Wolves live in the quiet places of the world. They exist with the moose, the elk, the cougar, the bear and other creatures that likewise require terrain that is vast and clean and silent. Our reality is so removed from theirs. Most of us live surrounded by cars, concrete, screens, flushing toilets and other dubious gifts of our evolved state.
Time outs from modern life are essential. Yesterday, I drove up the long, twisting Greensprings Highway from Ashland until I reached the junction of Siskiyou and Klamath Counties. This is now wolf country and if I don’t get up here at least a couple times a month I find my energy wilting, like a deprived plant in a dark room. I get out of my car at the Parker Mountain Road and begin my hike. I’ve come here in all seasons. The dirt road is rarely used and in the winter it is closed. That is the time I enjoy most, when no one is around and tracks and scat from resident mammals abound in the snow and the mud.
Journey and his new mate, the mysterious black female, are said to be in this area. I’m not looking for them but I do like being in their vicinity. When Journey left northeast Oregon in the fall of 2011 I was driving down from a visit to his home grounds at the same time. I envisioned him on the way, trotting parallel to my vehicle though the John Day Wilderness area, the Ochoco Mountains, and south, into the Cascades. When he entered northern California I followed him, staying in the periphery of where the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said he’d been. And when he settled into this part of the Southern Oregon, only a few miles from my home, I spent as much time here as I could. Last winter I rented a house at nearby Hyatt Lake and imagined hearing his howl as I stood on my porch. Since his exodus from Wallowa County I’ve seen his tracks on the outskirts of Crater Lake and perhaps caught a glimpse of him outside of Butte Falls, where his first photo was taken. What I saw was a large grey canine loping across a field with the leg bone of an ungulate in its mouth. I’ll never know if it was him, the sighting was too brief, but I was thrilled to know the possibility existed.
Searching for Journey is not my purpose. I want nothing from him. And his privacy is something he deserves and desperately needs, especially now that he may have pups. Yet I am drawn here, as many of us are, wanting and needing to spend time in the world where he exists, to tread on ground that is still natural enough to host an animal as wild as the wolf. That is enough. To simply be in this environment, one that is as integral to humans as it is to animals, despite how detached from it we’ve become. Perhaps our efforts to save the wolf are not only because we love wolves, but because we realize, consciously or not, that they are determiners of the survival of a truly natural world. Canaries in the coal mine. If they perish, we know our future is bleak as well.
My hike meanders across trails and roads, though stands of Ponderosa pine interspersed with Manzanita and scrub oak. The ground is dry and hard. There are few tracks to be seen. The wind moves through the trees, cooling the air of this warm spring day. I sit on the trunk of a fallen tree and take in the earth’s scent, made richer by the afternoon humidity. There are wolves near here, their presence affects my awareness, sharpens it, gifting me with a fleeting but powerful sense of elements and instincts that lie buried deep, nearly out of touch but still there. Gratitude is not so much a feeling as it is a natural state of being here, away for a time, from the noise and pressure that is inherent to life in our human world. I stretch the day out for as long as I can.
I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news. John Muir