On their rock the four wolves stirred. The dog looked at his mate, a quick flick of the yellow eyes containing a signal. In unison they rose and one by one bounded down, quick sleek shadows in the night. The bitch pulled into the lead, her mate just a step behind, the pups running in the rear. Once Silverfeet went to take the lead, but he was quelled by a swift look from his father. He dropped back. He knew the discipline of the hunt. He knew also that this was not the time for playfulness. Silently the pack ran.
Soon the wolves reached the environs of the beaver pond and the bitch slowed the pace. She had scented the beaver. She turned and led the pack in a circle that would bring it downwind of the quarry. Just once, and very softly, she growled, turning her head towards Silverfeet, clearly telling him to keep position. The young wolf, eager and brash though he was, dared not disobey. He wanted to dash madly away, to short-cut towards the beaver, but training and instinct prevailed and he kept his place.
The she-wolf turned the pack . . . slowed . . . stopped. She looked at Silverfeet, who sat impatiently beside her. The young wolf immediately rose and went on alone, heading cautiously towards the sound and scent of the beaver. The bitch looked at her daughter and the young wolf knew that she must remain. This was to be Silverfeet’s hunt. But the bitch did not fully trust her inexperienced son. She led the pack in another circle, running wide of the quarry, but intending to place herself in a position to intercept the beaver’s frantic rush for the safety of the water should Silverfeet miss his attack.
In the moon-splashed forest Silverfeet padded softly, a powerful wraith intent on the kill. His mother need not have feared. The young wolf felt the urgency of this moment. He knew that this was his test; he sensed that after this kill he would occupy a position of equality in the pack. He inhaled the beaver scent deep into his lungs while his ears noted the eating noises made by the quarry.
Silverfeet stopped. He stood still, attuning his senses to the hunt. Only some fifteen yards separated him from the beaver. It continued eating, unaware that death lurked almost within striking distance. The horned owl hooted from somewhere nearby and the wolf allowed his eyes to swivel once towards the sound…
…then, he fixed his gaze on the spot where his nose and ears told him the beaver must be. In another instant he moved forward, his body tense, his powerful muscles quivering, anticipating the call for action.
He moved with infinite care, placing each broad pad softly upon the ground, avoiding dry leaves and brittle sticks that might crack or rustle and warn the beaver before he could charge. He stopped again, gathering his haunches for the leap. His entire body shivered slightly for an instant. Then he launched himself. The beaver turned away from the downed tree and twisted his body, aiming towards the canal. But he was too late.
The wolf sprang at the fleeing beaver. He landed lightly after his initial leap, bunched his legs and thrust himself into space once more, coming down just two feet short of the beaver. His reaching muzzle found the beaver’s wet back, and his fangs bit deep. The beaver screamed, once, and lashed his body into a frenzy, desperately trying to shake the killing grip.
Silverfeet braced himself against the frantic struggles of his prey. He shook his neck savagely to the right and opened his jaws as the beaver fell sideways, exposing the underside of his neck. Swiftly, Silverfeet bit into the beaver’s throat, felt the warmth of blood, tasted its salty tang. Then he went into a frenzy. Growls formed deep in his throat and his eyes slitted as he shook the dying beaver to the left and to the right. He shook the beaver again and again, even after it was quite dead, and he was still worrying the carcass when the rest of the pack arrived. At once Silverfeet became transformed. He dropped the beaver, licked once at his bloodied lips, and growled, and this time his voice contained a warning. He straddled his victim and bared his fangs at his sister, telling her clearly that this was his kill.
They stood quietly for a time, the parent wolves and the black bitch forming a semi-circle around Silverfeet. Then the old she-wolf moved forward and reached down, past her son’s bared fangs. She took hold of the dead beaver and dragged it away from him. She dropped it, looked up at her son, and then lay down beside the kill and began to eat. Seconds later the four wolves had settled to the meal, and if Silverfeet growled now and then between gulps, his voice held no threat. Rather there was a note of pride in it. In ten minutes nothing remained of the beaver but a few pieces of fur and some chips of bone, scattered over the blood-stained ground.
Perhaps it was the success of his kill, or maybe it was the Indian summer night with its promise of winter to come, that acted on Silverfeet. Whatever it was, he suddenly rose to his feet, lifted his muzzle, and wailed his long, melancholy cry. The ululating song galvanized the others, and the forest night was suddenly filled with the deep baying of the wolves. At times their voices joined in chorus; at times they howled solo, one voice picking up where another left off. Howl after howl sailed upwards and over the trees, to float for a time in air and eventually become lost in an infinity of space.
When it was over the forest was a place of stillness. Even the owls had hushed and it seemed as though the very wind had stilled its journey. Then the bark of a fox rang out, and the heart of the wilderness beat again. The beaver had been but poor fare for the four wolves and they had need to hunt again this night, so, having finished their howl, they set off, aware that this would be a long hunt.
“Cry Wild” (c) 1970 by RD Lawrence ISBN 0-00-647048-3