The Roots of “Wolf Song”
I met the eminent wolf ecosystem biologist Cristina Eisenberg when we were both fellows at Black Earth Institute. Cristina has a mission to get the word out about the crucial role wolves play in a healthy ecosystem. She invited me to accompany her research team into the field in Glacier National Park, so I could write poetry about the wolves firsthand. Little did I know that the call of the wolves would eventually pull me into such a magical and all-consuming theatrical project.
Tramping the high fields of the Montana mountains with the team, following narrow wolf-trails past hidden dens, I felt for myself the contrast between the arid, empty, overgrazed landscapes where wolves were extinct, and the thriving landscape where wolves were protected. Thanks to the wolves, deer grazed in natural patterns, and healthy underbrush supported birds, fish, and insects. The wolf is our peer at the peak of the food chain, the keystone to healthy ecologies. Wolves are our sacred wild friends; to harm a wolf is uniquely taboo in Native cultures for good reason, since, as this video shows, they keep everything else in balance.
Collaboration and Creation
Bringing what I had written back to Maine, I realized that this project would inspire more than an individual book of poetry. The epic tragedy of the wolf’s near-disappearance from the United States demands communal and societal, not just individual, grieving. It took a new organization, Poets Theater of Maine, to create a new kind of play: an interactive collaborative poetic ritual theater production. Eventually, “Wolf Song” evolved into a collaborative effort among nearly 30 people: composers, musicians, choreographers, mask-makers, dancers, actors, and singers, all coming together to honor the spirit of the wolf.
I intended the play to loosen popular stereotypes and awaken the transformative power of the wolf within the ecosystem and ourselves. A workshop version of “Wolf Song,” featuring the wolves of our psyches from La Loba to the Wabanaki trickster to the wolf-mother who suckled Romulus and Remus, premiered to an enthusiastic audience at Mayo Street Arts in Portland, Maine under the direction of Assunta Kent with musical score by Christina Alden-Kenne. As the cast carried maskmaker Libby Marcus’ large red huge wolf mask out onto the stage, the audience added their voices to the casts’ to sing and howl along during the finale, and the spirit of the wolf moved through the theater. I was especially gratified that Millenial audience members were so excited and receptive to the play’s unique mix.
Now “Wolf Song” is ready for its next stage of production. Who knows what the future will bring?