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 dont 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 everyones 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
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, youre 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, "Theres
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
nights 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 dont 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 nights 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.
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
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
Wolf family is well.
Sweet dreams little Druids.
By Barbara O'Grady