Wolves & the Reality Check
Most people think that wolves are cute, cuddly and powerful symbols of mother nature. Most peoples experience of wolves is summed up by movies like Dances with Wolves and Never Cry Wolf. Perhaps they’ve been to a howling park and communed with wolves from the safety of a trail head with a pack of curious humans surrounding them.
My first encounter with Red Wolves (Canis rufus) was sometime between 2011 and December 2012. I had taken a long walk, perhaps between 3-4 miles back into the uninhabited woodlands on the outskirts of North Raleigh, North Carolina. The Red Wolves were being reintroduced into the wild by a gang of government funded politically correct mean wells, whose chief’s license plate read SEAWOLF. Fortunately the reintroduction project has been disbanded (thank you TEAM).
The funniest thing about the reintroduction project was that while it kept the public updated and used the media to keep the surrounding farmers running for cover – it always published the same information “about 100 Red wolves have been released.” It said this in 2009, 2010, 2011…. Right through closing… They never disclosed the actual numbers – it was as though they released 100 and then nothing for 5 years.
A Red Wolf (probably much like it’s fellow Grey Wolf) has a hundred mile range that it will travel to place distance between itself and another pair of wolves. Red wolves work in pairs with their nearest neighbors being ear shot away incase additional “support” is necessary.
Any hows… There I was some two miles back in a woods that is otherwise safe but for a few snakes. I had seated myself on a fallen log overlooking an all but dry river bed with dramatic 8-12 cliff like edges. As I sat there sipping a glass of a respectable vintage and pondering the completion of a book I’ve no small interest in publishing – a sharp but slight sound emerged across the gulch and slightly to my right. In recollection it was made from the same vocal cords that emit that howl which is respectively earmarked for a wolf. A sound which means so many things of butterflies and bliss until you hear it alone in the woods and you know it’s about a menu selection…. No one can tell you these things – it’s something you know.
Moments later the sound which was at once a high pitch and yet a sly sound – so unlike another sound that you’d guess you hadn’t heard it – but for another matching sound in response to the first. Minutes before these two ‘calls of the wild’ were heard I’d had that little warning voice in my head… ‘You should go now… It’s time to head back, why you could work on your book right now…’ But I’d decided to dilly dally and ignore the voice of concerned warning. It seemed like un-necessary pressure and anyway what could happen out here??
Within second of the second call my hair was up on the back of my neck and I’d already judged that it was a trianglization call out. Basically, that means one wolf was saying to the other ‘do you see what I see???’ A human alone in the woods is fair game if they ‘never come here’ – heck who would miss’m?
I got to my feet, internal calculator whirring – “Don’t run!” ran the internal log on what to do when in the presence of a predator such as a wolf or bear. I walked with reasonable swiftness some 20 yards. I didn’t look back but glanced from side to side. Images of wolves flanking me sprang to mind as a lurched for a decent stick with which to “walk” (defend). Seconds felt like minutes as I recalculated the situation. I wanted as much distance between myself and that pair as possible – but to run? I decided a jog was only reasonable, anything less was giving them time to consider a stalking… I jogged and up a ridge and down a valley I went. Finally some time later I found the bob-wire fence that edged the forest, still some miles from civilization but “human” territory never the less (it’s about confidence and it comes in small things like a pasture sometimes).
As I stepped over the fence I got that silly feeling like ‘what a foolish thing to have thought, it might have only been the shadows of the forest… Perhaps an owl?’ Then, there on the ground not six feet away was the head of an adult deer. Antlers gone skull massively decayed. Not by sun or age but you gnawing… Nearly every square inch of that skull had deep canine bite marks in it. I picked it up, I photographed it and I looked in wonder at the woods from which I’d emerged.
I felt safe, the “game” was over – whatever those wolves thought it was, it was over – I’d escaped. I headed back over the fields and reached another boundary marker. This one lead out of the farmer’s field and onto the 2 mile loop trail that went back to my Audubon sanctioned community (a new concept in North Carolina). I crossed the gate and onto the main track, a silence fell. A quiet unlike any other quiet you will (ever) hear in the woods. Deep thick dead silence – the kind that you notice because you’ve never heard it before. I noticed it and held my walking stick with the awareness of a weapon. I paused to consider this meaning – the meaning of no sound. A moment passed and then a tiny chickadee sounded in the brush – a spiritual tension had broken and I knew it meant I was safe. I stepped out toward freedom and had not gone but a few paces when I heard the sound of fierce fighting between the pair. In my mind a simple explanation played out without request or explanation. ‘You fool said the male wolf’s emotion – you’ve exposed us to a human! Coward said the female, you could have had him!’
I walked on, thankful for the little things like the black capped chickadee (the soldiers bird) and emerged with a totally renewed sense of the dangers of the woods alone. It would not be my last encounter with these two…