It's hot and muggy, and I've strolled as much of the 500 acre sculpture garden at Storm King Art Center in upstate New York as I can in one day, taking in works by Andy Goldsworthy, Maya Lin, Calder, Zhang Huan, and many more. Massive, moving, amazing. I'm now ready to come indoors to view a portion of the current Exhibition, "Indicators: Artists on Climate Change." I've somehow bypassed my normal museum fatigue limits, and intently take in one provocative installation after another.
I wander upstairs into a small empty room where a grainy video is running with a haunting soundtrack in the background. I peer at the placard: Wolf Nation, 2018, by Alan Michelson, Mohawk. I sit on the concrete bench in the center of the room.
Two red wolves perch on a low flat stone, an outlook, gazing into the distance in front of them. There is a dark hollow in the bank behind. Soon three more wolves enter the camera frame, casually mill about the area, two then saunter into the woods. The other slips into the darkened den. One of the sentries gets up, yawns, stretches a back leg, and wanders off past the den. A small group now approaches, two are clearly adolescents. The other sentry gets up and leaves after another adult takes over, sitting on its haunches. By the time the ten minute video loops back to the beginning, maybe twelve clan members have made their leisurely appearance. I am moved to quiet tears. I find that fact as curious as the intimate details in the daily lives of these endangered wolves.
Nothing much happened at all. Maybe that’s it. Most nature footage is spectacular, catching the fox mid leap, the amorous grouse’s tail impossibly spread, the cheetah’s extended body horizontal to the ground. Shots that dazzle. I’m astounded over and over by the prowess, strange behaviors, beauty. These wolves, instead, feel like they could be my next-door neighbors: hanging out on their front porch, a bit of conversation but mostly comfortable silence as they watch over their kids, inspect the yard, then one leaves for work. Familiar and familial.
But that’s only part of what’s affecting me. There’s the terrible paradox of them looking so confident, so integrated into the landscape; and yet it would take less than a minute to count out loud the total number of remaining red wolves in the wild. It doesn’t take long to count to 40.
I breathe in beauty and breathe out extinction. I rise from the hard stone bench, stretch my human legs, and reluctantly leave the pack. I want more – more time with this family, more red wolves in this world.
* * *
About Red Wolves:
Able to thrive in a wide range of habitats, red wolves once ranged from Texas to Pennsylvania. However, currently they only exist in the wild in North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. They mate for life and live in closely-knit clans that center around the one breeding pair. The older offspring help raise the new pups until they eventually establish their own territory. Red wolves were once extinct in the wild, only existing in captive breeding centers. The reintroduction in the refuge area had been a singular success. However, due to illegal poaching and a recent decrease in federal and state protections, including the issuance of hunting permits to adjoining land owners, they are now Critically Endangered. In the last four years, the population in the wild has decreased from 130 to around 25 - 40 (reports vary). If increased protective measures are not implemented, it has been predicted that within eight years they could become extinct in the wild.
From Linda Hogan's poem, "Eyes of the Animals"
And then there are the eyes of the wolf.
A god was named for them
And when you see any of these you know
all they want is to live,
to survive, to care for their playful young
just as we do.
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