On the Edge

A Different Kind of "Bay" Watch

Actually, it's more like a "bay-listen" when Gettell Amphitheater rings with what sounds like wolves baying at the full moon. But it's not wild animals, it's the wild women of MHC's Lunar Howling Society doing their thing. Soli Johnson '98, the group's leader or "alpha wolf," remembers her first howl: "There was a full lunar eclipse, and I didn't even know about the society yet, but I could hear the howling through my dorm window. By the next full moon, I knew everyone who was out there howling."

"It's addictive," agrees senior Shelby Anfenson, who's been going to the monthly howls since her first year. "I love wolves, it's a great stress release, and we have a great time." She says a dozen or so people gather the evening of each full moon to exercise their vocal cords, talk about the Howling Society's efforts to save real wolves, and then howl some more. The ranks swell as campus stress levels rise, peaking with large exam-week howls that mimic primal-scream therapy.

The baying can startle the uninitiated. Anfenson says that every September some new student hears the howl and asks the Public Safety office, "What is that?" Cars driving through campus slow down at the sound, which carries from the amphitheater at least as far as Prospect Hall. And members sometimes extend the howl by baying back and forth as they leave the amphitheater and scatter to their various residence halls, continuing until they can't hear one other any more.

Since its founding in 1988, the group's fame has been spread by pieces on National Public Radio, in the New York Times, and on a Japanese TV station. The MHC society has also spawned sister howling societies at colleges as far away as Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Poland.

Soli Johnson acknowledges, "Some people consider it a joke, and it is silly, but we're also trying to do something serious here to save the wolves and other wildlife." The group sells T-shirts with a wolf silhouetted against a silver moon, and the profits support habitat preservation for wolves and other wild animals. And the campus howlers seem to feel a kinship with their lupine brethren. "When you're howling, the sound is so intense that you're transported to a completely different place," says Anfenson. "You become a 'pack' for the time you're howling together."

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