Excerpt from Takaya: Lone Wolf by Cheryl Alexander (Rocky Mountain Books, 2020)
He was unnoticed, happy and close to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wanton and wild-hearted, alone in the midst of a waste of wild air and brackish water and the sea harvest of clams and tangles and veiled gray sunlight. – Jon Krakauer
He arrived on the island shore alone. Possibly at dawn. Probably exhausted. Probably excited. Maybe scared. Safe on a mission.
He was looking for three things – the three things he needed to survive and thrive in life: A reliable source of food. An exclusive and safe area that he could call his own. A buddy.
Would he find these things here? Should he stay?
Now, almost nine years later, he stays on these shores of the island. It was predicted that he would not survive here, with limited food and no year-round water source. Yet it survived and thrived. He found two of the three things he was looking for: food and a safe area. The third remains elusive.
Over the years since his arrival, I have met him and learned a lot about his chosen and unique life. Many questions have been answered, but there are still many puzzles.
This is his story. And mine. He was a young wild wolf.
Like many wolves, he probably left the house where he was born when he was between 2 and 3 years old in search of territory and a family of his own. Or maybe he was just looking for adventure – a true pioneer wolf.
Regardless of the reasons he left his early home in May 2012, when he stepped out of the ocean, shook himself off, and climbed onto the shores of the islands that would become his territory, he likely had no idea what his trip would be mean.
This young wolf had arrived in a small archipelago off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with no deer to hunt, no other wolves, and very close to a town of over half a million people. He had left what we consider normal wolf wilderness habitats and instead traversed over 40 kilometers of urban areas and suburbs in search of a new home.
He is now almost ten years old and I got to know him well. I have won the trust of this wolf and documented its life by capturing thousands of still images and hundreds of hours of video footage.
It is almost impossible to document the life of a lone wolf in the wild. They travel great distances and are rarely spotted. Most of the time, lone wolves are difficult to track when traveling unless they have a radio collar and therefore their life is largely invisible. The unique situation of this wolf enabled me to gain his trust and to observe and document his life.
I wanted to understand his life better and wanted to solve his many puzzles, such as: Why did he cross the ocean and the city to get here? How did it adapt and thrive in such an unusual habitat for a wolf? Why does he stay here and choose a life of solitude? And what will his future look like?
After a while, I got tired of just calling him the wolf. I decided to give him a name that means wolf in the Coast Salish language. Indigenous peoples who have historically inhabited this area.
His name is Takaya.
Knowing an animal on a deeper level does not diminish its mystery, but rather opens our hearts to the unknown and in a sense to the divine. – Richard Louv
In May 2012, my path with a heart took a strange and unexpected direction. On the local news, I heard that local kayakers and campers had reported a wolf in the islands. It was originally believed to be a stray dog. However, a photo by whale watcher guide Jim Zakreski revealed that it was a wolf. This was big news for Victoria. A wolf was not a common visitor to the area and was certainly unknown in this small, uninhabited archipelago.
The early life of this wolf was initially unknown to me. It wasn’t until later, when I started following the questions and secrets surrounding his appearance, that I began to discover what little was known about his trip and his decision to settle on these islands.
Though it had been reported, it seemed unlikely to many people, myself included, that a wolf now lived on these tiny islands near my town. And then, in the spring of 2013, I camped on the islands and heard what sounded like a wolf howl. Around the same time, biologist friend Paul Harder and I discovered wolf tracks on a beach on Discovery Island. That was very exciting!
However, my husband Dave doubted there really was a wolf on the islands and made fun of us a lot because he thought there was one. He later said, “People bring their dogs to the islands all the time. So for a physicist like me, it’s logical: it’s a dog, not a wolf.”
When I showed Dave the tracks he would say, “Yeah, they’re just big dog tracks.”
But then I saw him – and Dave heard him howl.
It was Mother’s Day 2014. Dave and I were drifting through the islands with our eldest daughter Maia and our family friend Anna Lisa as the sun went down, enjoying a happy hour in our boat, Mv Rover. I looked back and saw the wolf climb out of the water across the canal after a bath. It was a surreal moment. I exclaimed, “Oh my god, there’s the wolf!” He disappeared into the forest and began to howl – an extremely poignant, moving experience.
From that moment on, Dave had to accept that there was a wild wolf on the islands. What he didn’t understand yet was how this moment would change my life and ours. In Dave’s words, “She was overly excited and very enthusiastic. Little did I know we were starting a whole new chapter in our marriage. “
Despite spending countless hours in the wild, I had never seen or heard of a wolf. It’s not unusual; rarely does anyone even see a furtive glimpse of a wolf in the wild. At first I was just curious about the presence of a wolf. But when I heard his howl – a haunting, somewhat sad sound – it awakened something deeper in me. I felt a portal into a wild world. It was then that my journey with this wild wolf really began.
That first look set me on a path – a search for more about this wolf, its behavior and its inner world. I wanted to understand and get to know this wild animal, a creature that led a life so different from me. A creature that embodied the essence of wilderness, freedom and our ancient connections to the primeval world.
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Cheryl Alexander will be signing her books on the Takaya Lone Wolf International Arts Show with music and art celebrating the life and legacy of Takaya on October 24th at 10am at Nootka Court in Victoria. The event is sponsored by the Eagle Feather Gallery.
The Oak Bay Community has a website where people can post their memories, experiences, and reflections on Takaya. It’s at oakbay.ca/TakayaReflections.