Why the Wolf Howls

Once upon a time, very long ago, before humans came to the hidden valley in the mountains, there lived a large pack of wolves. There were gray wolves, black wolves, white wolves, russet wolves, and multi-colored wolves. Every day they would hunt together to eat, and every night they would sleep in their den near the caves of the hidden valley. They were all family, and family stuck together.

The leader, a blue wolf the size of a small bear, ruled his pack well. During the day he led the pack in successful hunts, and during the night he slept with one eye half open to watch over them all. He was a very good leader.

The hidden valley was in the Cascade Mountain Range in what we now call Washington. It was a beautiful place, covered in soft green mosses and bright bracken. The trees were like peaceful giants, calmly swaying in the breeze, and it is said that if you can find this place, you will hear them whispering encouragement to you wherever you go.

The hidden valley also was full of grand waterfalls and rivers. The largest and most beautiful of them all was called the Snowfall, named after its beautiful cascading falls that sprinkled down to the rest of the river in a white mist. When the sun shone on the falls just right, the water seemed to sparkle with an inner light.

Every day, the wolves came down to a pool that formed near the falls to drink from the water that ran there. The water was cool and crystal clear. Sometimes, if the weather was very hot, the wolves went for a short swim in the delicious water.

But on one particularly hot day, when the wolves went down to the pool for their daily drink, they found that the water was not coming down from the falls. The pool was empty. The wolves yipped in dismay.

"But what shall we do! What shall we drink?" one young wolf cried in despair.

"There is no other river large enough to allow us to swim and drink safely in the valley!" the adults whispered amongst themselves, not wanting to scare the young ones. "What can we do? We will surely die of thirst before the water comes back!"

The leader watched his pack with solemn eyes. He knew that any choice he made next would change the future of the pack forever. He must choose wisely. He stepped up to a large rock overlooking the pool.

"My children, you must listen to me," the leader shouted out over the noise. "There are several things you can do. But first, you must make a choice.

"You can leave. There are hundreds of valleys near her that are unoccupied by anything but game and would be wise choices to live in. They would supply plenty of food and water for the rest of your lives, and your children's lives, and their children's lives. You would be happy.

"You can stay here and find another water source that is safe enough to drink from. There are plenty of those as well, but they are harder to find, and are not as big as the Snowfall. But you will be able to find them if you look hard enough.

"And finally, you can wait here for me to come back. I am going to go investigate what is the cause of this terrible occurrence. I will go no matter what choice you make, so choose for your own good, and not mine. It is time for me to go, now choose!"

Then the large blue wolf was gone.

"Where did he go? Why is he leaving us? When will he be back?" The wolves whispered amongst themselves.

One of the grey wolves stepped up.

"It's obvious what we have to do," he said to the gathered pack. "We have to do as the leader said. We have to decide what we will do. Will we leave, stay, or wait? I think that we should wait for our brave leader. He is risking much to help us discover the source of this catastrophe. What say you?"

Inspired by the young wolf's statement, the wolves all yipped and barked agreement.

"Then it's settled. We will wait here until our leader comes back."

Meanwhile, the great blue wolf was standing on a rock overlooking the pack. He felt an upwelling of pride in his pack. He knew, however, that he had to be going soon if he wanted to save his pack.

He traveled up the falls for the rest of the day. He reached the top of the cliff as soon as the sun set and the sky darkened into twilight.

The river was dry up here as well, so the leader followed the river up to it's source, and stopped.

There, in the spring that fed the great river, a giant, black-feathered condor had made its nest, and was damming up the entire river.

For a moment, the leader despaired. He had no idea how he was going to get the condor away from the spring. But he hadn't been leader of the pack for all these years for nothing. He saw a giant branch protruding from the nest on the side nearest him.

The leader walked up to the branch and tested it. It was very loose. He formulated a plan quickly, before the sleeping condor could wake in the dawn.

When dawn finally came, the leader was ready. He waited for the giant condor to wake up and fly away.

And sure enough, he did. The condor opened a sleepy eye and looked around his nest. He didn't see the great blue wolf hiding behind a large tree over to his right. Seeing no danger, the condor got up and stretched his wings. Then he leapt out of his nest and flew away, hunting for food.

As soon as the condor left, the leader came out of his hiding place. He ran up a small incline to the left of the nest, stopped, turned around, and came charging back down towards the branch. When he was four feet away from it, he gave a huge, flying leap, and hit the branch in midair at full speed. The branch moved with him, hardly slowing him down at all.

Then a strange thing happened. The branch, being one of the supporting branches for the condor's nest, pushed half of the nest aside and made the other half go flying into the air. It was exactly as the leader had planned.

The spring, newly unblocked, was bubbling and gurgling happily nearby. The river soon filled with water, and the falls started once again. The great blue wolf, nearby on his side, sighed proudly to himself. The wolves will have water now, he thought. It was his last thought ever.

Down in the valley, the wolf pack watched as the water came misting down the Falls once again. They yipped and barked in pleasure, and all went for a swim.

They planned a celebration for that night, when the leader would get back. But he never came. They waited and waited, and finally, the gray wolf from before went up to find him. He came back with grim news.

"The leader is dead," he said quietly.

At first the pack didn't believe him. They just stared and some wolf-grinned uncertainly, not sure if this was a joke. Then, it slowly dawned on them that the gray wolf wasn't smiling. He hung his head as if in mourning.

Then the pack youngsters suddenly let out a howl of mourning. The rest of the pack joined in. Their song carried into the night and echoed into other valleys where other wolf packs joined in. Soon every wolf in the Cascade Mountains was howling for the brave leader who had saved the wolf pack.

And still, to this day, when a wolf howls, he is either howling in mourning, in celebration of victory, or in celebration of being with a pack he loves.