Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Never Cry Wolf": The Wisdom of The Ages

In the wonderful, now older film Never Cry Wolf, based on the autobiographical book by Farley Mowat, a couple of things crossed paths with research and thinking I had done while writing the FFG book.

The movie is about a biologist who's dropped onto the Alaskan tundra alone to study the caribou and wolf, and basically fend for himself, which he's not very good at in the beginning. A couple of Inuit hunters take him under their wing; they teach the naive but eager, willing scientist about how to connect with the animals and the spiritual ethos of the northern wilderness. He's de-modernized, in other words, the baggage of civilization seems to palpably fall off of him.

You get the impression the biologist had arrived with untapped potential. When he discovers that the wolves are actually living off of hundreds of mice per day in the temporary absence of the giant caribou herd, he begins living exclusively off of roasted mice, to test the theory that a large mammal can thrive on limited, crunchy carniverous offerings. It's kind of gross but comical. The narration notes that he "does well" on the mice diet. (He had been eating cans of asparagus.)

At one point one of the Inuits talks about spoiling his encounter with a woman by smiling and revealing the gaps in his teeth: "that's what happens when a meat eater becomes a sugar eater," he ruefully admits.

Later the hunter tells the story, in the guise of a mythical narrative that's passed from generation to generation, about how the wolf saved the caribou herd by killing the weak and the old, leaving the "healthy and fat" caribou for the Inuits. Caribou meat, fat, and organs clearly were and are important, if not vital, food sources for traditional people living in arctic regions (similar to the Plains Indians of the 18th and 19th centuries).

In many ways, we are all meat and plant eaters who've become sugar eaters, not just sweets but all the cereal, muffins, bagels, crust, waffles, etc. with not so good results. We could also use the fat and organs of healthy ruminant animals too. We urban types are closer to those Inuit guys than we think (the movie is really about how the biologist has discovered himself).

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