Fiddles with Wolves
A rambling by Tom Knapp,
February 1991

Few could fail to feel the impact of the movie, Dances With Wolves. But aside from the cultural guilt over the red man's destruction by whites, I felt a keen, personal twang when Two-Socks, the wild wolf that befriended John Dunbar (Kevin Costner in one of his finer roles), was killed by soldiers.

Because I once befriended a wolf. His name was Badger.

He was actually only half wolf -- sired on a tame husky by a wolf from the wooded hills of southeast Ohio. Badger, who grew into a massive speciman of wolf-dog, was free to roam, although he still had a home with the husky's owner.

I have a friend named Tommy who, while studying at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, rented a room in a house set deep in those wooded hills. When I visited him there, we spent many an evening on the wrap-around porch, playing our hearts out in the dim candlelight as we shared our enthusiasm for Irish folk music.

Enter Badger, a frequent visitor who shared our love of music. He would hurry from the woods once our music began, joining us on the porch where he lay at our feet or sat, head cocked to one side as he listened.

My first sight of the wolf-dog was an uneasy one. Badger was a huge, shaggy beast, more like a wolf than a dog in appearance, but I got used to his presence. I came to look forward to his arrival each night we played. Eventually, he began bringing his mate -- an actual, full-blooded wolf which someone had named Keetah -- along for the show. I don't know if she was a true music fan or if she put up with our jams for Badger's sake, but she became a porch regular, too.

Once, arriving late at night, I was navigating my way down the narrow path on the side of the hill toward the dark house. My only light was the moon and the stars, and in that eerie brightness I saw two wolves charge from the treeline. My heart thudded in instinctive terror as I stood there, clutching a dufflebag full of clothes in one hand and my fiddle case in the other, but they did not lunge for my throat or hamstring me in some pre-feeding attack. No, they capered around my feet like excited puppies, guessing that my arrival signaled music for the weekend.

I became very fond of those beasts.

Then Tommy spent a year abroad, continuing his education in Norway, and so I stopped visiting Ohio for a while. When Tommy returned, he heard and gave me the sad news. Badger was dead.

The story as I heard it is that Badger, who was more wolf than dog in many ways, killed a neighbor's pet raccoon. The raccoon's owner, incensed at the loss of his pet, found Badger asleep on the husky owner's porch and, in front of a few horrified children, shot him.

The gunman was duly punished for the deed -- the husky's owner was also the raccoon owner's landlord, so there was a price to pay -- but that doesn't bring Badger back. Keetah doesn't visit people much anymore, I'm told.

But stories can still have happy endings. The next summer, Keetah was spotted running in the woods with a small wolf-pup, appropriately named Badger Jr., at her heels.

[ by Tom Knapp ]