Call of the Wild Chapter 7 - The Sounding of the Call
When Buck wins sixteen hundred dollars for his beloved friend John Thornton after pulling the dog sled laden with one thousand pounds of flour, the pace of life changes. John doesn't have to worry about money for awhile now, but he still decides to use this money to fund an expedition for gold. Accompanied by Hans and Pete, as well as the two dogs Skeet and Nig, Thornton travels deeper into Canada, in the east of Dawson City. There are rumors of a long-lost hidden gold mine, and the man decides to go searching for it, always ready for another adventure. Wandering up the Yukon River in Canada further north from where the Klondike Gold Rush began, the men follow the Stewart River until it ends. Then they leave the river and took off into the forest to search for this legendary gold mine. Buck is very excited because he had never experienced such an adventure as this, where there is no monotonous journey to repeat again and again; instead, this is all new land in Canada's Yukon Territory that he has never explored before.
Along the trail Thornton randomly stops, dig holes into the ground, and pan sediment from nearby streams, all in search of this fabled supply of gold. At first they find nothing, but they enjoy the mystery nevertheless, hunting for meals along the way since they have not brought a supply of food with them to lighten the load. As summer comes, they still wander through unknown mountains, on through the autumn and winter months. Eventually they journey onto an ancient path that doesn't go anywhere, to their great dismay, and soon after this they find a dilapidated cabin in the woods containing an old rifle from the Hudson's Bay Company decades before. Then as spring arrives again, they reach a stream that glitters in gold like "yellow butter" in the sunshine. Excited, the men decide that they shall stay here and collect all of this gold for themselves rather than journeying on any further. While the men labor with this, panning for gold, filling up bags with the dust and nuggets, Buck begins to grow restless because they have stopped traveling. Thornton pays less attention to him and more to this process of retrieving the gold.
Buck has visions of the hunched over hairy man near the campfire that he had once seen so long ago when he was pulling mail for the Scotch half-breed except now the visions are more frequent, real, and persistent. Buck observes this primal man that only he can see, noticing that he is afraid of the dark and sleeps fitfully at night without a lot of comfort. Buck sees man as the primal beast he is, rather than the creature that has taught him to obey all of his life. Nevertheless, his love for John Thornton remains strong and unwavering. The call of the wild, pulling him deeper into his primal self, becomes stronger, "Sometimes he pursued the call into the forest, looking for it as though it were a tangible thing, barking softly or defiantly...Irresistible impulses seized him. he would be lying in camp, dozing lazily in the heat of the day, when suddenly his head would lift and his ears cock up, intent and listening, and he would spring on his feet and dash away, and on and on, for hours, though the forest aisles" Chapter 7, pg. 117. Buck hears this call, thinking that it is something in the forest, although it is instead a voice within himself that urges him to go into the forest, returning to the predatory life of his wolfish ancestors.
One night while Buck is sleeping, he hears the old howling at the moon that he remembers from long ago when he first arrived at Dawson City with Perrault and Francois. As he did then, Buck now rises up from the camp, bounding out into the forest, as would often happen for him, "But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called -- called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come" Chapter 7, pg. 118. Yet the howling is not a mere sleepy murmur, and it energizes him down to the bone, racing through the forest until he comes upon this wild wolf. At first the wolf flees quickly, snarling his teeth while running,, but Buck still pursues him, circling around in an attempt to corner the wolf. Frightened, the wolf continues to dash away for awhile, until eventually, tired of the chase and realizing that Buck is not an enemy, he sniffs noses with the mighty dog. For awhile Buck and the wolf run together, playfully enjoying each other's company, until finally when they stop to drink at a stream Buck remembers John Thornton suddenly. This burning love remains stronger than the call to be wild, and he runs back to the camp suddenly, in spite of the wolf's great whining and pleading for him to stay.
Upon returning to camp, Buck is greeted by Thornton's affectionate swears and a deep caress of his beautiful fur. He stayed there for two days again, watching Thornton alertly, but after these two days are over he becomes very restless again, as the call of the wild stirs inside of him yet again. Dashing into the forest, he seeks the wild wolf he had befriended, but there is no trace of this animal at all. Instead, Buck practices his hunting skills, feasting off of salmon in a nearby stream that he captures for himself, and he even kills a black bear. The call of the wild burns inside of him, "The blood-longing became stronger than ever before. He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survived" Chapter 7, pg. 122. Buck behaves more and more like the wolf he met in the woods, hunting and killing prey. His body starts to resemble a wolf, aside from the white patch running down his chest and the brown fur over his nose. Buck's body becomes very strong and wild with wolfish impulses, his muscles are like "steel springs." Buck truly finds himself here in the woods, rediscovering the wildness within him that was forgotten for many generations. Thornton, too, marvels at the transformation Buck undergoes during this time, stating that there is no other dog like Buck.
Buck continues to hunt more formidable foes in the woods, ranging from snakes, beavers, and birds, eating every animal that he kills himself. He enjoys chasing squirrels until they are trapped, and then releasing them, terrified. Yet this life begins to lose its satisfaction for Buck, and he craves to hunt a stronger, more formidable prey. Soon after this a moose herd walks through the forest, and Buck targets the strongest, tallest moose, bearing a huge set of antlers, whom he will hunt down. Without warning, he dives in, snapping at the great moose's legs, tearing into them and wounding the poor animal, although he continues to lead the herd onwards. Buck follows the animal persistently, diving in over the next couple of days without warning, weakening its legs, tearing the animal down. This is a difficult task for Buck, since he must avoid being trampled by the great hooves, but he is quick at barking, running circles around the beast and then biting without warning. Buck's wild patience is compared to that of a snake in its coils, pausing before the deadly bite, or a spider sitting silently in its woven web. So too does Buck wait patiently for the proper moments to attack.
The days roll by still, and the moose gets more and more tired; knowing that he is losing the battle, the other members of the herd stray away from the bull moose to avoid being attacked by Buck as well. Buck playfully continues to follow along, knowing that the moose will soon be his. He enjoys watching this gradual decline, as the moose's steps become shorter and shorter, weaker and less confident. Finally, after four days of movement, Buck grows tired of the chase and drags the moose to the ground, finishing him off and devouring his meat hungrily. Proud of this enormous achievement, Buck takes time to savor every last bite. Although the animal was much, much larger than a dog like Buck, he still succeeded in successfully hunting it to the death, remaining by his fallen prey for one day and one entire night. Then he happily begins running back towards the camp with a full stomach and a well-rested body, eager to see John Thornton again after such a great adventure of his own. The call of the wild may hold Buck for a little while, but his love for this human is still stronger than anything else. Just as Thornton refuses to sell Buck away or abandon him, so too does Buck refuse to abandon Thornton.
As he approaches the camp, however, Buck senses that something is wrong. The forest feels different, and he hears the birds talking about this in the trees. Dashing ahead faster, Buck notices that all of the animals near the camp are now hiding for some reason, as the dog first notices the dead body of Nig on the trail, with an arrow sticking out of his back. Further along there is another dying dog, still thrashing around in pain, indicating that the attackers are still nearby. Next he finds Hans facedown on the ground with his back "feathered in arrows like a porcupine." Buck is overcome with intense, penetrating rage, and upon entering the campsite itself he sees a group of happy Yeehats dancing around. Buck lunges in without warning, tearing out the throat of the Yeehat chief first, and then diving after another man nearby. The battle that ensues next results in many Yeehat deaths, since the men are so desperate to kill this beast that they accidentally begin shooting arrows at each other, helping Buck in his task of revenge, as he becomes "a live hurricane of fury." The surviving Yeehats soon flee, calling Buck the "Evil Spirit" because he seems so invincible and unstoppable, greater than any mere dog or wolf.
After the Yeehats flee, Buck returns to the camp to survey the remaining damage, discovering the dead body of Pete still in his bed where he was surprised awake, and then at a nearby pool of water Skeet's dead body lay. The water is murky beneath, but Buck knows that in its depths lies the body of John Thornton, since he was scent Thornton's trail leading into the pool while there is no scent leading out. His beloved human friend is now dead, murdered in this Yeehat attack! Buck grows depressed during that entire day because this man is now gone from his life. He now has no master to command him or guide him along, and he is all alone. The call of the wild reaches out again, reminding him that he has hunted humans now, recalling all of the Yeehat deaths he caused. Buck grows increasingly proud of this accomplishment, marveling at how easy these humans were to kill and vowing that he will never fear humans again unless if they have arrows or clubs that can harm him. He continues to sit in the wreckage of the camp, however, lamenting the deaths of his friends and wondering what he can possibly do next.
Suddenly the faint sound of howls catches his ear and Buck begins to stir out of his depression, "Again Buck knew [the sounds] as things heard in that other world which persisted in his memory. He walked to the center of the open space and listened. It was the call, the many-noted call, sounding more luringly and compelling than ever before. And as never before, he was ready to obey. John Thornton was dead. The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no longer bound him" Chapter 7, pg. 134. Buck realizes that the love for Thornton that had always called him back to the camp is now no longer an obstacle, because Thornton is dead. Instead, Buck can embrace the call of the wild now, without ever having to return to any humans at all. For the first time in his life, Buck can live out his own identity and pursue his own dreams and impulses, without having to worry about pulling a sled or staying at the mercy of humans for rest or for food, as had happened so many times in the past. Through this human tragedy, Buck finds freedom for himself.
Buck dashes off into the forest again, leaving the camp behind him, arriving at a clearing where he sees the wolf pack approaching him. Sitting still, he waits until they begin to surround him and one wolf leaps forward to attack. Buck lashes out quickly, breaking the wolf's neck between his jaws. Other wolves tried to attack afterwards, but Buck slashes each of their throats as well, as a warning that he will not be defeated. The rest of the wolves then attack all at once, pushing Buck backwards into a corner against a rock, but still Buck fights back without relenting. The wolf pack becomes tired of this and, discouraged that the dog is such a formidable foe since they have not seen a creature such as this before, and they merely stare at him quietly. At last one wolf comes forward, whining to Buck, for it is the same wolf that he befriended once before in the forest, but he had turned back to the camp because of Thornton. Now there is no Thornton to worry about, and Buck will stay, for the wolf touches noses with him; another wolf comes forward to do the same, and suddenly the pack begins one long stream of howls at the moon. Buck has practiced this many times, but now the howl comes naturally to him, as he embraces his inner nature. Then the wolves leap off into the forest, joined by an eager Buck, having found a place where he truly belongs. After so many years and so many trials to undergo, Buck has come home.
As the legends go for this region of Canada and according to the Yeehat stories, the wolves in this region have a patch of brown on their noses and a white patch down their stomachs, suggesting that these are Buck's offspring. He is called the "Ghost Dog" himself, running at the head of the wolf pack now, since he has always craved leadership from the time he overthrew Spitz to become the sled leader himself. The Yeehats are afraid of Buck, because he is always killing their men and stealing their food. Hunters, too, disappear in this region of the woods without any trace except for odd paw prints that are too large to belong to any common wolf. The valley where Thornton's camp had been remains a taboo place for the Yeehats, since it is there that they first encountered the Evil Spirit, and it remains empty except for during the summers. At this time, the Ghost Dog occasionally returns alone to the stream where Thornton's gold is falling out of rotting bags, howling sadly and regretfully perhaps out of nostalgia for this lost friendship. He revels in this wildness and does not seek at all to return to the world of humans.
In the winter time, this creature is joined by many wolves, since "When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack" Chapter 7, pg. 137. After journeying for years from his birthplace in the Santa Clara Valley, Buck has proven that he is a survivor, answering the one true voice within him that drives him back into the forest where his ancestors had once lived before ever encountering humans. Buck returns to this younger world, discovering again what the humans in his life could neither feel nor possibly understand, which is the song of the pack, the song of the wild. He finally learns to embrace these inner impulses which had been suppressed by man's harness and man's club for so very long. The prophesy at the story's start is thus made true, "Old longings nomadic leap,/Chafing at custom's chain;/Again from its brumal sleep/Wakens the ferine strain." Shaking man's servile chains from his shoulders, Buck rejects the cruelty that human civilization has brought to him. He chooses instead to follow the ferine, or wild, call pulsing deep within his spirit. In doing so, Buck reenters this untamed, younger world that is the call of the wild, and all else is forgotten.