The Cove is a cozy, old-fashioned café at Hyatt Lake twenty miles east of Ashland. The lake is snow covered now, as is the heavily treed world around it. I’m snowshoeing on the south side of the lake, hoping to catch sight of tracks. I see lots of them, rabbit, a coyote that appears to be tracking the rabbit, large ungulate prints, but I see no sign of Journey, otherwise known as Oregon 7.
He was near here for at least a week, the Mail Tribune reported on March 16, the day I left for Portland. If I hadn’t had such wonderful people anticipating my visit to Portland I would have cancelled my plans and stayed in Southern Oregon and spent the weekend searching for Journey.
Journey may be miles away by now, but if I were him, I’d stay in these parts, deep within the Cascade range and at the northern tip of the Cascades-Siskiyou Monument. This time of year it’s quiet, the redwood sided, green tile roofed cabins behind the café are empty, closed for the winter. Before stopping at The Cove, I’d driven to the marina and saw no one except for a man with Hawaii license plates taking photos of the snow.
Bill, my server, tells me that last week a woman saw Journey at Little Hyatt Lake. This is one of my favorite spots and if I had better tires I’d venture down there now. It’s a twenty-minute drive down a narrow, deeply rutted, no doubt snow-covered road. Bill turns out to be the kind of person I love to talk wolves with. He says that wolves are incredibly shy and that people’s fears of them are senseless. He saw a wolf four years ago on the far side of Table Mountain, across the lake from here, and he could be right, although I tend to doubt these wolf sightings. But he also describes a wolf sighting in Northern Idaho a few years back so he knows what wolves look like.
Three men are at a nearby table drinking beer. They overhear my conversation with Bill and began talking wolves themselves. I wait a minute to hear how their talk with go. I tend to expect these Carhartt wearing types to be rabidly anti-wolf, like so many of the men I’ve heard in cafes in Northeastern Oregon and elsewhere. But these guys surprise me, they speak of wolves in a curious, approving tone. I end up showing them my picture of Journey’s footprint that I took near Crater Lake a few months before, and we talked for a while about wolves and about trapping.
One of them, an elderly man with a gray beard, used to trap. He tells me that most of the trappers around here, including the state trapper (ie Wildlife Serves) are after beaver because the beaver tend to clog up culverts and eat the peach trees in the orchards. One of the men says he likes having beaver in his ponds because they eat all the spirulina out of the pond, then move on and return in five or so years when the spirulina has returned. Must be healthy beavers. When I ask where the traps are located around here they say no one seems to be trapping much in this area but they are on the other side of the Greensprings. The elderly man tells me that the man who owns Napa Auto Parts in Ashland is a big trapper but he won’t tell anyone where his traps are set. So these secrets are kept between trappers, not just from the rest of us.
The ODFW website reveals that in 2011 there were 18 registered trappers in Jackson County and they harvested over 500 fur-bearing animals. The traps are out there and no trapper, even a “responsible” one has the ability to determine what gets caught in their traps and what doesn’t. Beaver may be the target but dogs, cats and a wandering gray wolf could very well end up being caught.
I eat my Marionberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream, look out the window, and watch the needles of the Ponderosa pines stir with the low wind. The snow is melting. Soon this place will come alive with people recreating, fishing, staying in the cabins, boating. My wolf-friendly server believes that the Pacific Crest trail, accessed a hundred yards from The Cove, is a highway for wolves as well as people. I envision wolves skirting the eyesight of through-hikers, both entities working their way north or south, doing the hard work of surviving in the rugged world, leaving each other alone. I hope Bill’s right about this and I send golden light to Journey, hoping that the legacy of our celebrity wolf doesn’t end in a trap.