In 1885, Ernest Thompson Seton published his Wild Animals I Have Known which I realize was my introduction, a century early, to the American West and its predators—the Mexican gray wolves, cougars and coyotes we are now trying to protect against the ravages of men and guns.
I loved Seton’s short stories and later his Biography of a Grizzly because he wrote about animals that were and are wild—and often feared.
His Lobo, the King of the Cumberland was about a big terrifying male wolf, the kind I went to Yellowstone to hear if I couldn’t see them—neither happened since wolves have long since learned to steer clear of lumbering vehicles full of people with cameras and the inns they stay in.
Seton settled in Santa Fe at the height of his success—he actually made money as a writer—and built a strange hill-top house here, called a castle, around which he assembled the houses of his friends, or followers.
The castle recently burned down, and the houses are real estate bait to people moving to Santa Fe who probably know nothing bout Edward Seton.
His animals remind me of how essential that bit of wildness is to us, not only in the precious few wild animals nearby but as an essential bit of our own souls.
And I remembered, with laughter and some embarrassment, holding on to my own speck, years ago.
I was a seventeen-year-old Freshman at what is called a “prestigious” university in the North-east—prestigious meaning the small number of girl undergraduates were tolerated if not ignored.
Being seventeen, and lively, I was glad to attract the attention of a young man in my class, who after a few tentative dates asked me to drive to New York to spend the weekend there, in his parents’ apartment.
I was glad to go, ready for adventure.His parents left for the evening and we retreated to their bed and took off our clothes. Something frightening and exciting seemed about to begin, when my young man suddenly exclaimed, “I want to read you something!”—which may explain my long aversion to reading aloud in bed.
He snatched up a copy of Auntie Mame, just published and a sensation, and read aloud something (I can’t remember what) until I finally gave up and retreated to the guestroom. Later it became a film starring Rosalind Russell.
I knew he was scared. I was, too. But that essential bit of wildness—where was it?
As an adult he became a well-known and successful writer of inspirational books. I never saw him again, fortunately. I wouldn’t have been able to avoid asking him, “Remember Auntie Mame”?
It may be that prestigious universities kill off whatever bit of wildness we keep from childhood, or drown it in drugs and alcohol, because my next boy friend, who asked me to spend a winter weekend in an unheated cabin in the Maine woods, was only looking for an opportunity to jump up and down on the bed—with me.
He, too, became a well-known writer, on disadvantaged children and the education system that fails them.
And I became a novelist, short story writer, poet, and playwright…
I try to keep that tiny bit of wildness alive in myself, and in what I write.