 48 hours with little sleep compiling, editing, cropping, timing and creating the end credits with information pointing to wolf preservation and educational organizations.  The result is this video Spirit of the Wolf on YouTube.

I posted the video on several Facebook pages, most notably Wolfwatcher, and watched in awe as it spread rapidly. 10 months later, it is nearing 14,000 views. I’ve now found a another caring community and connected with dozens of wolf people, some from other continents. I learned much about efforts to find ways for ranchers and farmers to better coexist with wolves in wolf country (it was and is their land first and we are finding better ways to be neighbors while protecting our livestock).  I've seen heroic projects to educate ranchers and I've seen some success stories that bring much hope.  I've seen appalling words and deeds from people who call themselves hunters about their hatred of wolves.  I've also seen hunters who do so as part of their subsistence question why a real hunter would kill a wolf.  I've visited and supported wolf organizations and wolf sanctuaries - such as the California Wolf Center in Julian, CA where Mexican Red Wolves are being bread for future release in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.  

Of course, I've seen the tragic results of incompetence and hatred as well.  We all have.  Most recently, the United States of America has proposed a plan to walk away from the Grey Wolf and delist it throughout the nation.  This despite it not yet having repopulated but a small part of its historic range, and despite evidence to suggest that this would be a good thing for the ecology of these areas.   Further, states like Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, who were part of the political deal to remove Federal jurisdiction already in some states, have continued to accelerate their wolf hunts.  More Yellowstone wolves are sure to be killed with the current regulations, as wolves are not aware of park boundaries, and the authorized techniques are barbaric and brutal. 

Wolves are remarkable creatures.  They are social and family oriented, provide a pivotal role in ecology as an apex predator, have a powerful spiritual and teaching aspect in many Native American cultures and traditions, and are among the most revered, hated, admired, feared and misunderstood animals.  One thing is certain.  We need wolves.  And what we ultimately do as a society will be telling in many ways about our own fate.

It has been truly humbling and an honor to put this song back into the world with my hope that it can help to persuade and enlighten a few people at a time. I hope one day we can see improvement in the range and condition of our wolves in America. I also hope we can see a change in prevailing attitudes about wolves and related issues such as proper animal husbandry and ecology. We have to press on and bear some of the pain of these times, but not give up.

Matt Stone


No comments:

Post a Comment