Songline: I hear the Wolf and the Fox and the Weasel

by Jane Valencia

NOTE: This article was originally written for Village Voices - the newsletter for the Village Learning Community on Vashon Island, WA. Though it was written for a specific organization, I like to imagine in a more general sense how we might all grow to become 'animal people'!

I hear the Wolf and the Fox and the Weasel
I hear the Wolf and the Fox singing
(repeat both lines)
And in ten years I will come back
I hear Wolf and the Fox singing
(repeat both lines)

Listen to I Hear The Wolf And The Fox And The Weasel

I first heard a version of this strange little song around 1990, as a melody learned from a hurdy-gurdy player in Mendocino, CA and passed on to my folk harp community by my harp teacher at the time. Chris Caswell. That northern California folk harp community, which ten years ago became the Harpers Hall & culinary society, adopted the dance tune as part of their harp ensemble repertoire.

Meanwhile my music partner and I performed the tune in our Forest show - a journey into a magical forest by way of harp music, song, narration, poetry, and folklore. In a scene of dancing and revelry, the villagers at a harvest celebration don animal masks - those of the wolf, the fox, and the weasel - and dance to this melody.

A few years later I learned a second version of this song - this time a 13th century chanson recorded by the Revels - a pagaent that celebrates the Winter Solstice and other folk-rooted festivals in metropolitan communities throughout the U.S. The early French lyrics of this version, "J'ai Vu Le Loup, Le Renard, Le Lievre" ("I saw The Wolf, the Fox, the Hare") revealed that my music partner and I had tapped into the sense of the song indeed!

"I saw the Wolf, the Fox, the Hare
I saw the Wolf, the Fox singing
I must imitate their song ..."

The person, so the chanson goes, watches these animals sing and dance in the forest, and finds himself compelled to do what they do, to sing like them, to dance like them, to imitate them. A couple of years later, a friend passed on a translation to me that seemed based on this 13th century chanson, which further described the scene as taking place on May Eve, a time when the veil between our world and the realm of magic is thin, and that the man witnessing the singing and dancing, and being compelled to sing and dance like them suddenly cries out "Miserare!" - a Latin word - breaking (to his mind) the spell.

Now, at the year-end celebration at Wilderness Awareness School this June, I was startled to meet yet another version of the song, the one written out at the start of this article. This version was sung to call the community together so that we could "bring our minds together as one" in thanksgiving and blessing for the meal we were about to delight in. The WAS folk had learned the song this past year, from a student in one of their programs who came from Quebec (that's what I remember, anyway!). I loved the new words I heard here: "And in ten years I will come back". Because now it seemed to me that in ten years the watchers of these animals would no longer be merely awestruck observers, attempting to "imitate their song", but that they might have transformed to become an animal people themselves. To me this song articulates a promise: That ten years is all you need to shapeshift from someone yearning to do something, struggling to sing or dance as naturally as the animals, to someone who does it so well, you might seem to be one of these animals yourself, a natural "magical" being, easy in your song or dance. It might be like evolving from being an awkward sapling transplanted into new ground to a whole unique and thriving ecosystem with a healthy maturing tree in the center. I see this as happening for individuals, but I also this to be true for communities.

Ten years ago my harp community became the Harpers Hall & culinary society. From a group of twenty or so harpers and harp afficianados gathered around a table piled with food we'd prepared together, and witnessed by our forest of harps in the adjoining room at a retreat lodge, the organization expanded to host monthly harp jams, concerts, and an international harp conference. They have recorded a CD, published a couple of arrangement books, and introduced hundreds of people to the folk harp, connecting students with teachers, harpers with resources.

And this year marked the ten year anniversary of the planting of Wilderness Awareness School at Linne Doran ("Otter Pond") in Duvall. My daughter Amri reminded me of the story."Ingwe [the 'grandfather' of WAS] came through the forest as if he knew where he was going. He stuck his staff in the ground and declared that this would be the place where many children would gather and where the central fire would be." And in ten years hundreds of stories have been told around that fire, hundreds of songs sung, and many, many gatherings held and teachings passed round. Hundreds, perhaps even a couple thousand, have passed through the programs. Certainly the hundred or so people who showed up at this year-end celebration revealed a vibrant and vital community.

So I look at the Village Learning Community, and wonder what we might find in ten years? How might it look? How will it have grown? Who will be there? On July 31 we will renew our intentions and vision for the Village while rooting them into a newly created central fire. We have enjoyed nine months of new growth. The fire circle celebration offers us the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to this vision, and plant it into good rich forest soil.

And in ten years who knows what one might find thriving in this forest, and beyond throughout the island. In ten years, or another ten, perhaps we'll find that we no longer have to describe or define to ourselves and others what an intergenerational mentoring or learning community is - it will just be how we all live. As a Village.

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Also of interest: Song Community