We could see the black shape of the wolf through the rare January fog. Overnight, the fog had frozen and painted the landscape with hoarfrost. The wolf watched us calmly as Kaley and Lona started a fire. I took a break from the ice auger and returned the wolf’s stare.
“Hmmm…I wonder what that wolf is up to?”
“Oh Daddy, that’s probably just Wolfy….Charlie’s wolf…maybe he wants to play with Rainy.”
“I’m sure” I replied as my gaze drifted to Rainy, our oblivious tennis-ball crazed dog.
The “Charlie” my daughter was referring to is a mythical Ojibwe hero from my own childhood. He traveled the wilderness alone helping both people and animals alike. My dad told me so many stories about him that he undoubtedly shaped a large part of my backwoods ethics. I doubt this was my dad’s intention when he pulled Charlie from his bag of bedtime tricks, but fortunately for all of us, Charlie was a good man.
As I stare through the icy fog at the black wolf, I am struck by how comfortable my daughter is with all of this. She is busy imitating her mom and adding sticks to the fire. She is standing on a frozen lake in a remote wilderness with a wolf watching her from less than one hundred yards away.
It occurs to me, now, that her mom and I are largely responsible for all this. What we do with our time and the traditions we keep reflect our values and ground us in our perceived normalness. The stories told to me by my dad are now stories being told by me to my own daughter. This tradition makes me proud yet slightly worried. Hopefully, looking up to Charlie, the wild woodsman of the north, doesn’t scar her too deeply at some point in her life. Realistically though, I doubt that Charlie’s tanned hides will hold a candle to the inevitable Disney princess-dressed line up to come.
My stiffening hands work sluggishly at rigging our fishing lines as my eye catches something distant. The wolf is now trotting across the narrows and towards the distant shore. Lona is following her mom onto the island for roasting sticks as Rainy drops her tennis ball into my ice hole. Business as usual. Rainy’s ears suddenly perk towards the east as a low, mournful howl drifts down from the jackpine ridge. “Don’t worry Rainy”, I whisper with a smile, “that’s just ‘Wolfy’ saying goodbye.”
The next morning at the cabin, we are mixing up sourdough pancakes. Sourdough used to be a staple amongst northwoods types and has always been a Sunday morning tradition in my family. The original sourdough starter of my family’s came from a lady who lived on Hoist Bay of Basswood Lake. It has been alive for longer than I have and has undoubtedly made many thousands of pancakes.
“Oh Daddy, Oh Daddy, don’t forget to make some for Ralph!”
“I won’t.” I reply with a smile. Ralph is a bird….a Canadian Jay who visits Wilderness Bay during the lean fall and winter months. Ralph loves sourdoughs and will likely eat them right from your hand. Of course, he will also eat groceries from a bag or your lunch from a picnic table, but that’s alright. Right now, I am just happy that Ralph is here at the cabin. And I am proud that our daughters’ reality has such star players as Ralph and traditions such as sourdough Sundays.
To all of you who have made visiting Wilderness Bay a part of your family tradition, thank you. We wouldn’t exist without you.