The Mad Agriculture Journal
June 08, 2021
I spent a summer following warblers and mayflies from mid-Michigan to the upper Peninsula. I had several fly rods, a tying kit, a bag of clothes and hundreds of pounds of books in the back of my Volvo 240 wagon. I was intoxicated with nature, in a classic American boyhood sense. During the day I’d fish, and at night, I’d tie flies and read. The natural history of everything was fascinating. I couldn’t get enough.
Late one evening I was sharply awoken by screaming, not more than 10 feet away from my tent. I couldn’t fathom what it was. It sounded like a witch, or worse, a child being murdered. I never mustered the courage to open the tent fly. The next day I visited a gun & tackle shop and asked the proprietor about wolverines. He laughed. Trappers had killed every last one over 200 years ago. I despaired.
The wolverine is a mysterious animal that inspires awe and wonder. For me, this news of extermination catalyzed a different set of questions. It’s absence invited me to consider how humanity could hunt something until regional extinction. What is the mentality, conscious or unconscious, of killing to a point of disappearance? Why do I feel so different? I also wonder how fear shapes behavior? I certainly wasn’t coming out of my tent that night long ago. Looking back, I wonder if wilderness is beautiful because it is also a luxury. Wilderness is perhaps more delightful when one is not trying to survive, equipped with field journals, gear from Patagonia, binoculars, hatchet, headlamp, and an old Volvo with mountains of books. The wolverine reminds me of the propensity for humans to be deeply shaped by the culture and paradigms we are immersed in.
That screaming I heard was likely a raccoon.