It’s Friday morning, and I am heading out on another search for Journey. He spent two months in California earlier this year, returned to Oregon in March, then trotted south over the border again. Now he’s back in Oregon and I’m glad. At least we have wolves here, 29 at last count. And folks here love him. He is our wolf, after all.
As I pack a bag, not sure where I’ll stay but feeling a need to be away for a few days, I ask myself why all this fuss over one wolf. I could take a trip to Yellowstone and have a more than average chance of spotting wolves. I could return to Northeast Oregon and go wolf-trekking again. The female of the Imnaha pack, and perhaps the Wenaha pack as well, would be close to giving birth now, if in fact they will this year. Their secrecy at this vulnerable time would lessen my chances of seeing wolves, but at least I would be in their midst for this important event.
But Journey draws me, as his travels intrigue millions of others throughout the world.
I drive east on Dead Indian Road, wondering for the umpteenth time how it got that name. It’s quiet in the car. The land is flat and sparse here, I could see Journey if he were around. But my chances are of spotting him are slim. In the two-thousand miles he’s traveled he has eluded everyone, except for perhaps two individuals. And he’s only posed for one photo and that was by a remote trail camera, not one held by a human. My searches for Journey are more than the expectation of seeing him, I look for him because he is alone, and I’m feeling that way too. With my three kids grown and doing well on their own my house is now empty. And with the recent demise of a three-year relationship that I had believed had turned the corner into becoming a lasting one, I feel a little like a lone wolf myself. There is something about us loners, we want to be alone but yet we don’t, we’re always searching for understanding.
Journey could be anywhere. He may have trotted back to California. He could be in Nevada; he was only fifteen miles from that state earlier in the year. Or he could be in that grove of trees about a quarter of a mile from the road, a place I can’t get to unless I go through a barbed wire fence and trespass. As I drive I realize how careful I am, studying the road ahead of me, thinking how awful it would be if he jumped in front of my car. I worry about him in other ways too. Trapping season is over but Wildlife Services traps year around, in their dubious duty of managing wildlife. They go after beaver that clog culverts, coyotes that are deemed to be overpopulating, and black bears that eat trees. Journey could easily be caught in a trap, and what a tragic ending to his legacy that would be.
I feel protective of Journey, as I did with my kids when they were young (and still do, but don’t tell them). While a wolf in the company of other wolves, in an environment where they are not maligned, can certainly hold his own, Journey is as vulnerable as I feel, driving down Dead Indian wondering what the next phase of my life will bring. We need each other, Journey and I, although there is little truth in this. My ability to protect him is nil, nothing compared to the inspiration he provides for me and others, how he shows us the courage to forge his own trail, go where he desires, and be happy (or not) completely on his own.