Home is where and how you meet your needs. It is both a place and the work done in that place, be it actual housework or all the varieties of care that are given without productive physical output. Home is the support and refuge in life. Home is people as much as a locus. The structure itself is important but the least so, and only insofar as it contributes to meeting needs. If it becomes work with no need met, then it is no longer a home. It’s just a house.
We learned about home from other animals. Probably not primates since not many of our cousins have this system. We don’t live with them in any case. We don’t even honor them very much. They don’t often show up as totems or clan emblems even where they exist in the world. We generally don’t incorporate them in art and story. They are rarely revered. It’s not even that we focus on hunters and so have relegated primates to the vast faceless herds of prey. No, we accord far more respect to ruminants and swine than we do to monkeys.
We live with denning animals. And of course, we live with wolves intimately. We call them dogs now but they have not changed substantially from their bigger cousins. Wolves have sophisticated and communal ways of living and meeting needs. I believe it’s likely that we learned home from them, and we really have not improved on the pack circle and the warm den (with feeding and washing facilities nearby). With our monkey ways, we have added froofery and trinkets. But much of our elaboration has diminished the value and utility of home. The den is best when it fits the family.
Wolves show us that as well, but we don’t learn from them as well as we once did. We have very different images of wolves now. I have learned many things about our own ways from our depictions of wolves. We have turned their ways inside out, very like we’ve turned the ways of women inside out. This is likely related. I would not be at all surprised to learn that wolves and women worked together to make home and family life, and only later did wolves take humans out on the hunt. Humans aren’t very good hunters, but we are very good home-makers. In any case, wolves and women are aligned in ways that wolves and men are not.
Wolves and women are very much sinister in our society. We are depicted in many of the same terms. Vicious, devious, irrational, needy. These are likely the labels of male guilt and insecurity. Probably not a little projection. Watch wolves, learn about them but only a little, and you quickly see that none of these terms are remotely applicable. Wolves are predictable, loving, logical care-givers. They are orderly and tidy and rarely resort to violence even in the hunt — because violence is messy and a waste of energy. Wolves have done the math on energy expenditure. Not a glance is wasted. And quite a lot can be accomplished in those wolf eyes.
What strikes me as most significantly strange is that we have eliminated the family, the pack, from wolf imagery in our culture. This is about as backwards and wrong as could be. There is no lone wolf except those few who are banished from the den. (And they don’t live long afterwards.) Wolves have the most intricate and unfailing pack bonds. A wolf pack is a circle of reciprocity and good will. Infants and newcomers are cared for and taught the ways and then expected to follow those functional paths without orders. Elders are accorded respect and, later, the care that their old bodies need. Males and females work as teams to meet pack needs. No one leads absolutely; no one is fixed in a certain role. Work is accomplished with the least effort by the most skilled in each necessary job. And gifts are given freely and frequently, seemingly for the sheer delight of giving. If you want to see joyfully egalitarian communal life in action, mount a camera near a wolf den.
We named the January moon the Wolf Moon. I am fairly certain this was not done to celebrate the communal lives of wolves, though it is probable that the name refers to wolf breeding and not wolves at the gate. We don’t remember this though. Now we associate January with stalking predators, predation being something the ruling class understands and honors. In the spirit of reclaiming, I would like to see the Wolf Moon as a time to honor the family and the bonds of pack living. (Yes, this includes bonds that are not defined by reproduction. The pack is a chosen group as much as a hereditary group.) I would like the Wolf Moon to be a love song to making home. In the north, there is no better time to focus on home (especially in these plague years). We are often house-bound anyway. This should be a cause for celebration, a time to revel in the pack and in the making of comfort, both physical and spiritual.
I’m not talking about more feasting and buying of stuff. This is not more Midwinter gluttony nor a home make-over. That’s the monkey way of doing things. Be like the wolves. Make every day a celebration of living and the work that goes into it. Do what needs to be done in joy, recognizing that what you are doing is making your life good. Prepare healthy, locally sourced food. Mend and repair and take stock. Plan for the summer’s growing season. Be together in work and in play. Teach your children how to be. And use all these long, cold nights to tell each other our stories — remembering the past, marking the present and hoping for the future.
And if you sing a few love songs to the cold stars, don’t be surprised by what will find you.
for 19 January 2022
You can respond in the comments below or make a Twitter post to the Wednesday Word. Either way, begin your response with #wolves. Your response can be anything made from words. I love poetry, but anything can be poetic and you needn’t even be limited to poetics. An observation, a story, a thought. Might even be an image — however, I am not a visual person, so it has to work harder to convey meaning. In the spirit of word prompts, it’s best if you use the word; but I’m not even a stickler about that. Especially if you can convey the meaning without ever touching the word.
If responding in Twitter, you are limited to the forms of Twitter. I would prefer that there be no threads because that is difficult. So if you have something long, post it in the comments below. That said, please don’t go too long. Keep it under 2000 words. I’m not going to count, but I’m also not promising to read a novel. Unless it’s really good!
If I receive something particularly impressive, I’ll post it next week. If not, well, that’s fine too. I know you all are busy. But if you’ve read this far, then I’ve made you think about… wolves.
mother fearsome hackles raised deadly protector deals implacable care shelters all who walk her skin her will is law and we cross the thresholds at our peril do not think even the least of her children vulnerable to your whims she will countenance none her fierce glance is upon you and now you feel the heat growing
©Elizabeth Anker 2022
3 thoughts on “Wednesday Word: 19 January”
Love this so much!
When the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list, Minnesota and Wisconsin both started a very short season of wolf hunting. There have been so many protests that the hunt has been stopped in Minnesota while the state comes up with a new wolf management plan. In Wisconsin the hunt goes on every year and is usually over in a weekend because the wolf quota has all been killed. It makes me cry every year, thinking about the wolf families that have been ruined because people are stupid and have to hunt for their trophies.
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Ex’s aunt lives in Minocqua WI with a pack of dogs and cats… she’s a regular in the wolf hunt protests & letter campaigns.
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A wonderful essay – such a surprising perspective on home, wolves, and primates, and yet so obvious even on first reading. Many thanks!