Between Turin and Castelluccio di Porretta Terme there are about 400 kilometers. A pleasant journey through the hills of Asti, which then turn into those of Piacenza, and then enter the rich and dark earth territory of Bologna. As we drove the car we were singing all the way accompanied by the windshield wipers: Mirco, my companion, drives and I let myself be brought along, and looking lazily out of the window.
We arrived in the afternoon, when the light of a rainy day is fading. We meet with our friends from Milano and together we walk the few meters of paved path that leads to the entrance of the Castle of Manservisi and … voilà, immediately we are immersed in a warm, festive and welcoming atmosphere.
Just in time to greet the “hosts” Maria and Antonio, complete the reception procedure and become familiar with the meanders of the Castle in order to be able to find the way to our room, and we are immediately attracted by the voices and lights of the conference room, where the presentation of the festival is about to officially begin. There are hundreds of photos of wild wolves exposed in the exhibition and, sitting in the parterre, it seems to be really in the middle of a pack. When the magical notes of the musician Oreste Filippi spread, they enchant me and, listening to them with my eyes closed, I have the feeling of being in peace with the world, in the middle of my life and exactly where I should be.
As I looked around in the other rooms, then, I was surprised by all the smiles of the people I met. They are all guests of the Festival, like the biologist and writer Alice Cipriani and the painter Marina Fusari. I lost myself among all the books on display, I admire the watercolors and the images, I absorb every color or word concerning the wolves.
During a good and convivial dinner we meet other participants of the festival who share the table with us: many have come from every corner of Italy to learn, deepen their knowledge, and get more information about this fascinating, resilient and elusive animal. I think I’m like a little girl on a school trip.
During the evening after dinner, despite the bad weather, we try to come out in a group for a simulation of wolf howling: a very suggestive experience, immersed in the darkness of the forest to listen in silence to its noises. Unfortunately, as we had anticipated because of the bad weather, the wolves do not respond. We seemed to be the only creatures out in the bad weather.
Sleeping in the dorm rooms with our friends increased the feeling of being back in our youth and we found ourselves laughing at silly things in the dark cabin just before before falling asleep.
…Coming to the Festival of the Wolf is useful for me, therefore, to know other Italian realities, to establish parallels and differences…
On Saturday, for most of the day, I found myself saturated with news, updates, useful or curious information, thanks to the interesting interventions of the various figures of specialists that arrived from different areas of Italy. The specialists alternated on stage in the conference room, and with friendly simple language, that made us spend many hours without a moment of boredom or fatigue.
My passion and my sense of justice, that leads me to defend every creature in a position of disadvantage, have led me over the years to know quite well the situation in the Alps, especially in my Val di Susa, in Piedmont, where wolves returned only in the 90s, cautious and almost invisible. This is in fact a valley close to Turin, with a high anthropic density and a geological conformation not very welcoming, since the highest mountains, which would provide an ideal refuge far from the men, have steep and rocky walls,. While the valley bottom is narrow, crossed by roads, highways and railways. It’s a difficult environment for the settlement of wolves, yet these, once again demonstrating patience and determination, have managed to settle and form some permanent packs. Coming to the Festival of the Wolf is useful for me, therefore, to know other Italian realities, to establish parallels and differences.
Lastly, my intention is also to interview some women, protagonists of the Festival, to know the deep motivations that have persuaded them to take care of wolves, in their different fields. At the end of all the interventions I approach a couple of them to ask some questions.
I’ve always been a lover of nature, wildlife and in particular of the wolf that for me is the emblem of freedom. ~Erika Ottone
The first one is Erika Ottone – Veterinary surgeon with experience in rescue, treatment and rehabilitation of wild animals, wildlife monitoring and environmental education. From 2017 she works for the Pollino National Park Authority in Basilicata, dealing with monitoring and assessment of livestock predations by wildlife in the context of the project “Living with the wolf, knowing and preserving”
Erika says: “I’ve always been a lover of nature, wildlife and in particular of the wolf that for me is the emblem of freedom. I have been lucky to have a lot of experience in environmental education, so I realized that conservation cannot be separated from education. All conservation projects are not worth much if they are not accompanied by a sensitization activity. Currently I work as a veterinarian, certifying the predations on domestic animals by wild animals and so I have the opportunity to talk with breeders and educate them, to provide them with correct and current information and to make sure that they leave their old beliefs and that wrong cultural heritage that leads them to hate wolves. We try to intervene also to improve their life that is often economically precarious.”
Question: “So I understand that in the Parco del Pollino the biggest problem is the difficult coexistence of wolves and shepherds. But are there phenomena of poaching and illegal hunting?”
Erika: “Unfortunately, poaching is there but it is a little known problem, because there is silence and fear to denounce. For this reason, going to the farms in that area, I can talk with people who work and are always present and, as they live in the mountain, they know what happens: I explain to them that killing a wolf is useless, because one died, another comes, instead they must understand that we are there to improve the lives of everyone: breeders and wild animals.”
Question: “According to the Native Americans, the wolf is sacred, it is to protect and care for and represents the medicine of the world. Can we say that the wolf is the medicine for Italy? How could it be? ”
Erika: “In Italy, the wolf is the guardian of our mountains. Thanks to its natural role at the top of the food chain, it controls numerically wild animals and makes selection also on domestic ones. He is the guardian of an ancestral culture and in my opinion he is also a hidden friend of the breeders, because for centuries they have lived together on the same lands, they are roommates who basically take care of them even if in a different way. Now the situation is difficult because there is a struggle between them and that is why we have to spread a new vision of the role of the wolf, in order to let it continue to be the guardian of our mountains. ”
Therefore, according to the words of Erika, in Italy we could change the phrase “Medicine of the wolf” into “Education of the wolf”.
From Erika’s stories I understand that this slim, discreet figure of a small, great woman with expressive eyes, has made a difference. She did not get lost along the rough paths, overwhelmed by strong breeders, who are accustomed to dealing with veterinarians belonging to the so-called strong sex. Instead she has persevered thanks to her expertise and sensitivity. I deduced that she has succeeded, because of her grace, to perform the miracle of popularizing the science, the knowledge of the wolf and to educate the local populations of farmers to a more peaceful coexistence with the “mountain keepers”.
The other interesting protagonist of my interviews is Maria Perrone, a naturalist photographer, web content manager and an excellent organizer of the event. Her companion, who shares with her his life and passions, is the writer and naturalist photographer Antonio Iannibelli. He has loved wolves since his grandfather used to guide him through the paths of their kingdom, in the Pollino National Park. Together Antonio and Maria founded the association “Provediemozioni” and together they organize many initiatives related to the wolf: she mainly takes care of the contents of the blogs and the communication and organization of events such as the Festa del Lupo, which lasts three days, takes place every two years and which is now at its sixth edition with ever-increasing success. First of all, I congratulate Maria for her punctual and precise direction, thanks to which these days are unfolding perfectly: I can only imagine the great commitment and the effort behind it, so that everything runs smoothly. To my question about why a woman like her, with a work so far from the natural environment has approached the wolves, her answer is disarming and sincere: for love. It is love that leads a woman to devote herself entirely to a passion, and in this case it is love for her husband, who introduced her and guided her through the woods during her first steps in search for wolves to photograph. She has passion, the passion that drives a woman to love and therefore to defend. Here are her words.
I can tell that only after two years of useless hikes made at 4 am, often with a temperature of -17 degrees Celsius, I could see my first wolf. ~Maria Perrone
Maria: “Why wolves? Because I met Antonio who infected me with his love for the wild nature and for the wolves. I am a very passionate woman and if I am interested in something, I like to understand it deeply. So, beyond what he told me, I started looking for and finding contradictory information about this animal: who defends it and who wants to kill it. Then my instinct for the defense of the weakest came out. The Festa del Lupo was born from this idea of reading, talking and telling about one’s own experiences. For example, I can tell that only after two years of useless hikes made at 4 am, often with a temperature of -17 degrees Celsius, I could see my first wolf. I wrote an article about my first sighting, because it seems that before me, I mean in 2008, no woman had ever photographed a wild wolf in Italy. In fact, the first time I saw them I was so excited that I did not want to detach myself from the binoculars to take the camera, with the risk of losing sight of them. I think the wolves wanted to test me, because after that time, I started to spot them and take pictures of them much more often. Thus, the Wolf Festival is also an opportunity to share scientific knowledge and experiences in the field. For me, then, that I have an organizational and precise mind, that I put to good use for my work but in a completely different field, it was immediately congenial to create this event. I must say that this edition had much better results than ever because we changed the format to make the interventions of the experts more appealing. We had a really interested and motivated audience, who has reached this place on the mountain on purpose, heading out on a long journey with rain and fog, doing many kilometers, (as you have done for example), to hear about wolves.
Question: “I ask you the question I always ask everyone: the wolf is sacred to the Native Americans and is considered a medicine that cares. What does it represent for Italy? ”
Maria: “In general, those approaching the wolf approach the wilderness and this leads to living with less fear and greater openness. With Antonio I started going out into the woods at night and hearing disturbing noises. But he, who was really a great teacher to me, says that you are afraid of things that you do not know, so if you can identify and name the noises you hear, you do not fear them anymore. For example, in addition to the wolf, he taught me not to fear other wild animals, even the viper. So loving the wolf means learning not to be afraid and, ultimately, not to fear diversity and change. Finally, to your question about why a woman is passionate about wolves, I answer because women identify with wolves because they are mothers, they defend their children, they are resilient; in fact, I have met some men who fear him, but I never met a woman or a child who told me they were afraid of it. We live in a world where people live with more and more fears and phobias, so I think the wolf can take care of our sick world “.
After thanking Maria, I consider that we women are close by nature to the meaning of life, to what reflects the concept of existence with so much force as that which nature expresses every day in all its manifestations. The cycle of life, death and life is respected in an almost sacred way by wolves, and also by healthy and balanced women; as Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her famous book “Women who run with wolves” and we, though immersed in a life seemingly far from these ancestral rhythms, we are irresistibly attracted to it. When I look at the mountains, I hear the call.
…It is not a single wolf to howl, but a whole pack: we can also hear the voices of the puppies (about five months old), who try to imitate the big ones with more acute howls, ending almost with yips…
As the day comes to a close we all relax and enjoy an excellent dinner. In the end, before gathering around the big fireplace, where the roasted chestnuts are crackling happily, waiting for Oreste to play his fascinating music again for us, we decide that it is time to go out for a walk to have a coffee at the bar of the village. The pungent cold of the clouds welcomes us outside the door, luckily the rain stopped, the fog is thinning and some lights can be glimpsed down into the valley. While we chatter noisily, our ears perceive an ancestral yet familiar sound, something that makes us dumb while we look at each other in disbelief: a few kilometers far from us, in the darkness of the forest that lies next to the village, there is a concert going on. It is not a single wolf to howl, but a whole pack: we can also hear the voices of the puppies (about five months old), who try to imitate the big ones with more acute howls, ending almost with yips. The whole thing lasts a few seconds, at the end the concert closes with the dark voice of an adult, leaving behind only the barking of the dogs of all the surrounding houses. We are astonished: as if, after talking about them all day, they decided to give us this exciting and unexpected gift. It will be difficult to fall asleep, after such an exciting experience, but we must try to sleep: the weather forecast bodes well for tomorrow’s excursion and the alarm clock is already on.
When we open our eyes it is still dark and we don’t understand what’s the weather like, but we prepare ourselves with all the enthusiasm and charge that the event of last night gave us. The appointment is outside the Castle, with Gianluca Maini, biologist and naturalist and our passionate guide on the traces of the wolf in the Corno alle Scale Natural Park. After having managed to organize a small procession of cars, we queue and follow him along the asphalt road for a few kilometers, to the point where we leave the cars and we walk: a colorful and heterogeneous group of hikers, all armed with tools to walk and photograph and with the curiosity to climb along the paths of a forest that immediately appears fascinating in its hazy and fairy atmosphere. Gianluca explains to us, with the passion in his eyes, the mysteries of the packs that populate those areas, pointing us also to the secret place where a photo-trap is located, from which he extracts a memory card. He inserts the memory card into the laptop and immediately we all get close to him as curious children when Christmas presents are opened. Unfortunately there are no interesting passages in those last recordings, nevertheless we have learnt thanks to this moment what it means to do research in the field and known the taste of discovery.
We continue our trip on thick carpets of wet leaves or under high vaults of intricate branches of fir trees. We cross clearings and discover traces of wolves’ passages, whose diet is explained thanks to the visible remains. It may be the luck of beginners, however I also have the honor to find a fresh dropping!
Gianluca explains to us, with the passion in his eyes, the mysteries of the packs that populate those areas…
The day remains cloudy and the hike is rightly shortened when it is clear that the light drizzle is becoming real rain and that it will not stop soon.
I leave unwillingly that magical place, where I have learned a lot of secrets about its vegetation, its animals and its geological history. I think I would like to be with someone like Gianluca Maini also when I walk into the woods of my mountains: having an expert who explains to you in so a clear way what you can only ask yourself what it is, without ever having an answer, it is a precious opportunity.
Now Sunday is coming to an end and, back to the Castle, we just have the time to thank and greet with affection all the protagonists of this wonderful festival, to load our luggage in the car and take the road back to Turin, with the deep voice of the woods still in our ears.
I consider that we women are close by nature to the meaning of life, to what reflects the concept of existence with so much force as that which nature expresses every day in all its manifestations. ~Brunella Pernigotti