Dad, I thought to my father. The smoke is too thick. I can’t breathe. I looked up at him, and he looked down at me. His soft amber eyes glistened with tears and sorrow.
I know, Dad thought to me as he laid his snout on mine. My body glowed with the knowledge that he would protect me.
He lifted his head and scanned the rest of our pack. We had stopped on a hill to survey the forest. My litter mates and I needed the rest.
We looked at the fire—fires—blazing in the distance. We heard the distant crackle. Our old home: gone. Our friends with shorter legs: gone. The plants that gave us shelter: gone.
We resumed our run in the opposite direction. I heard my father’s raspy breath beside me and the crunch of our paws on dry pine needles. I heard the wind whip through the trees.
Every year there are fires, Dad thought to us as we ran. My nose and lungs burned. It was impossible not to smell the smoke. Every year the fires are worse.
Mom, I thought to my mother. I am cold. I shook my coat, but it was no use. I was soaked to the skin.
Last summer fires, this spring rain. We stood under a tree as we watched temporary rivers form. This year’s litter was swept away when the flood struck our den. I will mourn them properly when—if—we return.
Mom howled, calling for other wolves, but none could hear her through the rain.
Will we almost die every year? I thought to Mom.
Yes, Mom thought in return. I saw her try to shake the water off her body. I tried again, too.
It is the humans, Mom thought to me after a while. I had forgotten that I had asked a question. I asked my mother the same question when I was young, she told me. My mother’s mother—your great-grandmother—said that humans are changing our world.
After another pause, Mom added, There was once a time when we didn’t fear the weather like we do today. There was a time before humans and their machines claimed ownership of the world.
Dad, I’m hot and thirsty, one of my remaining sons thought to me.
We will find water soon, I thought back.
Was what I told my son a lie? I sniffed the ground. My lungs burned. I sniffed the air. Dry.
I looked at my dwindling pack. Noses and shoulders down, tails down, weak, and tired.
They looked at me.
I lifted my chin and stood proud and confident. My job was to give them hope.
The sun was no longer yellow. It was forever a hazy orange.
I hoped that humans would stop killing the world.
Is there anything we can do? my youngest daughter thought to me as I walked with her through what remained of the forest. She was the only pup in her litter. She needed to learn how to survive.
No, I thought. Her mother was so weak. It was amazing that she could have a pup at all.
Humans are killing themselves, too, aren’t they? my daughter asked.
Yes, I replied, then added, I hope humans decide to stop damaging the world.
Why do you hope that? my daughter asked. She had stopped walking and was looking at me with inquisitive eyes.
I did not understand her question. How could I not? I asked.
You said humans are responsible for the fires and floods, my daughter answered.
Yes, I replied.
You said humans are responsible for our lack of food and forest, the disgusting water, and for our inability to see a golden sun. She pointed with her nose at the sky.
I did, I thought to her.
You said every human generation makes things worse.
Yes, I replied, again.
Then no matter how much you hope, humans will never stop destroying the world, my daughter thought to me in return.
She was smart beyond her age.
Our only hope is for humans to make this world as bad as possible, for them as well as us, my daughter thought. Then we can hope for no more humans—no more humans to make the world even worse.
I see, I thought in return. Was that our only hope? I turned my cheek to the hazy red sun and stood in contemplation. I had forgotten what it felt like for my lungs to not burn. My daughter was smarter than me. It must get worse before it gets better. You are right, I thought to her.
We started walking again, side by side.
I heard a falcon scream above me. A fire in the distance—too far for us to see or hear, but the birds knew. We ran to our den, to get the others.
This time we ran with hope.
We would outlive the humans.
We would survive.
We would abide.
© Tadayoshi Kohno