Book excerpt: Takaya: The Lone Wolf

A book excerpt, by Cheryl Alexander

Excerpt from Takaya: Lone Wolf, by Cheryl Alexander (Rocky Mountain Books, 2020)

WILD

He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wild hearted, alone amidst a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight. – Jon Krakauer

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He arrived on the island shore alone. Possibly at dawn. Likely exhausted. Probably exhilarated. Perhaps fearful. Certainly on a mission.

He was searching for three things — the three things that he needed to survive and thrive in life: A reliable source of food. An exclusive and safe territory that he could call his own. A mate.

Was this where he would find those things? Should he stay?

Now, almost nine years on, he remains on these island shores. It was predicted that he wouldn’t survive here, with limited food resources and no year-round source of water. Yet he has survived and is thriving. He has found two of the three things he was searching for: food and a safe territory. The third remains elusive.

Over the years since he arrived, I have come to know him and to learn much about his chosen, and most unique, life. Many questions have been answered, however mysteries still abound.

This is his story. And mine. He was a young wild wolf.

As many wolves do, he probably left his natal pack when he was between 2 and 3 years old, looking for a territory and a family of his own. Or maybe he was just looking for adventure — a real pioneering wolf.

No matter the reasons he left his early home, in May 2012, as he got out of the sea, shook himself off and climbed up onto the shores of the isles that were to become his territory, he likely had little idea of what his journey would mean.

This young wolf had arrived in a small archipelago just off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with no deer to hunt, no other wolves, and very near to a city of over half a million people. He had left what we consider normal wolf wilderness habitat, and had instead crossed over 40 kilometres of urban areas and city suburbs in search of his new home.

He’s now almost ten years old and I’ve come to know him well. I have gained this wolf’s trust and documented his life, shooting thousands of still images and hundreds of hours of video footage.

It is almost impossible to document the life of a lone wolf in the wild. They travel vast distances and are rarely spotted. Mostly on the move, lone wolves are difficult to follow unless radio-collared, and so their lives are largely unseen. This wolf’s unique situation allowed me to gain his trust, and to observe and document his life.

I became intent on understanding his life and wanted to solve his many mysteries, such as: Why did he cross ocean and city to get here? How did he adapt and thrive in such an unusual habitat for a wolf? Why does he stay here, choosing a life of solitude? And what will his future be?

After a while I grew tired of just calling him the wolf. I chose to call him a name which means wolf in the language of the Coast Salish Indigenous people who historically inhabited this area.

His name is Takaya.

JOURNEY

Knowing an animal at a deeper level does not diminish its mystery but opens our hearts to the unknowable and, in a sense, the divine. – Richard Louv

In May 2012, my path with heart took on a strange and unexpected direction. On the local news, I heard that local kayakers and campers had reported a wolf in the islands. Initially it was thought to be a stray dog, however a photo taken by whale-watching guide Jim Zakreski showed that it was a wolf. This was big news for Victoria. A wolf was not a common visitor in the area, and certainly unheard of out in this small, uninhabited archipelago.

This wolf’s early life was initially unknown to me. It was only later, as I began to follow the questions and mysteries surrounding his appearance, that I began to unearth and piece together what little could be known of his journey and decision to settle in these islands.

Although it had been reported, it seemed improbable to many people — myself included — that a wolf was now inhabiting these tiny islands so close to my city. And then, in the spring of 2013, I was camping in the islands and heard what sounded like a wolf howl. Around the same time, biologist friend Paul Harder and I spotted wolf tracks on a beach on Discovery Island. This was very exciting!

My husband Dave, however, doubted that there really was a wolf on the islands and made a lot of fun of us for thinking that there was. He later said, “People take their dogs out to the islands all the time, so the logical thing for a physics guy like me is: It’s a dog, not a wolf.”

When I showed Dave the tracks he would say, “Yeah, those are just big dog tracks.”

But then I saw him — and Dave heard him howl.

It was Mother’s Day, 2014. Dave and I, with our eldest daughter Maia and our family friend Anna Lisa, were drifting through the islands at sunset, enjoying a happy hour in our boat, Mv Rover. I glanced back and saw the wolf getting out of the water after a swim across the channel. It was a surreal moment. I exclaimed, “Oh my god, there’s the wolf!” He disappeared into the woods and began to howl — a most poignant, moving experience.

From this moment on, Dave had to accept that there was a wild wolf living in the islands. What he didn’t yet understand was how this moment was to change my life, and ours. In Dave’s words, “She was over-the-top excited and very enthusiastic. I didn’t realize that we were starting a whole new chapter in our marriage.”

Although I had spent countless hours in the wilderness, I had never seen or even heard a wolf. This is not unusual; rarely does anyone catch even a furtive glimpse of a wolf in the wild. Initially, I was simply curious about the presence of a wolf. But then when I heard his howl — a haunting, somewhat mournful sound — it awoke something deeper in me. I sensed a portal into a wild world. It was at this moment that my journey with this wild wolf really began.

This first glimpse set me on a path — a quest to discover more about this wolf, his behaviour and his inner world. I wanted to understand and know this wild animal, a creature who was living a life so different from mine. A creature who embodied the very essence of wilderness, freedom and our ancient connections with the primeval world.

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Cheryl Alexander will sign her books at the Takaya Lone Wolf International Arts Show, featuring music and art celebrating the life and legacy of Takaya, at 10 a.m. Oct. 24 at Nootka Court in Victoria. The event is sponsored by the Eagle Feather Gallery.

The Municipality of Oak Bay has a website for people to submit their memories, experiences and reflections of Takaya. It is at oakbay.ca/TakayaReflections.

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