I´m about to touch a wolf for the first time. It’s 2010 and I´m with some family members and other Shy Wolf Sanctuary visitors, enclosed in a little wooden structure, feeling sort of like I´m in a crowded elevator. Our guide has told us to hide some things we are carrying; shiny things like cell phones and cameras, articles that wolves are curious about, so we have already stuffed these objects in our pockets. Through the bars of our wooden vestibule, we can see three or four wolves standing in their living space, a little beyond where we are, and then our door opens and in we go with these beautiful animals. We very quietly sit down on the benches we find there at the edge of the wolves’ living quarters and our guide talks to both the wolves and to all of us breathless folks. The clearest memories I have of my fellow visitors are the looks of awe and reverence on their faces. I suppose they see the same expression on my face, too.
Then our guide calls one of the wolves over to her. His name is Bear. He´s an older, all-white wolf with a fine, long nose. Later on my husband described him as “an aging, peaceful and wise animal.” As our guide continues to teach us about different aspects of wolves – their very large feet, small ears, straight tails, and rough outer coat, Bear circulates among us and people begin to reach out their hands to touch him. I do the same, and I feel like this is a moment of great privilege. We pet Bear, talk to him, tell him he is beautiful. Bear gives each one of us some quality time and meanwhile, the other, shyer wolves drift off to various corners of their spacious and comfortable surroundings.
As he unhurriedly approaches each one of us, Bear stops and stands quietly and patiently. I would say he has “the perfect patience of mountains”, words once woven into a poem by American poet E.E. Cummings. In that sacred moment when it is our turn to touch Bear, talk to him, feel his breath on us, he is our teacher. He pulls out of our minds forever any stereotype of wolves that our culture and society have engraved there. Bear is the best door we could walk through to see what wolves are really like.
Too soon we must move on to meet more animals and learn how they came to the sanctuary, and more things about wolves in general. But nothing will take the place of the moment with our first wolf, the princely and dignified Bear. We give him one last pat on the head or run our hands over his back, and then exit through the same enclosure we waited in. As we leave, we look back and the shyer wolves have come up to the benches and are inspecting them, sensing our recent presence, and taking interest in this latest group of humans who have visited their home.
Now it is 2012 and my husband and I are back at Shy Wolf Sanctuary, and after we finish the tasks that we’ve learned how to do as volunteers for a few days, we are asked a question that leads us back to Bear. Sue, the volunteer coordinator says, “You still have a few minutes left. Would you like to brush Bear?” Did she know that we always thought of him as our special wolf at the sanctuary, or did she just need us to do this small task? We didn’t care what the reason was. We were just happy to be headed to Bear’s dwelling. While we were working, we had often gone by his residence, and seen a now even feebler Bear, but still the same sweet and patient, all-knowing animal.
We went in with Jean, our volunteer mentor, a woman who was from New England, and knelt down to brush beautiful Bear. While we did this, my husband and I talked to him and all I remember saying over and over was, “Oh, Bear.” Somehow in those two words a million emotions were enfolded the joy of being back with this wondrous wolf, the sadness at seeing him growing older and older, the reverent feeling of privilege of once again touching him. Bear sat quietly and nobly, letting us brush him and acting as if it was the best brush of his life, kind creature that he was.
Then something happened that we hadn’t expected. Bear’s ears pricked because he had heard a sound. We heard it, too. Voices. A group was approaching. A group of people who would come in to touch a wolf for the first time, as we had done two years earlier. It was like seeing what Bear must have done when we had been the ones to squeeze into the little wooden enclosure, in anticipation of our meeting with a wolf for the first time. As the voices became stronger, Bear, the professional, shakily stood to his feet, and waited patiently. He was ready for his next group and we knew it was time for us to leave. Looking back at him standing there as we went out, I thought of John Milton’s words written four hundred years before this moment, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Bear, from this first moment of greeting the new visitors day after day, year after year, served so many of us by knocking down barriers and helping us reach out in love to the beauty that is a wolf.
I am a firm believer in spirit guides, and now that Bear is in a perfect and pain-free place, I hope he has a moment now and again to look my way and help me walk the rest of the road of life as patiently and as committedly as he did. His grace was amazing; my gratitude is forever.