A baby is walking along a forest path. Well, not really a baby. A little too old to be called a baby, he, for the baby is a he, is just past the age where you would think of him as a baby, and just into the age where you would think of him as a toddler. In fact, he’s not precisely walking. The word toddling might apply, but I think an even better term might be bumbling. He’s bumbling along the path, using the slightly proud, slightly clumsy, slightly bouncy step that makes anyone with any parental instinct feel a little weak in the knees. And, which would make anyone without that instinct relieved they didn’t bother with offspring.
In fact, it’s not really a forest. It’s just the outskirts of a forest. The early morning sunlight still sends bright beams of light shining between branches to glow over the mossy, earthy hillock the path is passing under. It’s winding through the moss under a particularly rugged and proud looking oak tree that stands alone just outside the forest. If the boy keeps following it, the path will lead him into the deeper, darker forest ahead, but at the moment, calling it a forest would be a little much.
To be honest, it’s not actually a real path. A path implies something built or maintained, perhaps. This is more of a track. An animal track, in fact. If the boy knew anything about tracks, tracking, or animal spoors, he might recognize that. Indeed, if he had that kind of knowledge, he might know the track is not just an animal track, but an animal track frequently used by a pack of wolves. But there is no way he can recognize that, as he is just a baby walking along a forest path.
Now you might expect a toddler walking alone along a forest path, or even a track on the outskirts of a forest, to be sad or upset. This one is not. He is bumbling along, looking like he doesn’t have a care in the world. There are other odd things about this toddler. For one thing, he is dressed like a little adult. Leather britches, with the seat bigger proportionally than it might have been, as it looks like there is some kind of tailclout under there. An undyed linen shirt on top, and a pair of miniature leather boots on the feet. The shoes look like they were lovingly made by some unknown cobbler specifically for this pair of small feet.
But there is one more odd thing about the way this little child bumbling along this forest outskirts track is dressed. He has a leather belt around the waist of his britches with a tiny leather sheath attached to it. In the sheath is an equally small steel dagger. This dagger doesn’t look like a toy. While to an adult, it would have been just about the right size to use for picking their teeth, somehow, it seems correct and comfortable belted onto this small child.
The boy and the track bumble along under the trees on the outskirts of the forest for a bit. After a while, they bumble up next to a gurgling stream that cheerfully joins with the track and starts traveling alongside it. The water in the stream looks fresh, cold, and inviting, and the boy stops his bumbling for a moment to toddle down to the water’s edge and take a drink. He has nothing to scoop the water out with, and might not have known how to do that even if he had, so he just sticks his face into the water and sucks some up. The edge of the stream is a little steep, and crouching down to hold his face in the water is awkward, so the boy winds up getting wet. He doesn’t seem to mind, and the weather is mild, so he just continues on his way down the track.
The track follows the stream, winding through the trees on the outskirts of the forest, then it finally makes up its mind, and dives into the thicker growth. Inside the wood, the mood of the track changes a bit. The beams of sunlight that were warming the mossy stream banks have more trouble getting through the thick canopy, and the air grows chill with the lack of sunshine. The boy might have regretted getting his clothes wet when taking a drink at the stream if he regretted anything at all. He just continues bumbling cheerfully along his track.
In fact, if he was capable of worry, he might worry about how well-traveled this track is. It is either traveled by many wolves or perhaps by a smaller number of wolves often.
After traveling along for a time under the dark canopy of trees, the track cuts down under a mossy bank. The trail, and the boy round a tree trunk, with the stream still keeping them company. Roots from the tree whose trunk the boy is passing, reach out from the bank to find their way to the stream. Or perhaps, the stream washes the soil off the roots. Either way, tree roots, a mossy bank, and the trunk of an oak tree growing next to the stream cut off the boy’s view of the trail, until he turns the corner around the base of the tree.
The trail cuts across a green clearing. The stream still runs alongside. There is sunlight managing to find its way through the dark canopy for the first time in a while. Relieved to find its way through the trees, the early morning sunlight is flooding the green grassy clearing, lighting it, and making the boy blink in the sudden glow.
Across the green grassy clearing, watching the boy skeptically is a wolf pack. Actually, it’s not clear it’s really a pack. You probably think of a pack as being more than three wolves, and there are only three wolves across the green grass. In fact, it isn’t precisely grassy. Part of the clearing is mossy. Also, it isn’t entirely clear. There are some low bushes in part of the open space.
Also, the wolves aren’t really looking at the boy skeptically. It seems they are interested in each other and not aware of him at all. Finally, it’s not clear it’s right to call them wolves. Wolf pups might be a better way to describe them.
So, three wolf pups are playing in the green moss. The early morning sun is shining down on them, and they are rolling and tumbling over each other in a kind of playful, exuberant way. At the moment the boy sees them, the biggest is holding down the smallest while the third looks on. The one on the ground is making a quiet yapping or yipping sort of sound.
The boy steps further into the clearing. The wolves startled, turn toward him, and suddenly look much more alert. The larger one takes point, the one on the ground stands up, and they begin moving across the clearing toward the boy.
Now at this point, a couple of things could have happened. If the pups were a little older, they might have viewed the boy as prey and tried to figure out some way to treat him as such. If he were a little older, he might have seen them as a threat and treated them as such. Instead, he walks forward with his hands outstretched and makes a happy sound. The bigger of the wolf pups reaches out his muzzle and sniffs at the outstretched hand.
The pups are fresh out of their den. Like the boy, they are still bumbling when they walk. This is only their second trip out for exploration. The world is as fresh and new to them as any newly born creature. They hadn’t decided yet that anything in the world is anything other than a toy. So this new toy, this big walking toy, presents itself to them completely unafraid. After a little skepticism, they began to play with it.
Soon instead of three exuberant wolf pups rolling on the ground and playing in the early morning sun, there are four. The boy seems to fit in immediately. He is willing to wrestle, to run, to growl when he needs to. If his teeth aren’t as sharp as they should be, he is tough for his size and can do things with his arms and hands the pups can’t.
The boy soon starts to think of the largest of the pups as ‘Grrr.’ He is bigger and stronger than his siblings. He certainly thinks of himself as the ‘alpha’ male. It isn’t clear they always agree. The boy certainly doesn’t.
The youngest pup becomes ‘Yip.’ That was the sound he made when the boy first saw him, and it is the eager sound he makes when something new happens. He is always curious and always interested in exploration.
The girl pup, middle in both size and age, he thinks of as ‘Sasha.’ She is a clever one. While Yip or Grrr are sticking their noses into holes and pawing at beehives, she will be sitting with her head on her fore-paws, thinking about smarter ways to do things.
The entrance to their cave is just outside the edge of the clearing. The pups haven’t strayed far yet. These pups and their mother are the sole occupants of the den. The trail is as well-traveled as it is mostly by her.
They are still playing, exploring their clearing, and wrestling when she comes home.
At first, the mother wolf is happy to see the boy there. Her first thought is her pups have been hunting and have caught something. The next feeling which crosses her mind is one of disappointment. What do they think they are, cats? Wolves don’t play with their food.
The pups haven’t seen her yet as she is watching them from the shadows at the clearing’s edge. She stands there a moment, unsure how to react to this new, unwelcome thing in her world. She pads softly over toward where the four are playing.
When they see her, the pups all come running over to her. Sasha is the first to reach her, and she pushes up against her mother, pressing her back against her mother’s side.
The boy comes a little slower. He has established a relationship with the cubs, and he follows his new companions to this new presence. He feels a certain trepidation which he hadn’t felt when he first saw the pups.
She lowers her head as she sees him approach and growls softly. The air around her vibrates with the sound which originates from somewhere low in her belly. The boy stops moving and stands uncertainly a few feet away from the mother wolf.
Yip chooses that moment to bounce in between them. Barking excitedly, in a high-pitched yap, he plows into his mother. She growls again and snaps at him with annoyance, but is distracted from the boy for a moment.
The morning sun is rising higher into the sky, and the rays of sunlight are starting to flood the clearing. The day is about to arrive fully, and the boy is puzzled as he watches the mother wolf.
Wolves are nocturnal. During the day, the mother wolf will keep her pups safe in their den. In the evening, they will emerge and go about the business of the next night.
She grabs Yip by the scruff of his neck and lifts him awkwardly up into the air. He yelps in protest and then quiets as she starts moving. She heads off toward the den on the side of the clearing.
The mother wolf dug her den under a tree root on a slope between the stream and the clearing’s edge. She widened and deepened an existing hollow. She made it deep enough that the earth protected it from the weather, and it would be warm from the body warmth of herself and her pups.
Sasha and Grrr go with her as she carries Yip into the den. The boy, unsure at first what to do, follows as well. He doesn’t want to lose the company of his new friends.
The wolves all disappear into the den. The boy stops for a moment outside, then slowly enters. It’s dark inside and close, but with the rays of light lighting the clearing outside, he can see just enough.
The mother wolf is lying on the ground against the back earthen wall of the den. The three pups are lying in front of her nursing or looking for nipples to start nursing. The boy eases his way forward, going down on his knees, and crawls up in between Yip and Sasha. Grrr growls at him when he gets too close, warning the boy he better not try to steal his nipple.
The mother wolf watches him skeptically, but he has spent enough time with the pups during the day that he smells like them, so though skeptical, she lets him be.
The boy watches Sasha and Yip, then feels the mother wolf’s belly for a moment, finds a nipple, and joins in.
Later, when the day set in, the midday sun replaced the morning sun sending its beams into the clearing. The boy woke to the warmth of the cozy den, nestled in between Sasha and Yip, and wondered for a moment where he was. Then the soothing rumble of the snoring pups calmed him, and he drifted back off to sleep.