Until recently, there were only two things I knew about the howling of wolves: that it was how they communicated, and that it was a scene often reproduced on sweatshirts.
But then, on a hiking trip, I visited a wolf sanctuary. Aside from being an unnerving place to visit when you’re about to head off into the wilderness for a few nights, it was fascinating. Informative displays, friendly staff, and a cozy viewing area from which to watch the wolves. Plus there was a huge walk-in freezer in the basement that was filled with chopped-up moose carcasses that they would throw into the wolf enclosure every once in a while.
The most endearing part of it all was the enthusiasm of the people who worked there. They spoke about wolves with a kind of breathy reverence, the tone of voice you sometimes hear people use when talking about their childhood sports heroes. And what stuck with me most was one staff member who mentioned, almost off-hand, that wolves from different parts of the world have accents when they howl.
He mentioned it so quickly, mid-sentence, that I thought I might have misheard him. But later on I asked if he was joking and he insisted it was true.
I’m not saying I didn’t believe him, but I wanted the internet to confirm it, so I checked later. And indeed, researchers have found that European and North American wolves do in fact have different (and yet mutually understandable) howls, with European wolves having “more protracted and melodious howls” than their American counterparts. Which just seems so European.
A happy byproduct of my short-lived and mildly obsessive wolf-related Googling was that I inadvertently discovered this great track by Australia’s RY X.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. There’s something vaguely primal about it. The simple instrumentation, the writhing bodies in the video…it feels like RY X wants you to get in touch with your animal side.
2. His voice, which stays mostly in his falsetto range, rises and falls in a rather wolf-like fashion. Protracted and melodious, even though he’s not European.
3. The subtle, simple harmonies provided by the backup vocals. Which reminds me of one final wolf fact worth sharing: when they howl together, they howl in harmony rather than in unison, to give the impression that they’re greater in number than they actually are.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a sweatshirt to purchase.
Recommended listening activity:
Eating with your hands.