Wednesday morning I was up and out the door early, just after 6 am. The sky to the east was that pre-dawn bluey-green hue and as soon as I shut the house door I noticed the crisp winter air was filled with howling.
There are a few wolf packs in the area where I live and one close by that is very active. This time of year they are mating and people have spotted scat, tracks and kill sites from their hunts all over the ski trail.
All the same, I hadn’t heard wolves all winter which I found quite distressing. Last winter I could hear them nearly once a week when simply out with my dogs for their last pee in the backyard before bedtime. I associate howling with night time and star-lit skies.
It made that morning howl special, as if hearing a long-lost friend calling out from the woods. I wanted to sing back encouragement, “Here! I’m over herrrrrrrrrrre. Yes, I can hear you. You’re getting close.”
Their morning song was also quite different to my ear than the night sounds I’ve heard them make in the past. I’ve heard wolves hunting- the thrash of elk hooves stampeding across the golf course followed by various wolf calls as the pack communicated with one another during the pursuit until the dying wails of an elk pierced the night air followed by the celebratory kill howl of the pack that wrapped up the event.
That chilled me. Would the wolves go hungry or would a frightened elk meet its end? The hunt was as awful as it was natural and necessary and I felt compelled to witness its outcome standing alone in the dark of my yard.
You can’t measure nature in win-loss scores. Nature stands alone and it is unfair to attach any sort of good vs. evil or concepts of fairness and justice to the unfolding of a natural world. There is suffering. As humans, especially in “developed” countries, we don’t accept suffering as a natural state in our lives. We fight its every uncomfortable instance with medications, alcohol, therapy, denial … but in the wilderness, well…
I can remember thinking of the elk, “Oh please just die now. Let it be quick. Just go.” And then the wolves howled their success to the moon and at least on that one night their bellies were full and their pups offered a further chance at survival. And I just hoped it had been a bull elk and not a cow leaving a calf orphaned.
The morning song I heard this week was soulful; completely different than the hunt. Like long drawn out stretching and yawning. “Good morrrrrrrrning. Good morrrrrrrrrrrning,” they seemed to be greeting one another and the world gently. Perhaps like most of us they were not quite ready to wake and move on from their warm nesting spots of the night before and into the cold winter day full of activity and chores.
I stood in the yard and closed my eyes and let the sound fill me up. When they had fallen silent again, I hopped in my vehicle and hit the highway feeling incredibly fortunate that this is where I get to live and that hearing wolves calling is a gift I can count on with some regularity.