Wolverines

Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column
February 5, 2019
Wolverines

Did you ever wonder about wolverines? If no, you’re in good company. Until now. A recent issue of Montana Outdoors got me thinking. It featured an article entitled, “WHERE ARE THE WOLVERINES?” I never asked that before. Not in my fifty-three years. Beneath the heading, a sub-captioned grabber caught my eye: “In an unprecedented multistate survey, biologists found the forest carnivores everywhere they thought they should be – along with a few surprises.” I turned the page for more info. Another sub-caption: “To most people, it’s a wonder that biologists found any wolverines.” That lost me. The first page said they found wolverines “everywhere they thought they should be,” but the next page said, “it’s a wonder that biologists found any wolverines.” That last sentence was complicated by a “to” fragment: “To most people…” I wanted to resolve that double-complex problem: (1) the paradox that biologists found wolverines everywhere “they thought they should be” and yet think it a “wonder” that they found “any wolverines” at all; and (2) my concern that “most people” had an opinion on this. I had a flash of FOMO. I read on: “Whether they’re listed as threatened or not, we needed more information to make good management decisions.”

That raised another question. Management decisions? About what? Wolverines? Why would we want to “manage” a being that had never been managed before because we didn’t know where it was, because we rarely saw it, but only thought we knew where it was, and which “most people” would think it a wonder that we found any at all? We don’t try to manage Big Foot, so why wolverines? So I read the whole article. It was about a report by the Western States Wolverine Conservation Project, headed up by a “room full” of wolverine experts. Here’s what I learned.

The researchers’ tactics were crafty. They hung deer, beaver and other meats on trees. They inserted wire brushes in those trees, in order to scrape off wolverine hairs as the wolverines fetched the meat off the trees. The hairs would be sent to the U.S. Forest Service Genomics Center for testing. Cameras were set up to spy on the wolverines. Their tricks worked. They found wolverines in wolverine “hotbeds” like the Sawtooth Mountains. And – surprise! – they also found them in the Little Belt Mountains between Lewistown and Helena! Who knew? And they got shagged hairs, to boot. That’s not all. They even found a male and a female 100 miles south of Yellowstone Park – together! They were breeding – in Wyoming! “It was pretty exciting to find them that far south,” said Zack Walker of the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Two more wolverines were spotted in Washington state, south of I-90.

Here’s what I learned about wolverines, per se, in and of themselves. They are the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family. Wolverines are the size of a border collie but can eat one in no time. They weigh less than forty pounds. You hardly ever see them. Or anything that crosses their paths. They like hard-to-get-to places in the northern Rockies (I thought all places in the northern Rockies were hard-to-get-to). They live in low densities. Their Latin name is Gulo gulo, which means “glutton,” which explains why they live in low densities. Though small, they eat grizzly bears. They “take down” elk. “They’re always living on the edge,” said Diane Evans Mack of Idaho Fish and Game. “That’s the constant for them…They have huge territories,” she said. They’re smart. They’ve got style. One biologist watched a wolverine stuff a 30-pound baby elk carcass into a hole beneath a rock. “It all clicked for me about how this animal makes a living,” said Bob Inman, the Coordinator of the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Carnivore-Furbearer Program. “Here we are in mid-June,” he said, “and she basically took that carcass and stuck it in a ‘refrigerator’ that nothing bigger than a wolverine could get to later…” That’s smart. Elegant. I regret not taking these subjects more seriously in college. I could’ve had one of those born-free jobs with Montana’s Carnivore-Furbearer Program.

From what I gathered, wolverines wouldn’t like Arlington. Amazon is coming. It’s getting crowded. Wolverines prefer low-densities. And if the density isn’t low, they make it low. They live on the edge. Also, they would find Arlingtonians too judgmental. For example, Arlingtonians think dogs go to heaven. But not wolverines. Moreover, wolverines would be insulted if you scooped their poop after them. They have a keen sense of dignity, and they’re easily embarrassed. They’d take it poorly. Politically, dogs are apathetic, so they’re easy to get on with. Wolverines are opinionated. And they vote. But wolverines have good qualities too. They’ll guard your house. They have drawbacks, though. I wouldn’t leave one alone with the kids, the border collie, or grandma. Nor would I leave anything in the fridge or pantry. Wolverines look shy. One look, and you’ll want to hug a wolverine. But be careful! Boundaries are very important.

Being a man of the cloth, the Montana Outdoors article inspired me to look for biblical wolverines. I skimmed the Bible. Checked a concordance. Googled it. Nothing. Ah, I forgot: “In an unprecedented multistate survey, biologists found the forest carnivore everywhere they

thought they should be – along with a few surprises.” No one thought wolverines should be in the Bible. But perhaps I’d find a surprise. Nope. I only found hyenas, jackals and ostriches.

For example, Job said, “I am a brother to jackals, and a companion to ostriches” (Job 30:29). No one says that about wolverines. The psalmist said, “They shall be jackal food” (Psalm 63:10). Now, that could be said of wolverines. I’d rather be a jackal’s brother than a wolverine’s dinner. The prophets prophesied about jackals, but not wolverines. Isaiah mentions jackals six times. Jeremiah (including in Lamentations) eight times. Ostriches get an honorable mention. Jeremiah said, “Even the jackals draw out the breast, they nurse their young ones: The daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness” (Lamentations 4:3). Isaiah said, “Thorns will come up in its palaces, nettles and thistles in its fortresses; and it will be a habitation of jackals, a court for ostriches” (Isaiah 34:13). What’s a court of ostriches like? Take it from Jeremiah: “Here stands the lonely city, once peopled.” (Lamentations 1:1). Once ostriches scare everyone away, perhaps wolverines could move in! After all, they like low densities. But neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah says that.

Then come the unmentionables: hyenas. They get bad press in the Good Book. “Hyenas will howl in the fortresses, and jackals in the luxurious palaces…” (Isaiah 13:22). One can only think of an old abandoned hotel, once plush, but now lonely, filthy and the haunt of treacherous outlaws and beasts. But not a word about wolverines. Isaiah, however, prophesied that the Redeemer will resolve all of that at the Apocalypse, when “Christ is all and is in all” (Colossians 3:11).

“The cow will graze with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play by the cobra’s den, and the toddler will reach into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the sea is full of water” (Isaiah 11:7-9).

Though Isaiah is mute on wolverines, his apocalyptic prophecy might have said something like this: “The border collie will frolic with the wolverine, and they shall lie down together.”  Or he might have said, “The wolverine will share her refrigerated baby elk with the border collie, in June beneath the moon.” Or, he could’ve said, “The baby will pat the wolverine on the rump as daddy scoops his poop,” or “Grandma will knit upon her chair as the wolverine warms her with its hair.” That’s hopeful. It betokens a New Creation. A world of peace and resolution. That’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Wisdom.

Nothing is without purpose. We just don’t know what a thing’s purpose is, no matter how much we try to figure it out. All things, except “right and wrong” are mysteries. When we get “right and wrong” right, we become mystics. And we find sanity. G.K. Chesterton said, “As long as you have the mystery you have health; when you destroy the mystery you create morbidity.” In innocence, we experience wonder in the mystery of everything. Everything points to transcendence. Creation is playful. We can join its play, like innocent children. “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

By the way, a wolverine can only be a wolverine if it remains unmanaged. A mystery. Some things are best left alone. Some mysteries are best left unsolved. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

“Many things greater than these lie hidden, for we have seen few of his works” (Sirach 43:32).


Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor

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