I have lived here for some fifteen years, in this house at the edge of the woods. I had moved here to escape my former life, to get away from the world. I had moved here to find solace. What I'd found was more than I could have asked for. I had found my home. There is a rhythm and vitality to life beyond the reaches of civilization, a wild energy that the hurried hustle and bustle of the cities could never touch. A purity that makes a man young despite his years and a freedom to live to whatever potential I could find within myself.
Right now, that potential is showing itself in photography. Oh, I'll never cut it with National Geographic but Im a simple man with a simple camera, content to just point, click, and enjoy. I live quietly and the wild life has become quite used to the puttering old man who shares their home. I leave feeders for the birds all around my yard, and I find myself much amused by the antics of the squirrels as they attempt to fend off their aerial attackers while they steal nuts and seeds, preparing for winter. I have countless photographs of both parties, in victory and defeat, and their daily stories are better than any soap opera I've ever seen. I have pictures of all manner of God's creations in this area, the birds and cats, fish and bugs, deer, hogs, and raccoons, but by far my favorites are the wolves.
They came to my neck of the woods the winter after I had moved into this old cabin, and have returned regularly ever since. They are beautiful animals, in their winter finery, and I've awaited their comeback every year with eager anticipation. This pack is large, plus of fifteen, but by this time I know them all. The pack is lead by a wolf I call Cazz. He is a powerful beast, but I've never seen him use his might against another of the pack. He commands an aura of respect that the entire forest seems to follow. Disputes melt away in his presence and he's surrounded by an unshakable calm that world leaders would envy. Of course, the calm is broken as soon as a rambunctious puppy bounces over and chews his ears, but such is fatherhood I assume.
Seeing the wolves... I believe that's what takes winter's chill out of my bones. The sight of the wolves over the hill, or chasing each other down my trail drives the pain from my joints, makes me feel as energetic as the puppies chewing their father's ears. I see them often when I'm walking through the trees, picking up firewood, but I don't fear them. There are deer aplenty out here, and these wolves are not hungry or man-eaters. In the fifteen years I've been here, I believe they're somewhat amused by the strange creature that's gathering wood for its even stranger den. Cazz especially seems to enjoy watching me, and I have many photos of that proud wolf sitting not ten feet away from me as I split logs too large to burn or carry easily. He is a good neighbor.
One of his older sons, Chance, often accompanies him on his person-watching trips, but I think he doesn't understand Cazz's interest in me. I suppose it's just as well. As much as we get along, I don't think I'd be comfortable with the whole family standing around, commenting about my axe swing. Sandy, Cazz's mate, will join us on occasion, though I think her reasons are much less altruistic then Chance's. Without fail, she curls up against Cazz's side and falls asleep, stealing his body heat. I can't say I blame her, though for me the cold is exhilarating. I talk to them when they're in ear shot, about the weather, or asking after the family, much like I used to when I was living in the suburbs, though football scores have been replaced with tales that I make up for them about their hunting exploits. Their ears will flip up, and their tongues will roll out of their mouths as I chatter at them, so I guess they enjoy it as much as I do.
They're late this year, but I'm not surprised. I had new neighbors move in you see. A mile to the east, down the mountain some, a family had moved into a two story home designed to look like a rustic cabin. I could hear the construction echo for miles. I met them a week after theyd settled in and they seem nice enough, though wary of the strange, grisly old man who wandered out of the woods with a friendly "Hello!". Their two children remind me of Chance and Anya when they were pups, loud and rambunctious, full of curiosity. I let Jason and his wife know that they had built their home in a large wolf-pack's hunting grounds, and they should be careful. Jason just patted a gun case with a grin, saying he'd be fine. I don't think I like Jason.
The wolves arrive three weeks late, Cazz leading them, but they are spooked and skittish. Cazz is just as calm as ever, and though that calm fills the rest of the pack, there is an uneasiness. This winter, they stay to the west of my home. Cazz visits me still, and I see the others often enough if I take my wanderings their way, but no one else seems to want to come too close to the newcomers. I needn't have bothered warning the Evan's family about the wolves. Their constant comings and goings with that Jeep of theirs more than does the trick of keeping the wolves at bay. I remember commenting to Cazz about a week before they left this winter that I had become better friends with him than my kin down the hill. He had flicked his ears at me and rolled his tongue. I guess good neighbors are hard to come by these days.
Another home is being built this spring. It's only a half-mile from the Evans family, and I suspect they know each other. It amuses me, I came out here to be alone, yet these people moved out to my... to Cazz's woods for the illusion of loneliness. The deer seem to be moving up the valley, away from the noise. The wolves will be late this year; I wonder if they'll have enough food for the winter? I've heard two gun shots this week. A few days after the second, Jason managed to navigate his Jeep to my cabin, where he offered me a haunch of deer. I declined. I have my own food stores. Jason shrugged and went back home. I don't like Jason very much.
I was right. Cazz and his family are late this year. Four weeks. I wonder what kept them... Cazz is getting on in years, much like me. I don't see Chance at all, though his sister Anya is beautiful this year. I wonder briefly what happened to him, but I suppose that is the way of life out here. The Dickerson family moves in about the same time the wolves arrive, but they're just as strange to me as the Evans are. Pickings are slim for Cazz this year, but they still get enough to sustain the pack.
It took me a moment to realize what I was doing today. I have two weeks of provisions, my warmest clothes, my axe, and my bow, packed and ready to go. My camera rests on top of my possessions. I shake my head and cradle my camera in my hands a moment before placing it carefully on my shelf. I take a long look at this cabin that I have called home for seventeen years, at the thousands of photos on the walls and shelves, at the cookware lined neatly along the fireplace, and I sigh, content. I shoulder my pack, place my axe on my hip, and walk out, not bothering to close the door behind me. There are fresh paw prints in the snow outside my house, large and small, and I smile. They're heading north, up the valley. After the deer.
I lift one foot and place it in front of the other, beginning my journey. It will be a long walk, but I am a determined man. Besides, I wouldn't want to miss my neighbors.