the letter was written slantwise, in a crabbed hand, on the back of a paper place mat customarily used on the posh, polished tables of Good Hope Cannery Lodge, a fishing and hunting camp at Rivers Inlet, British Columbia. "Dear Old Buddy Salmon Slayer and Wolfzapper," it began. "Well here is one tired & weary bushman sitting in his messy room where he has been excuminacated to because he smells like a dead wolf so he decides to send his tracks to the green-go who caused this delma.
"I skinned 'EL LOBO' last night took about two hours but it wasn't too bad except when we lowered him down on the ground & the gas escaped from the bullet hole in his guts & oh my gawd did it stink he now rests in peace at the bottom of the sea minus hide, tail, paws, teeth & life. Enclosed are the choppers of one canius lupis. Sorry I chipped one of them as I was gently removing it from his lower jaw with a hatchit. He was one 'L' of a climax to a most eventiful fishing and hunting safari to the north woods of B.C. Tho I've lived here all of my 19 years amidst the salmons and seals and deer and brown bears and wolfs and otters etc. I have to admit that I have never seen & exprinced so much beauty in all my youth as I did during our flight with Dave up to poison cove. One neaver realizes the grandure of the mountain peeks till you get up & fly in amongst them it makes you like a spectator in a great science fiction spectical.
"Well partiner there is a poker game going & I have to destink myself and so will say 'Chow' for now & leave you with the memories of a great week in River City. Hope to see you for the duck shooting if you can't make it drop me a line.
Your Wolfing partner
The recipient of the letter, whom we should perhaps call S.S. Wolfzapper, hefted the small box that had accompanied this communication, bouncing it lightly on his palm. It emitted an ominous rattle. According to its gaudy label, the box had once contained 22 cones of Rani Hindu Incense, pine-scented and possessed, in the words of its Chicago manufacturers, of something called "ultrafragrance." A strange container for such grisly souvenirs, thought Wolfzapper as he opened the box. In it he found four long, curved fangs, the grooved and gleaming canines of a black wolf he had shot one foggy morning a few weeks earlier in the company of Warren Nygaard, a 19-year-old British Columbia guide.
Then again, maybe the container was not so strange. Like so many of the B.C. bushmen Wolfzapper had met—not the part-time outdoorsmen but the ones who still lived in and of the wilderness—Warren Nygaard had a feeling for essences. Living in a steep, cold, cruel land of conifers and rock and wildlife, he would of course delight in filling his indoor time with the scent of burning pine. And if they made incense that smelled like bears or salmon, eagles or cormorants, wet granite or melting snow, he would burn them as well—perhaps all of them in combination for the greatest whiff-trip possible. Sure, incense is a big thing among the languid longhairs of the great North American cities, who use it to enhance their smoky dreams of Utopia—grandly simple places that combine the character and communality of C. S. Lewis's Narnia or Tolkien's Hobbit land with none of the danger. But Warren Nygaard, whose hair is just as long, has actually braved the blizzard, gutted the salmon, built the fire, walked the trail, slain the wolf, waded the river in spate, and smelled the grizzly bear up close, only to sneak away from it as quietly as possible. To him the smell of incense evokes the essence of those acts, Wolfzapper thought.
He raised the box of wolf's teeth to his nose and took a deep sniff. It was all there, sure enough.
The Good Hope Cannery Lodge lies some 300 miles north of the U.S.-Canadian border, just a short hop by jet and floatplane from British Columbia's glittering, rain-washed focus of civilization, Vancouver, but a century's worth of time travel by sociological standards. Vancouver, with a population of 1,100,000, is a modern city in the best sense, replete with tasteful new high-rise office buildings, excellent seafood restaurants, muggerless parks and relatively wait-less skiing just a quarter of an hour's drive from downtown. Wolfzapper, who avoided cities as best he could, had been there only a few times, yet if he were to be sentenced to a city for the rest of his life, he reckoned he could do worse than Vancouver.
Good Hope, by contrast, was approximately paradise. With a population of perhaps 50 at the peak season, it stood on stork-legged piers amidst steep mountains halfway up Rivers Inlet, one of those fog-shrouded fjords of the British Columbia coast that make of the province a kind of super Norway. From its founding in 1895 up to 1942, Good Hope had been a major salmon cannery, a way station for the stubby trawlers and gillnetters of the Anglo-British Columbia Packing Co. that logged millions offish each year into its vats and pressure cookers. Since 1970 it has been a $150-a-day sport-fishing resort. At first glance, when you fly in by floatplane, Good Hope comes on as an eyesore of white squares and rectangles set almost obscenely amidst the random, rugged mountains of the Inlet, a prime and shuttered imposition of form on a land that seems to rise from the sea like a pack of wolves, frozen in full gallop, bristling with fir and spruce, natural, strong, as ready to kill as to run. Then as the bush pilot cupped the Mallard onto the water—how closely the plane resembles its namesake while landing—Wolfzapper saw that the lodge, up close, did indeed fit the country. Its clapboard siding was weathered bone-white by the North Pacific winds, its seams shrunk tight with cold and brine. The pier pilings, crusty with barnacles and mussels, supported Augean sheds and mammoth barrels stained with the blood of countless dead salmon; the blank-eyed buildings stared toward the west with a gaze as hard and cold as the weather itself. Over the whole scene hung the iodine odor of kelp.
A foreboding place to those early salmon crews, Wolfzapper thought. Or at least to the romantics among them, to whom glamour lay in city lights and movie theaters, wind-up phonographs, road-houses, the rich gleam of a Marmon roadster careering through heavy traffic on Main Street—four Model A's and a freight wagon. Now the shoe was on the other foot: today's romantic longed to kick off his Gucci loafers for a pair of chest waders and escape the city lights and the malevolent music of phonographs and traffic jams for the most foreboding country possible. Good Hope is certainly one of the possibilities.
Within half an hour of his arrival, Wolfzapper was out on the water and into the fish. The salmon run was at full strength during this first week of September. The burly, black-backed chinooks, largest of the five Pacific Coast salmon and the earliest to spawn, were at the end of their run; already most of them were halfway up their spawning rivers, tattered and past prime, the males with their jaws heavily hooked, which indicates full sexual maturity, and so preoccupied with their mating that they would not take a lure even out of rage. But the coho, or silver, salmon—smaller though more acrobatic than the chinooks—had just arrived from the sea and were schooling up in the river mouths, readying themselves for the last battle. The other three species, chum, sockeye and pink salmon, are disdained by the locals as game fish—though Wolfzapper was to have some light-tackle adventures with them later on that would raise some doubts as to that local judgment.
"The silvers are rolling real nice in the shallows," said Warren Nygaard as Wolfzapper rigged his tackle. He had fished the newly transplanted "miracle salmon" of the Great Lakes, chinooks and cohos raised from the same stock as these Pacific Coast natives, but the heavy rods and line preferred in the Middle West had bored him. For the real thing, Wolfzapper had brought along no line heavier than six-pound test and no rod that wasn't flexible as a buggy whip, including an ultralight fly rod just 6' tall that bore only a two-pound tippet.
"We'll troll three rods with flash flies and light spoons," said Warren, "and meanwhile you can cast to the rollers with a buzz bomb. I really don't think that these salmon are feeding at this stage of the game; they're striking out of anger. The buzzer is a sonic lure that kind of goes gribble-gribble-gribble when you jig it in right, and the silvers get bugged at it and give it a whack out of just plain simple orneriness. When you see a fish roll within range, cast about three or four fish-lengths ahead of him and let the buzz bomb sink, that's when it gribbles, and then just jig it back in manfully."
More easily said than done. Throwing the buzzer at the end of a whippy spinning rod is roughly like blasting a 16-pound shot out of a sand trap with a swagger stick. And the coho move fast—the casting more closely resembles pass shooting on flighted teal than it does fishing. On about his 20th cast, with the beetle-browed ridges of the Inlet now seemingly relaxed into a bushy snicker, Wolfzapper got lucky: his buzz bomb plunked down at precisely the requisite lead ahead of a surging, silvery splash. He let the heavy lure sink for three counts, then struck mightily backwards on the rod, two-handed. And just as well, for with the strike, a salmon hit the buzzer—and by God it buzzed and buzzed and buzzed. The coho took off in a chain of greyhounding leaps that reminded Wolfzapper of a giant needlefish he had once caught in Costa Rica, but with a little more brawn in the shoulders. Not until nearly 200 yards of line had been zizzed off the spool did the fish feel the pressure and turn. After that it was a series of surges and sulks, marked by brief but frothy aerobatics during which Wolfzapper could see, in his fishermind's eye, the hook holes growing bigger. This, of course, is the great thrill of light-tackle fishing: the precarious balance between skill and dread; at any moment, with the least mistake, the slightest slackening of line pressure, the hook may simply fall out of the fish's mouth, as often it does when the fish is netted. This coho finally came into the boat intact, rolling on its side, whipped by the buggy whip. It weighed 16½ pounds, a broad-shouldered male with its upper jaw already bulbous, a kind of green, silver and spotted Jimmy Durante without the grin.
It was the first of the week's 20 salmon for Wolfzapper, all of them weighing between 10 and 20 pounds, and each as sporty as the last. But the real thrill of salmon fishing on the northwest coast lies not so much in the mere catching of the fish as in seeing the salmon as the symbol and touchstone of that country. After a morning of buzz-bombing with a success ratio that numbed the wrists, Nygaard took his client up one of the spawning rivers to watch the salmon at their serious business. The inevitable morning fog had burned off by 10 a.m., leaving the sky a pallid Indian summer blue tinged slightly pink by the smoke of a distant forest fire. Except for the trees and the silence, it might have been a morning in smoggy Los Angeles. Waterfowl exploded off the river and hustled away in outrage—mallards, pintails, greenwing teal and clusters of slower-flying black brant. Spawned-out pink salmon, "humpies" in the local parlance because of the pronounced hump that forms just back of the head during mating season, drifted downstream, their fins and tails worn away to ragged white stumps by the difficult upstream journey. Ravens flapped and croaked in the shallows, glutting themselves on dead or dying fish. The sweet odor of rotten salmon hung everywhere. As Warren beached the boat on the slippery banks, a squadron of huge birds heaved into the air and settled fussily in the dead firs along the shore. Wolfzapper did a double take; they were bald eagles, fully two dozen of them in one group. Like most Americans, Wolfzapper had rarely seen the national bird in a wild state, and then only in singles and in the most remote country—he remembered one circling on thermals above Mount Katahdin in Maine, another over a muskie lake in northern Wisconsin, a third perched on a dead pine high in the Arkansas Ozarks, viewed only fleetingly from a canoe as it plunged through white water. Here they seemed as commonplace as city pigeons. "The locals call 'em buzzards," said Warren. "Of course, you only see them in these numbers during the salmon run. This is chow time for all the fish eaters in these parts. Eagles, ravens, mink, wolves, bears, men—they all gather by the river when the salmon come home."
Hiking up the boulder-strewn shore with a fly rod under his arm, Warren pointed out wolf and bear sign. The gnawed heads of dead salmon studded the landscape, the hollow, pecked-out eye sockets abuzz with flies and wasps. The riffles and pools were black-bottomed with migrant salmon; at first Wolfzapper thought the river was floored with dark rocks. Then, when he waded out to cast a bucktail he saw that the bottom was alive. He had the absurd sensation that he was in an old movie: "Mistah Chan, de river's moving!" The incredible mass of life inched its way painfully up the river, each fish husbanding its strength, darting a few feet against the strong current and then holding in the lee of another boulder until it was ready for the next spurt. Big chum salmon, some as long and thick as a man's leg, were already digging their redds—the carefully excavated gravel beds in which the females drop their eggs. Wolfzapper watched as one female flipped a boulder the size of a human head out of the water with her tail. A trio of avid males circled and snapped at one another as she worked. It was obvious why the locals called these chum salmon "dogs"—the double-hooked jaws of the males were as wicked looking as the business end of a Doberman pinscher. Finally the biggest of the three nipped his rivals out of their eagerness, and as they darted away he finned up close to the lady of his choice.
"She might be ready in half an hour, or maybe not for another couple of days," said Warren. "When she drops her eggs, it's like a pink cloud. That triggers the male's milt. I've seen it maybe half a dozen times. It's amazing how the milt seems to follow the eggs wherever they sink, as if it had some kind of guidance system. Nearly every one of the 3,000 or so eggs is fertilized. Then they sink down into the gravel of the redd, maybe 18 inches deep. The eggs hatch into alevins during the winter, but the fry don't get back up into the running water until April or May. That's when the attrition begins—trout, other salmon, birds, even the bigger insects scoff them up. The fry of the dogs and the humpies split for the sea immediately, but the sockeye and silver fry and some of the chinook fry stay in the fresh water for maybe a year before heading out to the salt. The humpies come back to spawn and die after two years—that's why they seldom weigh more than about five pounds—but the others take anywhere from three to five years at sea before they end the cycle. The chinooks are the biggest—we call them 'springs' and when they're over 30 pounds they're called 'tyee,' an Indian word for chief, but also it sounds like what the reel says when you hook one up—and they've netted them up to 126 pounds, though the rod-and-reel record is 92. The cohos or silvers range from six pounds to a maximum of 31. Dogs will run up to maybe 30, and sockeyes, what we call 'reds' from Their spawning colors, top out at about 15 pounds."
By now the courting couple had settled down for the prenuptials, the female finning slowly over the redd while the male hung at her flank, his jaws working almost mechanically while his big, black eyes flicked back and forth in readiness for the pink cloud. So much of the salmon's reproductive scenario is based on visual cues, and so many of those cues are grotesque by human standards—snaggly teeth, unsightly humps and bulbous noses in the males—that one cannot help but wonder if our own criteria of comeliness and sexual attraction aren't equally grotesque. "One thing kind of neat about the salmon," said Warren, "they do it with the lights on."
Upstream there was a brief but heavy crashing in the underbrush, followed by a low, prolonged moan, rather like a cow suffering from colic. "Bear!" whispered Warren. "We probably spooked him out of his favorite fishing hole when we came up, and now he's hungry again. They don't tolerate hunger very well. We better just pussyfoot on out of here. I don't want to take an ol' brownie with nothing in my fist but a fly rod."
Looking back on it now, with the wolf's teeth rattling in the incense box, Wolfzapper could see that it was the meaning of the bear that had led to the "delma," as Warren called it, and the ultimate defanging. Wolfzapper would have preferred to wait beside the river until the two dog salmon spawned. But he recognized the folly in provoking the bear: even where he is hunted, Ursus horribilis can be an aggressive fellow, and once his adrenaline begins flowing there is nothing that can stop him short of a 250-grain bullet with a magnum load of powder behind it. At one time or another during this week, Wolfzapper promised himself, he would find a spot where he could watch the salmon complete the spawning act. Perhaps it was piscine voyeurism, but he felt it was necessary, even if he had to pack a gun against bears. He had no desire to kill a bear, nor any of the big predators, but if it took a gun to feel safe in spawning country, he would take one. After all, he already had the basic big-game license and tag licenses for deer, mountain goat and bear. No extra license would be needed for wolf.
For the next three days Warren and Wolfzapper concentrated on fishing, along with a little sightseeing. They took salmon on the ultralight fly rod—one of them a stubborn 17-pounder that stripped the backing clear down to the spool and burned a bloody hole in Wolfzapper's forefinger, but failed to crack the springy little rod. They visited a loggers' graveyard, where plastic flowers raised their gaudy heads over fresh deer droppings, wild mint and daisies. One of the tombstones read: "Maria Amanda Perry, b. Aug. 24, 1888, d. Mar. 16, 1969." Warren had known her well. "She was a cook in a logging camp, and when the camp closed she just stayed on, for years and years," he said. Then, gesturing at the mossy logs and the brassy waters of the inlet leading down to the sea, he added: "If you've got to stay in one place forever, this is a good enough place to do it."
Fishing their way seaward, they stopped off at Warren's house, a tidy little suburban home with flowered curtains and window boxes, it differed from Levittown only in that it was mounted on a raft of mammoth red cedar logs and surrounded by some of the wildest mountains in the world. The family tugboat was moored alongside. "Anytime we get miffed at the neighbors, we just hook up the tugboat and find us another cove," said Warren's mother, a perky little woman who had been baking that day (the obvious reason for Warren's impromptu visit). Over coffee and cakes, Mrs. Nygaard talked about her adjustment to life without neighbors and supermarkets. "We moved up here in 1946," she said. "Francis, my husband, he couldn't stand the crowded way of life in Vancouver. At first I couldn't stand the opposite—the loneliness. You hear so much about frontier hospitality, but I sure didn't see any of it. The people hereabouts were shy and standoffish. I was a city girl to them. It wasn't until I'd cried the self-pity out of myself that first winter or two—Francis away most of the time—that they finally accepted me. Now I find myself doing the same thing to newcomers. It's cruel to lead them on, you know. They have to learn on their own whether they can take it or not." Warren's father, a portly, red-cheeked bushman of 56, cranked a living out of the country by running an 88-mile trapline during the winter—"the longest shore trapline in the province"—and by hand-logging. The big lumber companies discourage one-family operations and under the pressure of their lobbies a few old-timers can still cut timber on their own for the market but only if they use nothing but muscle power. By tucking in a little fishing and meat hunting along the way—B.C. residents are usually permitted two deer, a moose, one or two mountain goats and three bears (one grizzly, two blacks) a year—Francis Nygaard was able to keep his wife and two sons alive and kicking. Indeed, in recent years he has grossed as much as $40,000, enough to permit a three-month winter vacation to places like Cozumel in Mexico or Cura√ßao in the Netherlands Antilles, where he soaks up the sun and, of course, fishes. Prominent among Francis Nygaard's collection of curios, which includes Kwakiutl arrowheads, fish spears and bears' teeth, is the jaw of an Atlantic barracuda—"It always puzzles the locals," he says proudly. Right now, the Nygaards' closest (and only) neighbor is a retired lumberjack named Olaf Slaback, aged 82, who came to this wild kingdom from Norway in 1922 by way of the Dakotas and Vancouver. Olaf is a tall, powerful man even in his dotage, and his reputation as a perfectionist in tree-felling is still legend on Rivers Inlet. He spends his last days handlining for rock cod and flounder at the Inlet's mouth, and catering to the whims of his ancient tomcat, Blackie, whose favorite foods are deer liver, crabmeat, sculpin and vanilla ice cream. "He just won't touch lingcod, snapper or kelp greenlings," Olaf laments as he spoons into Blackie's dish a dollop of ice cream that only just arrived on the freight boat. The cat stares disdainfully at the offering, then turns his head seaward and meditates in grand hauteur before gratifying the old man's most heartfelt wishes.
Another day, Warren and Wolfzapper fly inland by bush plane to fish the trout waters of the high interior. Their pilot is Dave Hutcheon, a 30-year-old expatriate from Rhodesia who had found Central Africa growing a bit too crowded for his reclusive tastes. Dave, who grew up angling for the tiger fish and vundu, a giant catfish of the Dark Continent, is now a trout freak, and like all converts he outdoes the native believers in sheer zeal. "I always pack along my break-down rod when I'm flying up this way," says Dave as his battered old bush plane mumbles among the mountains. "If I've got a tail wind and half an hour on my flight plan, I'll just drop into one of these lakes and have a little trouty fun."
The lakes are everywhere, sudden jewels of jade and amber tucked away behind sheer rock faces down which a million waterfalls splash and shimmer in the sunrise. Mountain goats stare at the passing floatplane. There are moose in the swampy river bottoms, crawling slowly through the sedge like huge black insects. "Some of the pilots like to buzz the wolves during the winter when they catch them out on the ice," Dave says. "Those chaps can really move along when they're spooked—up to 30mph. Last winter one of the boys coshed a big dog wolf with his float, clipped it just as neat as you please. Then he landed and skinned it out. A nice little $100 bonus when he sold the hide."
Warren reciprocates with a few wolf-trapping anecdotes—he has run his father's trapline on and off since he was 13 years old, mainly catching otter, mink and marten. (The best marten lure, incidentally, is a mixture of salmon eggs, duck livers, seal blubber, herring, codfish and deer scraps, aged in a jar for two years.) "One winter when the wolves were so thick you had to nearly kick 'em off the trail, my partner and I made what we thought was a foolproof set," Warren said. "First we built a sturdy little log house about the size of a dog kennel. Its back wall was the trunk of a huge red cedar. Inside we put half of a hair seal we'd shot a couple of weeks earlier; the meat was good and high, just the way old Lobo likes it. We'd boiled our traps to kill the man scent and handled them with odorless gloves afterwards. We had one trap under the snow just outside the door of the hutch and two more inside. The first day, a single wolf came up and studied the set. Judging by its tracks, it came to within three feet of the outside trap and just sat there in the snow for about half an hour. The next day, about a dozen wolves showed up. They marched all around the set, coming to within a few inches of the steel. The third day, the seal meat was gone. The wolves had jumped onto the roof of the hutch, ripped off the logs and carried the bait away. There was seal hair and grease all over the snow where they'd cleaned up on it. Not a one of the traps was sprung. Damned clever fellow, old Lobo."
Fishing the trout lakes that day, they saw no wolves, but they did see a black bear snagging pink salmon out of a rapids on Indian River, a steep stream that drops from a mountaintop lake on Princess Royal Island. After catching a dozen cutthroat trout, acrobatic lake dwellers with brilliant red slashes on their lower gill covers, Warren led the party down to the lake's outlet. The tangle of downed timber made it impossible to walk on the riverbank; they tightroped it along the backs of the fallen logs, under which grew dwarf jungles of devil's club, the Pacific Northwest's ugly and outsized equivalent of catbrier. A few hundred yards down the river Warren crouched suddenly and raised his hand. The bear was on the far side of the rapids, a mature male weighing in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, his thick black and tan hide glossy with salmon fat and river spray. He stood perfectly still, hunched over the bulging water like a dark boulder, his claw-tipped forearm hooked motionless in the water like a dead branch. When a salmon angled into range, the paw went swoosh! A salmon flapped briefly on the rocks. Old Man Bruin's great white choppers went chomp! All that was left was a tail fin and a head whose jaws still twitched in reflexive astonishment. Some fisherman, thought Wolfzapper.
Wading the rapids below the bear's fishing hole, they caught half a dozen rainbow trout, losing twice that number in the fast water and ubiquitous snags. The fish were thick-bodied and strong, vaulting boulders and downed trees like riverine steeplechase horses. The sun pounded down with tropical intensity, feeling as noisy and turbulent as the water itself sounded. On the way back up-river to the plane, they found the bear still at his fishing. Warren whistled from the devil's club and the bear looked up, its nearsighted eyes flicking and crossing like Buddy Hackett's in a comedy sketch. Warren threw a rock that clattered among the boulders near the bear. Then another rock. The bear whuffled, swapped ends and galloped off into the bush. "Maybe we taught him to stay clear of people," said Warren. "A hide like that looks better on a bear than on a floor."
But where a black bear usually runs away from man, a grizzly runs both ways. Thus the next morning, after a breakfast of fresh trout and scrambled eggs, Warren and Wolfzapper carried rifles into the boat an hour before sunrise. It was Wolfzapper's last day, and he wanted to see the salmon spawning. And maybe knock over a "mowitch"—the small, black-tailed deer of the B.C. coast—for the Nygaard family dinner table. In either event, no grizzly was going to spook him away from his object.
McNair's Creek flows into the Inlet about half an hour's run by motorboat from Good Hope. The predawn fog still lay thick and clammy on the pebble shore as Warren beached the boat. Geese gabbled, invisible, in the nearby fiats, and the splash of salmon sounded like horses wallowing in the riffles of the creek. "My father killed a big bear near here," Warren whispered as they hiked upstream. "Measured 10 inches between the eyes." With that, every rock, every slow tendril of fog took on ursine proportions. Haifa mile upstream they came to a pool full of spawning dog salmon. They squatted on the cold, mossy boulders and watched the silent sex act. In this light, the pink cloud looked purple; the quivering bodies blurred into twice their natural size; a raven croaked its way through the fog, harbinger of dawn and solitude. Then from the upstream shifting gray came the moan of a bear, a sound as cold and soft and slippery as the moss itself. The gun barrels were beaded with a chilly sweat. Warren looked at Wolfzapper; Wolfzapper looked at Warren; they retreated as silently as possible.
"Well, you saw it," said Warren when they reached the boat. "I don't know that I've ever really understood it, you know, accepted it as reality. When you think of the millions of years it's been going on, and the billions of fish it produces, the hard country it all takes place in, and all the critters it feeds. Including the bears and the wolves and the eagles. O.K., enough philosophy. Let's go get a mowitch for the meat locker."
Prowling the slippery shoreline with a faint dawn breeze in their faces, they saw the wolf before he saw them. He was, improbably, silhouetted against the feeble dawn, standing in full profile on a rocky ledge overlooking the Inlet. Maybe 100 yards away, though the fog was deceptive. The heavy head, the thick-maned neck, the slim legs and full-feathered tail—he looked like the whole world's romantic image of a wolf, like those cheap calendar paintings called Song of the Mountains that you find in quasi-Western saloons. All that was needed was a spine-tingling howl. "Take him," said Warren.
Take him, thought Wolfzapper, and as the Model 94 Winchester rose to his shoulder a grave reluctance battled with a hunter's inevitable movements. He killed animals regularly; he had never figured on killing a wolf. He knew that life in this cruel century, as in centuries past, was defined as much by the splat of bullet on flesh as it was by any more coherent, supposedly intelligent devices; he nonetheless had an affection for the dog family. He knew that wolves were in no danger of extinction in this part of British Columbia. He knew that wolves, as with any of the predators at the top of the food chain, reflected an abundance of life in all its forms and thus were no threat to human life or to the lives of humankind's domestic livestock, nor to the deer herd or anything else in the web of nature. He knew he loved to shoot a rifle at a living, moving target. He also knew deep down that the target should have been chosen well in advance of the act, stalked, worked upon, singled out, not shot at random as it suddenly appeared between the parentheses of the buckhorn iron sights. He knew, finally, as the butt of the rifle reached his shoulder and the comb of the stock slapped his cheekbone, that he was going to kill this wolf and swallow his regret.
In the moment it took to raise the rifle, the wolf had turned on its heels and disappeared into the masking shadow of the fog-shrouded bush. But before that message of relief could reach Wolfzapper's forebrain, the wolf was again in sight—running down the rocky beach directly toward the two men. When it saw the hunters it was perhaps 75 yards away. As it turned once more, Wolfzapper shot. The wolf stumbled, hit through the haunches. it skittered back up the beach, retracing its tracks toward a deer trail near the promontory on which it had first been seen. Wolfzapper's second shot took it high in the back. The wolf stumbled again, fell, then struggled to its feet like a dog clipped by a speeding sports car. Wolfzapper's third shot smashed the wolf's shoulders and jellied its heart. When the men came up on it, the wolf was sighing, its rib cage heaving in a final desperation. Then it died. It was a young male, black-furred, stinking of dead salmon, its yellow eyes intelligent even in death, regretting its last mistake. "Nice shooting." said Warren. He poked the wolf's head and the tongue lolled out. The teeth were incredible in their brightness. Wolfzapper was suddenly aware that the sun had broken through the morning fog; he heard the salmon splashing in the shallows of McNair's Creek.
On the obverse side of the place mat on which Warren had written his letter Wolfzapper found the following printed anecdote, one of those folksy touches so beloved of hotel managers:
"Chief Gal-Gum-Gas-Su and his tribe were the first people to inhabit Rivers Inlet, and before there were fish in the river they settled at Wanook, now called Whan-Nook. Gal-Gum-Gas-Su had a little daughter named Yeda. Soon after Yeda had learnt how to talk, she told her mother she was hungry for salmon. On being told no one knew what a salmon was, she commenced to cry and refused all foods. Fearing she would die if her crying was not checked, in desperation Gal-Gum-Gas-Su called his wise men to a council and demanded of them, 'What are salmon?' and 'where can they be obtained?' The wise men had to admit their ignorance. No one knew. At that moment, the supernatural Raven, who was always traveling, entered the council and said, 'Chief and wise men, I know salmon. They are the fish for the people, and I will find out where they live." Upon saying this he left them and flew for days till he located the home of the salmon. Now the salmon had a chief called Meah-Si-La, whose little son was always playing and jumping in the water. Raven watched his chance, and when no one was looking he seized the little fish and flew off with it. Whereupon Meah-Si-La commanded his people to help him retrieve his son. They swam fast but could not overtake Raven, who arrived at the mouth of Wanook River in time for Gal-Gum-Gas-Su to have a net made and the little fish safely confined in a shallow pool before the salmon people were sighted. When the salmon people ascended the river, the men captured them. In his joy, the father held the first salmon feast. Since then, the yearly run of salmon has never failed."
A gentler story than mine, thought Wolfzapper, rattling the teeth once again.