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I am standing on a snowy hillside at twilight. The Druids are all around me, so close I could reach out and touch them. They look at me but don’t seem to mind that I am there. Snowflakes whisper by me. The wolves move off, looking back at me as if to invite me along.

A storm begins to shout, angry and intense. I am cold, scared, paralyzed. They disappear from view. A comforting voice surrounds me. "You walk on hallowed ground. There are lessons for you in this valley that will make your journey more meaningful. Listen and learn." As the storm subsides, soft moonshadows reveal the wolves’ new position. Dusted with snowflakes catching silent rays, they have an ethereal look. I stand motionless, embraced in a dreamscape where time has stopped.

My dream is pierced by the sound of my alarm. It is 4:30 AM, time to pull on polartec and Gore-Tex and venture out into the valley. I have a vague awareness of my dream. A Druid dream. It is springtime in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone. Stubborn vapor clouds cling to the open waters of the river. The moon prepares to nestle down behind the western horizon, washing the sky in steel blue. I scramble up a hillside, scope in hand. My boots are wet with frosted dewdrops dislodged from blades of new grass. Cold finds me easily. I am not the first to climb the hill this morning. There are others poised, waiting. The faces are familiar, but we know little about each other. "Anything yet?" I ask my hillside neighbor. There is an etiquette among us. We speak softly and share information. He shakes his head ‘no’ and offers that Numbers 105 and 106 are at the densite. We saw 106 last night, but she was too shy to cross the road with the hordes of wolfwatchers that had assembled. The saddleback yearling returned to the densite during the night, but 21 and 42 are in the valley. We wait.

This family of wolves, the Druid Peak pack, are well know to those of us who have watched them since their reintroduction. It has been a soap opera of life played out for us. This year, to everyone’s surprise, watcher and researcher alike, Number 21, the alpha male, bred with all 5 of the females, producing at least 3 litters of pups. The current pup count is at 16, with rumor that it could go as high as 21. Unheard of! I suspect 105 and 106 were happy to see the saddleback yearling return to help them keep the pups corralled. I imagine ears and tails bouncing and tumbling.

We wait some more. I scan the valley as the morning sunlight begins to illuminate nooks and crannies. A group of pronghorn entertain us. Two babies are engaged in an exuberant dance. They bolt through the grass together. Tag, you’re it. One tumbles. We chuckle. A grizzly emerges from cover and lumbers along the high bench across the valley. Morning has broken in the Lamar.

Someone announces, "There’s your wolf!" In a synchronized movement, all lenses turn up valley. It is Number 42, the new alpha female. On her heels comes Number 21, son of the venerable Number 9. He is a striking black wolf. Their bellies are swollen. They have eaten their fill and carry the night’s kill back to the pups.

A small group of elk graze in the path of this pair who seem to say with each step, "Make way, we own this valley." The cows raise their heads as if having heard this declaration. One is especially agitated. She prances frantically asking for help from her companions. She has a newborn calf hidden in the grass. Her only defense is to distract this intimidating couple and hope they don’t walk near her baby. Newborn elk calves are vulnerable for several days after birth. It takes them a while to get on their feet and travel with their mother. They have no scent during this time and a mother will drop her calf in the tall grass, hoping no predator happens upon it. The other cows will sometimes help her distract predators, but not this morning. The others have calves of their own. This mother knows she has a problem. She raises her head high and makes a bold attempt to distract them herself. She does not succeed. Number 21 swiftly puts an end to her night’s labor. The newborn calf is cut in half by powerful jaws, their bone crushing strength wasted on such a tiny meal. There are hungry pups to feed.

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Each wolf gathers up a piece of this new life, tiny hooves dangling from wolf jaws. They ignore this grieving mother and are on their way. I am sickened – betrayed - crushed by these noble creatures whom I respect and revere. Mother elk paces back and forth along the horizon. She has carried this calf through a Wyoming winter. She nuzzled him just this morning when she welcomed him into the valley. I want to throw my arms around her neck and tell her that I am a mother, too, and I know this feeling.

As dusk creeps into the valley from the east, I return to the hillside hoping to hear the Druids announce their evening plans. My mood turns somber. Mother elk remains, still pacing, maybe hoping that her baby will return. A family of sand hill cranes intrudes on the scene announcing their curfew with a prehistoric cacophony. Impatient, I want to hush them. I catch a brief glimpse of parents and colt in silhouette as they pass a cloud backlit by the last rosy rays to anoint the valley.

Night silence screams in my ears but I hear a voice deep within me. I know this voice. I heard it in a dream. "Brother wolf has taught you a lesson. Did you listen? Remember that you walk on hallowed ground. Here there is no right or wrong, no good or bad. In this wild place, it just is."

A low, melodious note reaches across the valley. It tumbles down the scale and ends. The message repeats joined in descant by a higher voice. The chorus ends peacefully bouncing off river and rock. Then, as if to sing a eulogy to this fallen child, a chorus of pup voices answers all over the scale in excited accord.

Wolf family is well. Sweet dreams little Druids.

wolfface.jpg (2093 bytes)    By Barbara O'Grady

 

 

 

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