Two of the best outings from my Alaska trip were the evenings the other three in our party decided to stay in after dinner and I was able to go out alone with either of the two guides. Enjoying the company of the other three guests and wandering through this wilderness was already more than I could have hoped for but now just down to the two of us it was beyond enjoyable. The conversations turned a little more intimate and the experiences a little wilder. Jerry and I were watching a coastal gray wolf fishing for salmon from about 75 yards away. He came up with his catch on the first try,
passed directly in front of us,
and slipped into some high grass to consume the head of the fish.
After finishing his meal he wandered off out of sight.
About a half hour later we spotted that same wolf making his way across the river bed parallel to us.
As we stood and watched, he made a left turn and headed directly towards us. I fired off a few quick shots as he approached and then lowered my camera as I realized he didn’t seem to be stopping. Here’s Teo Alfero’s description, the founder of Wolf Connection, the California sanctuary for captive, rescued wolves and wolf-dogs.
“The approach of a wolf-subtle, almost in slow motion, confident and decisive, seeking a connection on her or his own terms-can stretch time, open the heart, and awaken the soul. Wolves have a heart-centered, awe-inspiring presence that is unforgettable and impactful beyond language. An encounter like this can awaken a dormant, primal memory within us, an echo from a distant time when we were more alert, connected to nature, awake, and alive.”
We watched as he came to a halt a mere 15 feet away. A beautiful animal, all white with glowing, yellowish-green eyes, his head clearly taller than my belt line. Jerry had a flare gun that he kept on his belt but it was only to be used in extreme situations and he had yet to test it’s effectiveness on wolves. So we both stood there, holding walking sticks, and wondering what the wolf’s next move would be. I remember a feeling of detachment from my body at this point. Not in any sort of a mystical way, just as if it wasn’t really me standing there. As if I were looking down from above at this strange triangle; an inquisitive wolf, a guide who admittedly had limited experience with wolves, and an old man who had never felt so far removed from his home. I had no frame of reference for this type of experience and the fact that we were so alone with this unpredictable animal and with barely any protection left me feeling exposed and more than a little nervous, but oddly enough, not really afraid or threatened. In fact, I had this overwhelming urge to reach out, to offer a hand as you would a dog. There was a pull of familiarity, a kinship of sorts. But the confidence of this animal was no doubt alarming and intimidating and I began to feel confused, helpless. It was as if he knew he was in charge of the situation. He was calling the shots and we would only be allowed to walk away when he was ready to let us walk away.
The night before, Lance had shown me a self shot video he had on his phone of a wolf that caught up to him in the meadow when he was out alone one evening. For about 15 minutes the wolf just circled, not letting him pass. Yelling, waving his coat, he tried everything to disperse the wolf but the animal just seemed to be toying with him, staying just a few steps away and blocking his path when he made a move to escape. He had radioed in to Jerry, who was out guiding, that he was in some distress, and it wasn’t until Jerry showed up with the others in his group that the wolf finally relented.
Words can’t describe what it feels like to be staring down an animal that you know could take you down in a second and his blank, unflinching gaze only added to the uneasiness. If a dog approaches you, they’ll usually give away their intentions by their body language. It’s usually pretty easy to tell if you’re going to get bit or licked. But this wolf was giving away nothing. He obviously wasn’t afraid of us. But how does one determine a course of action with an animal that just stands and stares ? So now Jerry huddled up alongside of me and instructed me to stay close. Much better to appear larger. The wolf just stared, motionless, except for a very slight tip of the head from side to side. At this point, I could see Jerry was clearly uncomfortable. he was speaking to the wolf now, “you need to leave.” Over and over again, never out of control, but always a little more forceful, “you need to LEAVE.” Not so much as a flinch from the wolf. It was as if he were studying us, trying to figure out what we would do next. And after about 5 minutes of this, which seemed like an hour, The wolf simply turned and wandered off, seemingly unfazed by the encounter.
There’s a term called Anthropomorphism, ascribing human traits, ambitions, emotions, or entire behaviors to animals. It just helps us to simplify and make more sense of complicated entities. Silly as it sounds, I couldn’t stop replaying that encounter over and over in my head, and even almost 3 years later, I still have the lingering feeling this wild animal, which has played a key role in human evolution, and has lived in association with man for so long, may have been yearning for a connection just as strongly as I was.
” I think it’s remarkable how wolves and humans ended up living on the planet in the same blip of time, preferring the same types of prey, the same types of places to live. And in the end, we got dogs out of it. I think there are no two closer species on the whole planet. The wolf stands apart from all other animals in human consciousness, and perhaps in this we may detect a deeply felt knowledge of our ancient kinship. This ancestral memory, whether we are conscious of it or not, lives on in us”.
Kira Cassidy-Yellowstone Wolf biologist