Simple Gifts

I believe I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world; the Snoqualmie Valley. I get to see amazing things everyday. It's time to celebrate that. (You can view pictures in larger format by clicking on them)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wolves at Yellowstone

I know I'm not alone in love for wolves, they are an animal that seem to bring strong emotions (positive or negative). I followed the reintroducing of wolves to Yellowstone closely. I've also followed the talk of wolves to the Olympic National Park. When I volunteered at the Point Defiance Zoo, the best moment was often entering the zoo early in the morning and hearing the wolves howl. I wanted to see wolves at Yellowstone. I told myself it was exceedingly unlikely. I tried not to get my hopes up.

As I began driving home, I was hoping to find that elusive moose. I thought I might see bear. When I saw the cars pulled over on the side of the road I thought it was probably a bear. I got out and asked and was honestly amazed when I was told it was wolves. It didn't take me long to find them, two wolves moving across the open plain. I was told there were three.

I've watched plenty of coyotes. I see dogs every day. What struck me about the wolves is the way they moved. They were moving in a straight line at a quick pace. It reminded me of a military march - all business with the focus on some distant end goal. The wolves didn't seem to communicate with each other but their movements were coordinated. There was an efficiency to their movement.

Then they disappeared into the trees. Some people stayed, watching the trees in hopes of another glimpse. Most people moved on, either carrying on with their day or heading to the next open area to watch. I loaded into my car, planning to also go to the next open area. I was driving watching the woods (ok, maybe not the best driving technique). I saw a gulch, that gave me a clear sight line deep into the woods, and there was a small pull-out for the road. There was one other car and the people were looking up in the woods. As I pulled in I saw the flash of a thick, bushy tail disappearing behind a log. I climbed out of my car, eyes straining to peer behind the log and slight hill. The other people must not have seen anything, they loaded into their car and drove off. I was alone. I sat still; every sense alert. Time passed and I began to worry that they had slunk past me or that I'd imagine the slight glimpse I had., but I held my place and patience. I felt strangely certain I'd see them. That I had found the right place.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a bison moving my way walking up the road. Occasionally a car drove by. I wonder what they thought of the small woman standing beside the road, gazing intently into the woods and oblivious to the large bison moving closer. I began to realize I would probably have to give way to the bison soon when there was movement in the woods. I didn't see the first wolf emerge, he was simply there. There was nothing frightening about him. He was looking away from me. Then another wolf moved from behind the log. She was so close and for a moment we looked at each other. (She was 40ft/13m away at the very most). She was white and had a collar. They both seemed... Uncertain and I felt a bit guilty about causing them stress. She stood on the log, I finally remembered my camera, but the movement sent her back behind the log. As I listened to the film rewind I knew I wouldn't get anymore pictures. I didn't mind, I was watching wolves in the wild. The bison was now very close, clomping down the road. I wanted to hold my ground, but common sense was asserting itself. Cars began to stop and at first I thought they were watching the wolf, but of course it was the bison blocking the road. The area began to fill up quickly and the wolves slipped back down out of sight. I knew they weren't coming out until traffic cleared. I decided to move on, in part, because I wanted to keep their secret. No one else knew they were there.

I drove down the road to the next clearing. There were people once again watching for wolves. There was a ranger who studies the wolves. She explained that they were trying to cross the road and they would hunt on the other side. The white wolf I saw, so close, was the alpha female. They mostly hunted elk but they had taken baby bison. Others in the group of watchers had already seen them hunt. They had chased elk, that fled into the river. The ranger said that was typical prey strategy. The elk can stand in the water while the wolves are forced to swim.

I desperately need to go to the bathroom and poor Coal was in the car. I went back to the car and let Coal out briefly. He suddenly seemed so small and the size of the wolves finally struck me. They weren't heavy, just long in the body and legs. I told Coal he'd easily been eaten. He didn't seem to care. My need to urinate was now getting desperate. I loaded us into the car, but instead of heading towards bathrooms and home I drove past the people still watching for wolves! Suddenly I decided my bladder wasn't that full. I got out and watched. I finally saw all three and once again they moved with efficiently and gracefully, intent on their goal.

A few days ago a visiting couple walked right up to the Hayden packs natal den site causing quite a bit of stress with the adults and pups. According to the couple, who reported their encounter, the two alpha's along with the two yearlings circled the pups and den site, barking and acting protective, and that the pack had 5 pups. Please honor area closures and pay special attention to closure signs! At this time it is unknown what actions the park service will take towards the couple for violating the entrance, and invasion into a closure area.
6/14/06 Field report

Some of what I've read about the wolves since my return saddens and worries me. I know much more about the Hayden Pack. I feel especially honored to have shared my quiet moments with the wolves. I saw no signs of the "fearless behavior" rumored for this pack. I hope I didn't cause them too much stress. The wolves are the bad guys in most stories, but these real life wolves must face one of the scariest monsters of all - human beings. Yet, it is humans who brought thew wolves back to Yellowstone. I am glad and I wish "my" wolves luck.


Blogger Eliza said...

So incredible--your story gave me chills. What an amazing experience to be able to see them in the wild. I never have. I did have some wonderful early mornings at Woodland Park Zoo watching them though. A friend was doing some studying on bears for her college zoology class & I got to tag along & tour the zoo in the early hours when the wolves are out. :)
I also enjoyed reading the article about the possible reintroduction of wolves to ONP. It was sad to read that they would be classified as "experimental & non-essential" & could be killed if found hunting livestock (it's the food chain!). I was encouraged by the non-profit, Defenders of Wildlife, & that they would seek to compensate the livestock owners, rather than having the offending wolf killed.
I hope wolves are reintroduced to ONP. It would be so amazing to hear their howls while camping on the peninsula!
I have a favorite wolf quote, but on the possibility I misquote it, I'll wait until I get home & can look it up.

P.S. I love the image of you contemplating standing your ground while a two ton bison comes rambling down the road towards you.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Herman said...

:) Ooo... we definitely have to talk more about wolves and zoos.

I think it would be marvelous if there were wolves in Olympic, it will be an uphill battle.

I want to hear your wolf quote!

I wanted to be mad at the bison for intruding but that was ridiculous. I did realize that standing my ground was ridiculous too. I kept trying to convince myself he was just passing by and not interested in me, but...well... he's rather big.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Eliza said...

"More than any other species, wolves have borne our ambigious feelings about nature and ourselves."
-Peter J. Mcleod

"Wolves inhabit a secret world, to which people can gain at best partial entrance."
-Art Wolfe

"Wolves have a right to peace."
-Thomas Kitchin

"Encountered face to face, wolves are very different than many of us have supposed. Intelligence, friendliness, and curiosity are amongst the species' foremost qualities."
-Michael Ederegger

And my favorite...

"Wolves are keepers of the wild. We have a right to their company."
-Heather Parr Fentress

10:38 PM  
Blogger Herman said...

"Encountered face to face, wolves are very different than many of us have supposed. Intelligence, friendliness, and curiosity are amongst the species' foremost qualities."
-Michael Ederegger

Ooooh, yes that's how it seemed to me.

10:53 AM  

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