People you love
build a small house for you,
cover the dirt floor with hay,
hook a long chain to the cowhide
that circles your throat,
fix the chain to a stake in their yard.
In the day, the cut grasses hear you howl;
at night, they make a nest for your body.
You go nowhere.
You could lie down and die,
but someone wants you kept alive,
a cheap security system.
Years of this and then one full-moon night,
suddenly you hear them —
the motley wolf-coyote clan.
from the far side of the creek,
and you’re answering.
Break the chain, they say,
and you do.
– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, October 2014
Genesis and Aftermath of “The Ones You Love”
A hundred years ago, farmers had shot the last wolf in New Brunswick. All up and down the eastern parts of North America, it was the same: no wolves in the woods, no wolves anywhere.
But a tiny remnant of the eastern wolves had found refuge in Ontario’s Algonquin provincial park, and when coyotes from the southwest migrated that far north, the Algonquin wolves accepted them into the pack, mated with them, and taught them wolf culture. The result was the eminently adaptable coywolf, or bush wolf, who has since repopulated much of the land where the eastern wolf was killed.
Coyotes arrived in New Brunswick many years ago, but only within the last three or four years have wolf-coyote hybrids been sighted. This past July (2014) is the first time we have seen a timber wolf streaking across the back lawn, headed for the treeline. And in August 2014, the man delivering gravel for our driveway told us that where he lived, near the Maine border, wolves, coyotes, wolf-coyote hybrids, and runaway guard dogs were forming a new kind of pack that included all of them.
It was out of this rapidly shifting reality that “The Ones You Love” emerged.
A few weeks after writing the poem, I noticed something unusual about it: everything, even the “dead” grass, is alive and interconnected and communicating, with the exception of the humans who chained the dog. They too are “alive,” but cut off from the symphony of be-ing that surrounds them.
Without intending to, I’d written an animist poem, suffused with the consciousness of ancient humans. And that’s when it belatedly dawned on me that the wolf-coyote clans in my neighbourhood are influencing, not only their close relatives, but me too.
Break the chain, they say; break the chain to that alienated/amputated modern-human “world” you know so well.
Re-enter the fullness of the world, they say; rejoin the children of Earth.
I don’t altogether know how to follow their most excellent advice, but I’m working on it.
note: “The Ones You Love” with its accompanying postscript was first published in “Return to Mago” on 20 January 2015, and then reprinted in She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism, and Spirituality (Mago Books, June 2015).