I’ve been spending a part of every summer on Hernando Island, near Desolation Sound, since I was one year old. This island is probably one of the safest places on earth. Most of the time, the only predators are the ones who eat mice and fish. When I was about seven years old, however, a wolf swam onto the island. Yes, you read that right. Wolves swim.
I never saw the wolf. I never heard the wolf. I never even saw any sign of the wolf. But it scared the scat out of me. Which is why 25 years later when I started writing a children’s novel set on an island just like Hernando, it featured a wolf. Two wolves, in fact.
This is where it starts to get strange. Because when I was seven, the wolf didn’t even last a full year on the island. It was scared off. Possibly by a shotgun, if the rumours are true. But years after I finished my draft of the novel, had it rejected, put it in a drawer, and then pulled it out to rewrite again, two wolves swam back to the island. They feasted on the deer. I saw their scat, their hair and their paw prints. I even heard them howling. All those details went straight into the rewrite.
The wolf population on the island swelled to eleven. The number of deer shrank from 400 to 2. The wolves, growing hungry, started coming closer to humans. You aren’t allowed to relocate a wolf—another detail that made it into my book. You are allowed to shoot one. Which is exactly what happened. A hunter was hired, the alpha male was shot, and most of the pack swam away. Last year there were two wolves on the island. No sign of any this year.
It’s a shame. Because, unlike when I was seven, I would love to see a wolf now. From a distance. I don’t need to relive my book too closely.
It’s probably just as well that I haven’t seen one. Because the other strange thing about writing, especially writing fiction based on a real place and a few real events, is that the lines between fact and fiction get blurred. Did I really see an eagle almost snatch a seal pup, or did I imagine it? Did my daughter’s finger get bitten by a chicken, or was that only in the story? One thing I can say for certain is that I have never faced down two wolves while lost in the middle of the island during a thunderstorm.
Let’s hope I never do. After all, the book is published now and it’s too late for a rewrite.