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The Way of the Wolf…..cont’d….part two

The Way of the Wolf…..cont’d….part two

Unsuccessful in their hunt, the wolf pack retreated to the close pine forest to huddle against the black, cold, early April night. The big gray wolf closed his eyes against the strain of the day, resigned to his fate as a hunter, content now in the close, cold night. He found relief in the simple understanding that tomorrow would once again bring sunlight, and in this simple fact alone he took comfort. There was really nothing else to consider. The pack, acquiescent, slept through the gurgling noises of the black night.

In the morning, the sun spread its warmth across the high ridge of pine trees where the subdued pack had already begun their early morning rustling, stretching their weary bones, yawning with nervous anticipation, and shaking off the frost of the high mountain ridge. The big gray wolf’s howl echoed with ferocity across the valley, and the pack stretched their lungs in ardent reply. The herd of bison had moved on, and the pack would move on, too, always moving, driven by the fierceness in their hearts, resisting the hunger in their bellies, wary of the disquiet that threatened their tenacity. The big gray was distressed by his suspicion, a gnawing uncertainty tearing at his wild heart. Consciousness would mean the end of everything, and the big gray’s instincts fought against this parasite that would with the fury of a firestorm infect the whole pack. Consciousness would weaken their resolve, it was not the way of the wolf.

The time had come for the pack to begin. Carefree in the warmth of the sun’s ardent gratification, the day stretched out in front of them. Their bellies were quiet now, because they moved with a common purpose. The big gray wolf led them zigzagging down the steep ridge into the shadows of the deep valley, moving along the narrow rift in the valley’s floor towards the trail that would take them to the bright sunlight on the far ridge, moving without notice, without disturbing the crisp morning stillness, the bursts of wolf breath dispelled behind them, their heavy coats stained by the early morning frost. The big gray wolf was a true leader, a warrior who had accepted his role, even though rueful doubt, like a growling bile, grumbled in the pit of his empty stomach. No time for ruefulness now, however. He needed to seek the trail to the far ridge where a new universe would yield to the wolf pack. Exploration would quiet the grumbling in his stomach, for this was his way, the way of the wolf.

The hunter stepped outside the warm one room cabin into the biting cold of the austere spring morning and walked from memory, his warm breath in spurts breaking the utter silence of the predawn morning, toward the small corral where Dan stood pawing the ground, the steam from his nostrils clinging to the air. The hunter entered the lean-to that faced away from the corral, scratching around in the dark for the currycomb, stuck it into the back pocket of his denim jeans, and, before leaving the lean-to, grabbed the halter from the hook screwed into the wood wall. He walked back to the corral, opened the gate, and stretched his arm around Dan’s neck, pausing in Dan’s warm, familiar breath before he slipped the halter over Dan’s muzzle. He thoughtfully combed the bristled hair along Dan’s withers and down his spine and up under his girth. Dan, turning in gratitude, nuzzled up under the hunter’s armpit, casting him off balance. The hunter playfully pushed himself away from Dan and headed back to the lean-to for the feedbag. Upon returning, he slipped the strap over the poll of Dan’s head, the bag that held the moist, steamy grain nestled close to his muzzle. Dan excitedly munched the grain while the hunter went back to the lean-to for the blankets and saddle. In the pitch black of the cold early morning, he felt his way back to the corral, propping the saddle against his right leg while he threw the blankets, stiff with morning dew, over Dan’s back, arranging them carefully before, with one swift, well-rehearsed motion, he threw the bulky saddle up over the blankets, the off stirrup and cinch slapping against Dan’s ribs. The hunter, his warm breath coming in shorter spurts, maneuvered the saddle perfectly along Dan’s back, reaching under Dan’s belly for the front cinch, cinched the saddle loosely, and whispered into Dan’s ear, “We’ll be underway soon, I promise.”

The hunter left the corral and walked back toward the single light of the small cabin, where he picked up the saddlebags, canteen and rifle. He looked around the small cabin, cupping his hand to blow out the flickering flame of the lantern hung from the low rafter, and stepped out once more into the cold morning, the soft glow from the fireplace casting his illusory shadow in the darkness before he pulled the door shut behind him. He looked up into the endless night frozen by a billion stars.

Before the sun broke the eastern horizon, the hunter had already traveled several miles. He had made preparations for several days away because he knew the way of the wolf, and the way of the wolf was rigid and unforgiving. He had been hired by the rancher, and now it was his obsession to find the pack that had come too close. He held nothing personal against the wolf pack, because they were just following the instincts of hundreds of thousands of years, it was simply his job, and the rancher hired him because he understood his job and followed it with fortitude and perseverance. As he rode into the dawn, the hunter embraced the warmth of the early morning sun, blowing warm breath into each hand to revive its grip.

The hunter, confident in Dan’s surefootedness, moved steadily up the steep, long ridge that overlooked a narrow passage that wound its way down the harsh slope until it disappeared into the obscure darkness of the canyon far below. He dismounted, stamping feeling back into his feet, kneeling to examine the tracks in the hard ground. He knew they had come this way and had disappeared down there, but he also knew that they wouldn’t be there now. He stood, squinting into the new sun, gazing reflectively across the chasm to the far ridge: that is where he needed to go, that is where he’d find them, that is the way of the wolf.

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