Escape to a Wilder Wild

by Carin Knutson
Kids' Fall 2008

Not long ago, a powerhouse of a wolverine named M3 won our hearts, and we began to imagine what it would be like to be one. Our make-believe wolverine lives far to the north in deep snow and freezing cold many months each year, where she is trying hard to cope with her changing world . . .

With a limp rabbit in her jaws, a wolverine charges into a forest clearing. She stops by a fallen tree that is partially covered in snow and digs to uncover the opening to her den. She wiggles her furry brown body through the small opening and scurries to a storeroom, where she drops the rabbit beside other food she’s been saving for a time when she won’t dare leave her den.

Then, she turns and runs back outside. She travels quickly on her wide snowshoe-like paws. Her long, curved claws make it easy for her to climb over anything in her path. She seems unstoppable.

What does stop her is a not-from-an-animal smell – the smell left behind by logging trucks and other vehicles that travel roads running through her territory. The smell of exhaust means danger to her – the danger of large, fast-moving monsters on wheels. Logging roads and highways cut through the areas where the wolverine roams. In some places, people have built bridges over busy highways or passages underneath them to help keep animals safe. But this wolverine’s territory has no passageways so she must be careful. She waits at the edge of the road and when she does not hear or feel anything unsafe, she races across.

Though she can travel 40 miles in a day, these days it’s getting harder and harder for the wolverine to find food. Her territory is not a protected wilderness area. Logging companies can cut down trees. Oil companies can drill for oil. Hunters can trap wolverines for sport. Builders can create new resorts so people can ski and snowmobile in remote, snowy areas. All this development drives animals away or shrinks their territories.

This time the wolverine gets lucky and finds a carcass to eat. When a chilly wind brings the smell of a wolf pack, she grabs a hunk of meat in her mouth and races off toward her den.

She finds her way back by memory and markings. Her time has come, so it was a good thing she found food. Tired as she is, she does not sleep. Her breaths are short and quick. Soon she gives birth to two wolverines. The kits are about the size of a stick of butter and covered in thin, white fur. Their eyes and ears are sealed shut. The mother wolverine feeds them and warms them. Without her, they would die.

For days, the wolverine mother never leaves the den. Normally, she and her kits would live there until springtime. By then the kits would be able to see and hear, and they’d have thick, dense coats – they’d be ready for the world.

Loud, rumbling noises shatter the silence in their den. The mother wolverine jumps up and leaves the kits curled together. She peeks outside as two snowmobiles speed past, leaving behind deep tracks and smoky exhaust.

The wolverine mother won’t keep her kits in this den that is now so close to danger. She gently grabs one in her mouth and runs into the forest away from the loud sound of the snowmobiles. The other kit is alone and cold. It curls up in a little ball and waits.

The mother wolverine carries her kit to another den within her territory.

It takes some time to find it. The den is warmer than the outside world, but it has no cache of food. It will have to do. The kit mews pitifully until it can nurse and snuggle with its mother. But the mother must get back to her other baby. As she leaves the den, the tiny white wolverine mews and mews.

Returning to her old den, the wolverine finds her second kit lying motionless. She nudges it with her nose, but it remains still and quiet. Was she gone too long? She curls around it and roughly lifts it to her. After several minutes the weak kit twitches and tries to nurse. The mother wolverine nurses it and warms it up. If only the two could stay and rest. But soon they are out into the wilderness.

The mother wolverine is exhausted by the time she gets back to the new den. She carefully drops the kit by its brother, hoping she is not too late. Thankfully, both kits begin to nurse, and soon they are all asleep – a cozy and warm wolverine family in a snug den. They have moved far away from snowmobiles, logging trucks and other
manmade dangers, for now. But they will need our help to protect places for them to live and roam.

About the Author

Carin Knutson is an editor at Patagonia. She lives in Ventura, with her husband, son, daughter, two dogs and three cats (no fish, reptiles, amphibians or wolverines).

Artwork: Jeremy Collins