Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Wolf dog helps writer find truth about life
AN accomplished author of stories, a novel, and three cultural biographies about Anne Murray, Alanis Morissette and Celine Dion, Barry Grills sets out in his first memoir to "make some kind of sense" of his life.
This goal is hardly unique among memoirists but the substance of the North Bay, Ont., resident's story is. For it is primarily the story of his relationship with Lupus, "a wolf with some Siberian husky or maybe German shepherd."
Every Wolf's Howl is a moving story of friendship and transformation, and anyone who has ever longed to companionate with wild creatures will be transfixed.
It is 1993 when Grills adopts Lupus from an animal shelter, where Lupus howls to him with "loud authority," distinguishing himself from the other dogs and their "gibberish."
Lupus moves in just before Grills' "two personal tragedies" unfold: the collapse of the weekly newspaper Grills and his then-partner operate, and a second angioplasty.
All of 44 at the time, Grills reflects that "in four years I have never worked less than 90 hours during any given week... I have been in hospital several times during the life of the newspaper... and, as soon as I could arrange it, have escaped to begin abusing myself again. "
He traces the roots of his overwork to his youth: "I had been brought up to believe that life is sacrifice, that the obligations we embrace, the larger and more numerous the better, define our value, our purpose. What they failed to add was that first we must nobly self-destruct."
It is in the aftermath of these losses that Grills and Lupus "begin to become true companions." With Lupus at his side, Grills grows "more and more receptive to the wilderness surrounding us... [and] sensitive to the wildness in Lupus" who "finds mice beneath the snow, then eats them," who "moves so silently... he hardly seems to touch the ground at all, but rather skims the Earth's surface."
Lupus patiently accompanies Grills across the country and back again as Grills seeks conventional employment in the "weird world of missing paperclips, jammed photocopiers, telephone tag." When that proves fruitless, Grills focuses on writing to support them and to repay the money he still owes from the time of the newspaper debacle.
Grills' descriptions of his poverty are sharp and his anger is palpable, yet during these difficult days he continues to observe Lupus who "seems to know an essential truth about living."
"I catch glimpses of this knowledge in his speed and curiosity, his sense of adventure, his talent for pure being.... He enjoys an adventure in his days and a basic acceptance of himself that I can hardly fathom in mine."
Characterizing himself as "a strange, guilty, driven man, terrified of failure," Grills strives to follow Lupus's lead and summon "the courage to defy" conventional expectations and valuations, as served up by his mother who tells him, "I find it hard to mention you to our friends, to your relatives... They think you're some kind of beatnik or something."
To counter such discouragement, Grills writes, "I take something hopeful from [Lupus] and dress my soul in it."
However, it is to Grills' credit that he advises against breeding wolf dogs. "To try to knit these two disparate worlds together is improper and unkind," he writes.
And generally the experiment ends badly as the operators of the few shelters extant for such dogs can attest.
Jess Woolford is a Winnipeg writer who recently visited rescued wolves and wolf dogs at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in Ramah, N.M.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 J9
(1 of 23 articles for this week)