This story begins with the birth of a wolf.
She was born under the red glow of the Hunter’s Moon. She was a strange pup; her fur was blood red. None of the wolves in the pack had ever seen a wolf with such red fur. Her mother and father knew that she was destined for important things.
They slept in a small cave whose opening was hidden by the sweeping branches of a fir tree. Beast and bird proclaimed her birth throughout the forest, for the wolves ruled the forest. And this pup’s parents ruled the wolf pack.
In those days, when a royal pup was born, a holy month was declared. All were safe from the wolves’ tooth and claw. For an entire month, the beasts of the forest came to honor the little red wolf—the creeping things like snakes and frogs, the soaring things like bats and birds, and the running things like deer and foxes.
From every family of beast, all came to celebrate the birth of the red wolf.
The wolf father also taught the red wolf legends passed down from pack to pack since wolves first hunted in the mountains they called home.
One night, as the sky grew dark and the crickets began their nightly chorus, the red wolf and her father stood at the top of a small mountain. Looking down upon the village of Stonebriar at the foot of the mountain, the wolf father snarled and told her of the wolves’ first clash with humankind:
Once, there was no village below...no walls of stone or houses of wood. No humans with their weapons of steel and iron. No plowed fields, no row upon row of wheat. No humans building fences to enslave wild things. The forest was in balance. The streams teemed with trout. The trees chimed with birdsong. Deer danced through the fields. There was enough food for the pack, and our pack was large.
We were the Lords of the Forest.
Then the humans came.
I tell you this story as my father told it to me. And now I tell it to you. Listen, and remember.
At first, the ancient wolves lived at peace with the humans. But food became scarce. The humans uprooted the trees and planted fields. They tore stones from the earth and built walls. And they began to hunt the wolves, so they could have the deer and rabbits for themselves. Their fields and villages grew as the forest shrank.
Desperate and hungry, the ancient wolves fought back. But the humans’ metal claws reach farther than ours. Their metal teeth cut deeper than our teeth of bone. In the first battle between wolves and humans, many wolves died. Only a few survived.
Humans don’t just kill to survive. Sometimes, they kill out of rage. And they don’t just eat to survive; sometimes, they eat when their belly is already full. They are violent and greedy. They aren’t like any of the other beasts in the forest; they want to own it all.
That is why we, the Lords of the Forest, hide deep in the shadows and high in the mountains. We wait and watch. We live in fear.
The wolf mother looked at her daughter with sad eyes and said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
As the orange oak leaves basked in warm light of the sun, the red wolf and her mother walked along the path to the river. They listened as the cawing of the ravens joined the bubbling laughter of a nearby stream. A chittering squirrel ran across their path. As they stopped to listen, the wolf mother told this tale:
There once was a raven. He was clever, but lazy. Every day, he perched in the upper branches of the tallest tree in the forest to watch the animals rushing about, storing food for the coming winter. Of all the creatures of the forest, one squirrel worked hardest. She gathered food from sunrise to sunset.
Raven wanted all those nuts for himself. Instead of working hard like Squirrel to lay aside food for the coming winter, he simply waited for Squirrel to go out searching for nuts. While she was out, Raven
would swoop down, steal from her store, and hide the nuts in the hollow of a tree.
Squirrel noticed that, no matter how hard she worked, her store of nuts grew smaller, not larger.
One day, Squirrel came home to find her store completely empty. She suspected that Raven was the thief, but had no proof. Discouraged, she moved to another part of the forest to start over.
Next, Raven watched a jay gather and bury acorns. While Jay was out, Raven would dig up his acorns, making sure to cover the hole again, and hide them in the hollow of a tree.
Jay noticed that, no matter how hard he worked, his store of acorns was growing smaller, not larger. One day, Jay came home to find his stash of acorns completely empty. Jay suspected Raven had stolen from him, but had no proof. Discouraged, Jay moved to another part of the forest to start over.
Raven continued his tricksy ways with the other animals below. In the end, Raven was all alone; his neighbors had moved to other parts of the forest in search of food.
Raven said to himself, “I don’t mind! I’d rather be well-fed and lonely than hungry with neighbors!”
One day, while Raven was in his tree hollow eating like a king, a terrible storm blew through the forest. Lightning struck the tree, setting it aflame. The Raven was able to fly to safety, but all of his ill-gotten food burned to ash.
He flew throughout the forest. Finding Squirrel’s new home, he begged, “Squirrel, I am hungry, share your food with me!”
Squirrel replied, “Go away! I have little enough for myself and can’t trust you.”
Raven flew away, sad. Next, he found Jay’s new home. He said, “Jay, I am hungry, share your food with me!”
Angry, Jay yelled, “Leave me alone! I have little enough for myself and can’t trust you.”
Raven flew throughout the forest in search of his old neighbors. Each time they responded the same way. Alone and hungry, Raven flew away; none of the other animals ever saw him again.
The wolf mother and father continued to share wisdom with their daughter as she grew.
Seasons passed. The wolf father and mother grew old and died. After a time of mourning, the red wolf became the unchallenged chief of her pack.
At first, she led her pack wisely. She was respected for her hunting skills and her ability to keep the pack safe from the humans. Every night, under the pale glow of the moon, she taught her pack all the tales of their wolf ancestors.
No amount of wisdom, however, could keep the humans who lived in the valley below from hunting more and more deer and rabbits. There wasn’t enough food for the wolves. Some of the weaker wolves died of hunger.
The red wolf’s wisdom began to give way to rage. She hated the human beings for what they had done to wolfkind throughout generations. Desperately, foolishly, she believed the pack could drive the humans from the land.
Most of the pack wanted to leave the forest in search of a new home, but the red wolf stubbornly refused. “Since ancient times, this has been our forest. We were here long before the humans came. We will never leave,” she said, day after day.
As food grew scarcer, the pack grew angrier. They blamed the red wolf for their troubles. So it was that another wolf in the pack challenged her leadership; the winner of a fight would be the chief.
The red wolf was faster and stronger and fiercer. The two wolves slashed at each other with their claws and snapped at each other with their teeth. The red wolf kept the upper paw…until she stumbled over the twisted root of an old oak tree. Seizing the moment, the challenger attacked, brutally gnawing on the red wolf’s hind leg. The red wolf had been defeated.
Following their new chief, the pack left, leaving the red wolf bleeding in the shadow of that oak tree. Both her leg and her heart stung with pain.
She never saw any of them again.
Slowly, painfully, she limped into a nearby cave… the cave where she had been born.
The red wolf was now the last wolf in the forest.
Mark Van Steenwyk is a co-founder of the Mennonite Worker (an intentional community in Minneapolis). Mark is a writer, speaker, and grassroots educator working with radical Christian communities around North America. He is one of the facilitators of JesusRadicals.com and co-host/producer of the Iconocast podcast. Mark has contributed to several books, is the author of That Holy Anarchist and the unKingdom of God. He likes building pirate ships out of cardboard with is four year old son, cooking whatever strikes his fancy, and singing karaoke (badly).