A Wolf at the Door
19 April 2024

I’ve been thinking lately of writing a story about a wolf. And I was thinking about this story, and a hundred other things, as I packed my bag for a month at sea. I continued to think on it as I journeyed to the ship and through the next day as we sailed into a northeasterly gale on Lake Huron.  In fact, I have been thinking about this story, and about wolves, for some months now.  Since November to be exact, when, at a retreat in upstate New York, I read a book called American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee.  

The last known indigenous wolf was killed in Yellowstone Park in the 1920’s as part of a government-sponsored predator control program aimed at eradicating wolves from the region, and the book is about the reintroduction of gray wolves to the park. It follows the life of one wolf in particular, a remarkable alpha female known as 0-Six.  It is meticulously researched but what is most impressive is how the author brings to life the complex social structures that exist within a wolf pack and the challenges they face in their natural habitat, as well as the profound impact their presence has on the territory.  What is also striking, is just how similar the wolves social hierarchies are to our own.

[Wolf Memory 1:  There is a very realistic plastic wolf toy at my junior kindergarten which I covet.  It is larger than other animal figurines.  One afternoon I conceal it under my shirt and smuggle it home.  My mother discovers the toy and makes me return it the next day.  I have to admit to Mrs. Adamthwaite, my JK teacher, what I have done.  I recall her bending down to speak to me eye to eye and waving an admonishing finger.  She was a gentle woman.  I remember her as an old lady, though she was probably younger than I am now.]

It is very quickly clear that the reintroduction is a success.  Before, the deer and elk population had been in a mess.  Declining due to a phenomenon known as ‘ecological imbalance’ whereby without any natural predator they were able to overgraze the vegetation to the point of starving themselves. This had a cascading effect on much of the local flora and fauna.  Not only did their population grow with the reintroduction of the apex predator, but it also become healthier.  Even the rivers’banks that had been overgrazed and begun to erode, restabilized;their complex ecosystems restored.

The story I want to write will be based on parts of a true story that I was told by my neighbour’s brother and for the purposes of personalizing the tale, I will call my neighbour’s brother Ray.  

Ray owns a popular French restaurant in a quiet neighbourhood downtown which is located, it will be important to note, near some railroad tracks.

The story will begin early on Christmas morning and Ray is having his entire extended family to his home for dinner.  The turkey has proved too large for the conventional home oven so he decides to take it to the restaurant and put it in the larger oven there.  He reasons he can leave it cooking and nip the ten minutes home to begin the other preparations.  He sets the temperature, puts the bird in the oven, sets a timer on his Timex and prepares to leave.  As he is locking the back door of the restaurant he hears movement behind him. When he turns around he is confronted by a large grey wolf standing ten feet from him amongst the stacked patio chairs, chained up tables and empty garbage bins.  His eyes will widen and slowly, ever so slowly he will let himself back in the restaurant.  As he closes the door he will take one last look at the creature.  He is struck by its size.  He is a man who knows dogs but this animal is so much bigger.  It does not snarl or appear threatening or threatened.  If anything he appears to have disturbed it.  It is panting despite the cold weather and its breath comes out in small, explosions of mist. He can see its ribs and its flanks heave with each breath.  It stands unmoving. Their eyes will remain locked until he closes the door.

Once inside, and unsure of what to do, Ray will call the police.

The reintroduction program was controversial from the outset.  Ranchers were against it for obvious reasons.  So were hunters and guides. They were worried the wolves would kill all the elk; elk being one of the main attractions for trophy-hunting tourists to the area.  Yet even when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the anti-wolf lobby continued to grow.  Wolves were shot illegally.  Many were poisoned or maimed by traps.

We are conditioned to be fearful of wolves.  It’s in our DNA.  Look at the fairytales.  The boy who cried wolf.  Little Red Riding Hood.  The huffing and puffing big bad wolf from the Three Pigs. Even our language.  Think of the idioms ‘the wolf at the door,’ ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ ‘to throw someone to the wolves,’ ‘wolf pack’, ‘wolf whistle.’

Dictionary.com provides the following definitions:



1 resembling a wolf, as in form or characteristics.

2 characteristic of or befitting a wolf; fiercely rapacious.



1 pertaining to or resembling the wolf.

2 related to the wolf.

3 savage; ravenous; predatory.

So strange when you come to learn how shy and retiring wolves are.  How wary they are of man.  How seldom anyone is lucky enough to see a wolf in the wild.  We have always tended to fear and demonize that which we do not know.  

Well, in my story, the cops come to the restaurant but by the time they arrive the wolf will be gone.  

‘I’ve heard of this before,’ one cop will say to Ray.  ‘They follow the railroad tracks up north and sometimes they just keep walking.’

[Wolf Memory 2:  I have a hand puppet of a timber wolf. I name it Tabaqui for the jackal in Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ (Hindsight has been unkind to Kipling but his treatment of wolves in the Jungle Book is the only positive portrayal in literature I can think of from the top of my head).  For a time Tabaqui comes everywhere with me.  Sometimes he speaks in my stead.  I think my whole family are relieved when I tire of Tabaqui and he is sequestered to the red box of forgotten toys under my bed.]

In the story Ray will have the family over and there will be laughter and good food but all the while he’ll be distracted.  Maybe a little distant, like he’s got something on his mind.  Of course he’ll tell them about the wolf and they’ll ‘are you sure it wasn’t a coyote?’ him and ‘holy moly’ and ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ and speculate as to how the animal got there and what its possible future could be.  

Later, after everyone has gone home and he’s put the kids in their beds and he’s lying with his wife in his, he won’t be able to sleep.  He feels as though the wolf has upset the sense of order in his world.  He is an orderly man and this will disturb him very much.  He finds himself worrying for his children and their future. And the future of the world they will inherit.  And of course he’ll think of the wolf, and when he does, it is not just fear he feels, but something close to compassion.  Because Ray is like you reader. Ray is compassionate.

The Donald Trump administration rolled back several federal protections for wolves in the United States.  In October 2020 they were removed from the endangered species list, ending any kind of protection for the creature in most states.  Their future, at best, is uncertain.  In some instances, when a wolf is killed, their pack is broken up.  They scatter. The females might join other packs.  The males might too, though more often than not, unless they are larger and stronger, they are ostracized and or killed by a rival pack.   Many die alone from their wounds or starvation.

[Wolf Memory 3:  A news item.  Two boys break into the Toronto Zoo one night.  They provoke the wolves and run around the chicken wire enclosure.  One trips and falls too close to the fence.  A wolf gets his arm.  The arm is grievously injured and must be amputated.  The wolf is destroyed.]

I am reading a book by Dara Horn provocatively titled ‘People Love Dead Jews’.  In one of the essays she writes how few tales in Yiddish literature have a happy ending. In fact, ‘many of the stories in modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature [don’t] have endings at all.’  The reason for this is both obvious and appalling.  The result of centuries of pogroms and flight.  As for my little story, it will not be tied up in a tidy little bow either,and, for the record, and I hope you don’t think it too crass a comparison, wolves, like the Jewish people, have been similarly persecuted, exterminated and misrepresented through the centuries. 

And so we’ll be left with Ray lying in bed.  And of him worrying for his family and thinking about the wolf.  And maybe our lasting image will be the same as Ray’s.  What he is imagining just before he finally falls asleep.  It is a cinematographer image:  

Night.  Woods.  Abandoned railroad tracks. A lone wolf ambles beside them.