The Wolf, just an extremely bad ass animal, beautifully majestic, bone-chillingly haunting howls, the evil to Red Riding Hood’s innocence. They’ll huff and they’ll puff and… That’s the reputation. And at once in this country we had the Wolf problem licked, or did we? As early as 1966 conservationist began to make the case for wolf re-introduction in native areas where they had been exterminated. At one time, national park rangers were’d charged with trapping and killing wolves, moving them to Canada, anywhere else but the United States. Because wolves tend to prey and feed on what we consider “good” animals, deer, elk, moose; they were seen as bad, evil, that’s the reputation.
Wolves remain to this day a very controversial topic between the efforts of conversationalist, wildlife appreciators, and ranchers and hunters. It may not resonate so much in a state like Texas but you go to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, and it’s a topic that tends to be divided each taking a strong stance and having emotional reasons for those stances. I was in Idaho from 1992 – 1995, right before the reintroduction was taking off for the re-population of the Yellowstone Pack. I went to an event at the Egyptian Theater in Boise and everyone turned out from the North End of town and me to see the wolves and learn more about why their reintroduction was important. Herds of Elks were starving through the winter from overpopulation.
The concept of having a ‘spirit animal,’ seems hokey, unnecessarily new agey. In my 20’s I claimed the wolf, these days it’s the hawk. Love those birds. I didn’t get another chance to encounter wolves until we visited West Yellowstone where there was a Bear and Wolf Discovery Center right outside the park’s west gates. We stayed in West Yellowstone and I went for runs in the early morning. I can recall running through trails singing, making noises because I could swear I’d round a bend in the trail and straight-on confront a growling bear ready to make breakfast of me. That’s never happened even when running outside of Denali, Alaska or Seward for that matter. Bears and Wolves tend to be smart enough to try to avoid people. They prefer to be stealthy like the Mountain Lion and a wild encounter is extremely rare. One morning pre-dawn a ran down the street from the hotel to the gates of the Wolf Center and they were waking up howling. It was a truly transcendent moment, something wild and spiritual even though the packs lived in the confines of an animal park, granted a very open environment for them…not at all like The Tiger King’s Cat park.
To see a wolf in the wild, you hope you get the chance, but that it’s from afar, not in the middle of the night around the campfire. We got the chance though it wasn’t a true wilderness experience. If you visit Denali National Park in Alaska, you can take bus rides into the park and it’s simply freaking amazing how much wildlife you can spot. We saw grizzlies with a Mom and her cubs playing along a stream. That’s something I never thought I’d witness. It’s a long long journey through the park on a bus. I mean a good 8 hour day which is a long time to be in a bus that’s not Greyhound to visit Ranger, Texas ;o). We saw moose, birds, eagles, more moose, more moose…the bears. Heading out of the park maybe 6 hours in, people slept. We were awake at the time. There’s a guide narrating the trip and spotting wildlife. He gets excited, some people wake up, some people still sleep. Running down the road right in front of the bus is a black wolf just like you might see a stray dog running in front of your car on a country road. He wasn’t in any hurry to get off that road. He eventually veers off to the left side of the road, the side of the bus we were sitting on. A black wolf!!! In the wild. The guide said seeing the elusive usually cloud-covered Denali (which we did) and spotting a black wolf was like winning the lottery.
I’ll leave you with this, another featured good thing, Phoebe Judge’s Criminal Episode about the Yellowstone Wolf pack. I listened to it just this morning on the way to a Starbuck’s (another good thing). If you podcast or if you don’t, its really worth your time to learn the history of Wolves in America and the tensions that still surround their reintroduction to our country. Fascinating. A phenomenal animal, you witness their behaviors reflected in their domesticate versions living under our roofs, dogs (which is bound to be a future good thing). Wolves.