My family lives in Mexican gray wolf country along the banks of the upper Gila River in the Cliff-Gila Valley, three miles from the southern edge of the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico. We live simply, on a small milk-goat farm, growing most of our own food and selling, what we can, to our neighbors.
Our orchards and gardens are filled with free-ranging chickens, turkeys and ducks; and our hearts are filled with gratitude both for the lives we lead and the larger complex of life that surrounds and sustains us.
My son, Hawk, is home-schooled and we spend a lot of time outdoors.
When Hawk was 4, we went camping in the Gila wilderness. We got lucky.
Lying in our sleeping bags after dark, we both heard our first wolf.
“What’s that mama?” he asked, a little nervously.
“That’s life,” I thought. “That is life howling at the moon at the cutting edge of time. That, my dear child, is the opposite of nothingness. That is the antithesis of death. That is the deep past and the unknowable future held together by muscle and sinew and desire.”
“It’s a wolf,” I finally said, “and you are very lucky to hear one.”
“But aren’t you afraid,” he asked?
“No,” I said. “I’m not afraid of the wolf, or of mountain lions, or bears, or lightning, or poison ivy. But what I am afraid of is that the wolf that we just heard could be shot. I’m afraid that I will never hear that sound again. I’m afraid that the rivers will be dammed and the soil will be lost and that too many species of birds will disappear forever.
“I’m afraid that my neighbor’s hearts are too small. I’m afraid that most people have forgotten who and what they are. I’m afraid that you will grow up without knowing beauty or wonder.”
Well, OK, maybe I didn’t say all that, but he got the message.
He’s not afraid of wolves. Sweet boy, at 10 years old, he’s not even afraid of the future – at least not yet.
“The great terror of our age,” wrote Loren Eiseley, “is our own conception of ourselves.” Yes, I care about wolves, but I care about my son even more, and I want him to know that the human heart is large, that our species is special because we get to choose who and what we are, that narrow self-interest, hatred and fear doesn’t have to define the human character, that the Endangered Species Act is not only about recovering the Mexican gray wolf, it’s also about recovering ourselves.
I understand that it’s hard sometimes to give the wolf or other listed species a free pass, especially when livelihoods are believed to be at stake.
But for me, the Endangered Species Act remains a sacred trust between my family and my government guaranteeing us that the diversity of life contained within our national boundaries will not be diminished by human agency.
The protections that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could and should and must provide the Mexican gray wolf on its long road to full recovery is the people’s business. It’s my business.
They are working for me, and for Hawk, and for millions of other Americans who not only want a future filled with wolf song, but demand it under the law.
The Endangered Species Act is not the jack boot of big government. The Endangered Species Act is me. The jack boots are mine. I’m one who wants the world to stay alive.
I want Hawk to know beauty and wonder.
I am not afraid of wolves. But I am so very afraid of a future without them.