Sometimes you're unaware of an issue until an enormous billboard commands your attention.
If you're like me, you stare at the thing, drinking in the possible complexities of the issues, trying to memorize the URL at the bottom, and then you rear-end the car at the light and forget all about it. The next day you see it again, and it's about Distracted Driving.
This billboard, though, had wolves. Like many city dwellers with a storybook image of Noble Nature, I love wolves. They're like, you know, spiritual pirate dogs. You see the big glossy picture books, and it gives you a warm feeling to know they're out there on their own, being wolves. Up close you might get a warm feeling because they bit your leg and severed a crucial artery and you're bleeding heavily, but it rarely comes to that.
The billboard was put up by Howling for Wolves, a Hopkins-based group protesting the upcoming wolf hunt. The Department of Natural Resources has slated wolf season to begin Nov. 3.
I was surprised: Having paid no attention to the issue, I didn't know we had spare wolves. Thought they were endangered.
Now, the plains darken with a ceaseless flow of wolf packs, apparently. They're attacking wildlife, so it's time to remind them who has the opposable thumbs around here.
Why are people protesting? Various reasons.
Because they are cute. If we had a problem with 5-foot-tall grunting lobsters who trapped baby deer with their claws and sprayed their territory with something that smelled like a portable outhouse at Woodstock, we would be targeting them with satellites and sending in Predator drones. The news would have stirring tales of campers who fought off feral lobsters, dragging them into town and heading to the store for 90 pounds of butter.
Because they remind us of dogs. Everyone who has a dog thinks there's a little wolf in him. In truth, it's occasionally the other way around, particularly if a hungry wolf comes across a little dog. That little lapdog makes for a crunchy snack, you know. Creamy on the inside! There's no interspecies solidarity with canines: Dude, what are you doing? We're on the same side. No, there's a reason Duran Duran called the song "Hungry Like the Wolf," not "Hungry like the Bichon Frise."
Because the narrative has changed. When I was a kid, wolves were the bad guys in children's stories -- in "Peter and the Wolf," the marvelous musical song-poem, the wolf's theme is devious, slobbery, slinky and low. (This is why wolves hate bassoons.) Red Riding Hood, of course, was tricked by a wolf, who was split open by the woodsman, thereby releasing Granny, who had apparently been consumed whole. "The Three Little Pigs" had a hobo wolf who smoked discarded cigars. Now they're the good guys.
The wolves might ask us to make up our minds. Treasured symbol of the wild, or loathsome sheep-eater? (Or, as we say to our dogs, C'mon, in or out?) First there's too few, now there's too many. Can you give us a target figure? And I don't mean Beta over there, although he's a little long in the tooth and lousy on a hunt. You want him, we can call it even.
Personally, I don't like it. I don't understand hunting wolves if they're not poaching your herd. I'm not opposed to hunting in the least; come from a long line of menfolk who headed into the woods to bring back supper. I don't like it myself, though. Tried it as a child, when my dad taught me how to handle a pistol. I was supposed to aim at the gophers that popped their heads up, which seems about as fair as a Tomahawk missile streaking down when I go out to get the morning paper. This has nothing to do with guns; it has to do with something I just don't enjoy. Doesn't make me a better person. Just means it doesn't make me a hunter.
Now, if wolves were helping themselves to my calves and lambs, that's different. If the wolf was coming on to the farm at night and doing something annoying, like tearing up the flower beds or reprogramming the buttons on the tractor radio (Why's the Hank Williams channel playing Mozart again? Don't tell me the wolves got in here again), then yes, you do something. But that's different from hunting. They're smart, beautiful, fascinating creatures.
Seems a shame to put a bullet through their heads.
For sport, I mean. For fun.