Wolverines: Why Grownups Need Bedtime Stories
I hiked Glacier National Park last fall, tagging along with Douglas Chadwick, the famed wildlife biologist (see The Wolverine Way). We climbed up and down and all around checking wildflowers and bear sign–great experience
That evening, after we’d kicked back in the Granite Chalet, he shared wolverine stories. Chadwick spent seven years studying mountain goats–not an easy gig. Goats go places humans find impossible. But mountain goats, he’d have me believe, were nothing compared to wolverines. It’s literally impossible to follow them. You need a helicopter. Wolverines live hard, climb everything, and NEVER back down. Even a grizzly will walk away when a wolverine turns to fight. As Chatwick likes to say, “there’s wild and then there’s wolverine.”
As I stumbled through the dark to my bunk that night I felt a new appreciation for an animal I’d barely thought about. Despite being tired, I lay awake filled with a sense of wonder.
The hike was invigorating, the wildflowers were extraordinary, Chadwick showed me places where the bear plowed the land, digging up roots. But his storytelling took that experience to a whole new level. Understanding a landscape is not about being able to name every plant (although I suspect Chadwick could), it’s about understanding the subtle relationships, something like the difference between knowing a few French words–enough to read the menu–and speaking French.
Children hearing a bedtime story may ask about what is true and what is made-up, but they don’t necessarily place more value on one over the other. Aboriginal literature is similar in that regard. In ancient literature, myths aren’t merely metaphorical, Ceremony is story elevated to ritual. Why? Because story acknowledges that truth is more complicated than fact. Like the wolverine, truth is everywhere, but mostly unseen. Truth lives hard, climbs everything, and NEVER backs down. If you want to meet truth, you can’t set a trap. You tell a story and lure truth into the circle.