The captivating female voice beckons: "
beyond your dreams - within your reach" as scenes of the state's
majestic beauty play across the screen.
It's done so well you hardly recognize it as a commercial for the Alaska Alaska
tourism industry. I figure it's pretty
effective because I was living there twenty years ago, and every time I see it
I want to pack my bags.
Without a doubt my urge to return is also fueled by the rapid descent into madness we see all around us; much as it was when I originally moved there in 1975. Back then - still reeling from my
experience, the last place I wanted to be was in some big city; so I migrated
north to seek my future in the remote wilderness of Alaska.
My life has been sprinkled with adventure: sometimes it was something I sought out, other times just the opposite. Living in the remote Alaskan wilderness was the former kind. Having wolves living with me as equals, not so much.
Every good story begins somewhere; and this one goes all the way back to the summer of 1963, just after my 14th birthday. For a month every summer my family traveled back home to northern
for vacation. Near the small town of
there is a sizable puddle of water known as Laona nestled like a
jewel amid the lush forest. The family
owned a lodge size cabin on the north shore, and this was where I spent those
summer vacations, the place my parents grew up.
Every year my grandfather, dad &
uncle would take off into the woods to go trout fishing at a place known only as
secret lake. Every year I'd beg
them to let me tag along...every year they said no. Birch
From years of paying close attention whenever they spoke of secret lake, I'd acquired a rough sense of what direction to travel in to find it. It wasn't on any maps to be found, I suppose that was why it was a secret, but I was determined to find it on my own. I had more time and experience in the forest than most boy scouts, and every summer I made a point to explore deeper and deeper into the woods surrounding the cabin. After so many summers of being denied...I was determined to see secret lake this year, and prove something to my dad.
I'd planned everything out in detail; it wasn't at all unusual for me to take off into the woods with my dog, so nobody thought a thing of it when we struck out for secret lake late one morning; without saying a word to anyone. Nobody would worry, they all knew I was good in the woods, and had Ginger for company & protection from bears. With map, compass and the confidence of youth we were off seeking adventure, and respect.
A little after mid-day we were well beyond the deepest point I'd ever hiked to, using the map and little things overheard in conversation to guide me to my goal. I remember marking my back trail, and trying to memorize the new terrain features as they appeared.
The forestry service map showed a small bowl like depression between some higher ridges about five miles from the cabin, and I'd be there in less than an hour. Like untethered free spirits, Ginger and I scampered up and down the ridges as if we'd been born to the woods and never seen a city. An hour or so later as we crested another ridge it was right there, secret lake!
I stood there catching my breath and sizing up what I was seeing. Considerably smaller than Birch lake, but still large enough to support trout and such, the lake was perhaps half a mile wide and maybe a mile long, kinda boomerang shaped. On the south shore was an old hunters shack, with a aging aluminum canoe leaning up against it. I took some pictures from the ridge before we made our way down to the lake.
The hunters shack was in fairly decent shape, and was fairly well stocked with the basic essentials, and a half full bottle of scotch. So, this was where the men would come to escape the women & kids for three days each summer, now I understood why they never brought me along. Ginger & I explored the area around the lake for a while, made acquaintance with a family of beavers, and took a lot of pictures. Long story short, I lost track of the time, and by the time I realized this, there wasn't enough daylight left to get back home. I'd be spending the night at secret lake. No problem. Caught some fresh fish for dinner, carved my initials and the date into the surface of the rough-hewed kitchen table, and turned in for a long night.
Little beams of sunlight showing thru small holes in the roof awakened me the next morning, and along with other morning urges came the knowledge that I was "missing" from home and they would by now be looking for me. I went to open the door and have my first look at the new day, when Ginger went on alert, letting out a small growl. Something was just outside. I opened the door very slowly, there was a morning fog mist floating over the little lake giving things an eerie feel; then I saw them, a string of seven timber wolves following the shoreline, looking for breakfast.
You know that weird, tingly sensation you get when having a peak experience? That's what I was feeling as I watched these magnificent creatures go about their morning. As they neared the shack I could see them noticing us with little or no real interest, or fear. Ginger stood her ground, yet wisely decided that more growling wasn't called for. As for me, well, I just stood there with my jaw agape and no doubt a stupefied look on my face. I thought of my camera, but getting it would mean loosing sight of the wolves, what I really wanted to do was get closer to them...my only fear was that nobody would believe me when I told them!
Too many undesirable variables involved with trying to get closer to these wolves, so I gladly accepted the rare privilege of being allowed to just watch them. The wolfpack calmly made their way along the lakeshore, looking very much like ghosts in the morning fog. Somewhere beyond the shack they departed the lake and disappeared into the woods. They were five minutes gone before I snapped out of my reverie and returned to the present moment. About half way home Ginger and I encountered my uncle Webb...who was following my tracks & back trail markers. Safely back home there was less music to face than expected; I got a sound verbal recrimination for causing so many to worry, but that was it. The fact that I found my way to secret lake on my own, and back, might have impressed my dad and granddad but if so they never once showed it, and in the end I was right, nobody believed me about the wolves; but that didn't matter at all...I was hooked.
From that moment on I knew that the life I wanted was living in the wilderness, being that close to nature, having that kind of experience. After surviving adolescence, high school,
and my own stupidity; fifteen years later I moved to the Alaskan wilderness
with my wife, and daughter, to finally make that dream real. We'd moved to Ketchikan
in 1976 with the goal of having a wilderness lifestyle; and knew that even
didn't meet our requirements, it made for a good jumping off point. It took some time for the cosmic wheels to
turn just right, and everything to fall into place, but they did. By the summer of '79' we had acquired a float
house, and contract to provide wilderness PR services for the Cape Fox
native corporation, up in .
The corporation provided a free tow to move our float house to Gem Cove, but due to shallow waters and gnarly rocks the tug refused to enter the cove; and we were on our own as far as getting safely inside, and moored. We had equipped ourselves with two serviceable boats; an older wood hull work boat, and a small 12 ft. skiff: so with mom and daughter pulling with the big boat and myself making course corrections with the skiff, we slipped neatly into the cove on the high tide. After the initial bustle of getting settled in, we all sat on the back deck together for a break. When we quit moving about making noise...the entire cove fell silent except for the faint sounds of pristine nature. As if to welcome us; a pair of bald eagles circled overhead, no doubt lamenting the decline of the neighborhood.
Two weeks prior I'd gone to the
animal smelter in hopes of adopting a
good dog to serve as an early warning system for our wilderness home. A kind faced, elderly matron named Pat
Wise ran the place, and informed me that they had but a single dog that fit
my needs, which she described as a scrawny three year old female German
shepherd. As we walked back to the
kennel it was explained that the dog in question was slated for destruction in
just a few days, good sales pitch, I thought.
When we arrived at the cage I was a bit surprised to be looking at a
scrawny three year old female coyote.
Now coyotes aren't native to southeast Alaska,
which may explain why they didn't know what they had. As I paid the adoption fees I discovered that
the person who surrendered her said her name was Kona...works for me,
and off we went. The day we arrived at
Gem cove it was hard to tell who was happiest, us, or the coyote.
We were all eager to explore our new environment, as soon as the tide receded from beneath the float house, and as it should be, Kona the coyote was first ashore. Off she went with her nose half an inch from the beach, searching for scent spore. She was staying close to the house so I turned to help my ladies off the float. Just as wife and daughter stepped ashore, Kona began barking an alert, just feet away. We saw she was barking at a pile of seaweed on the beach, so intent I couldn't call her away from it, so I picked up a piece of driftwood and went to investigate. What she'd found was one of what turned out to be several unmarked illegal bear traps. As soon as I sprung the first one with the stick, Kona set out to find another and then another, six in all. So it was that our very first day in the wilderness gifted us with an invaluable lesson: You just get the one mistake, so be mindful of your surroundings!
We were up early the following morning, not wanting to miss any more of our first full day in the cove. Mom was dressing the kid, while I filled my coffee cup and quietly stepped out on the back deck which afforded an awesome view of the entire cove. I could hear eagles off in the distance, and there was just a hint of misty morning fog here and there. As I was taking it all in with a feeling of accomplishment; movement on the far shore caught my eye. When I focused in on the movement I saw a tawny looking timber wolf, silently watching the house, and me. Just then a second wolf emerged from the woods and joined the first. In a flash, my mind went back to that morning at secret lake watching the ghost wolves in the morning mist. In that instant a kind of circuit completed itself, from the inception of a dream to the realization of it. I took it as a kind of hat tip from the universe, an omen. It was also a portent of things to come.
When we made Kona part of the family I fully realized that once in the wilderness, she might just leave us to live on her own, even though she'd been used to living with people; it could go either way. The cove, and the peninsula of land surrounding it was prime habitat for a wolf pack, and seeing the pair that morning was confirmation a pack had claimed it...we were water squatters and it remained to be seen just how the locals would react to us. That evening, after a full day of getting settled into our new home, as we were turning in for the night, a wolf howl pierced the night air some distance off; letting me know for certain that I was where I belonged.
Part One ~ The Hybrids
We didn't see or hear the wolves after that and figured they had moved on to patrol the rest of their immense territory. The next few weeks we continued the process of fine tuning our off grid lifestyle. You never run out of things to do, you just run out of daylight! Between harvesting and processing dead trees for firewood, hauling fresh water from the stream, hunting/fishing for food- and a hundred other little mundane things, the days go fast. It was midway thru such a day of multi-tasking when we realized that Kona was gone. Our calling and searching proved fruitless. When she was still missing three days later we had to embrace the inevitable, the coyote had made her choice.
Early one morning two weeks later Kona shows up on the back deck as if she'd only been gone an hour. She was not only uninjured, she was well fed and more robust than I'd ever seen her! I had figured that Kona had either been discovered and killed by the wolves, or had managed to thrive on her own. It also made sense that since wolves can take a couple weeks to cover their whole range, maybe Kona had just been playing in their back yard while they were elsewhere, and skulked home when the local pack returned. It made sense, but that's not what happened. As it turned out, Kona had not only been out running with the local pack, she was pregnant, & getting fatter every day. A month and a half later she gave birth to a litter of six wolf-coyote hybrid pups.
Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being godfather to my very own wolf pack; and as I watched Kona tending to her young; I had no way of knowing that I'd be living with wolves for the next thirty years.
Half of our enclosed back porch was converted into a serviceable wolf den for the new arrivals, most of which proved to be escape artists within a couple of weeks; so the entire porch became their domain for the next month. Soon enough the six cubs were old enough to begin exploring the world beyond the float house. At bed time the pups slept on the back porch, and every morning my daughter delighted in being awakened by six tiny wolves romping into her room & onto her bed.
Wolves and coyotes do sometimes crossbreed in the wild, and naturalists call their offspring coy-wolves, however we took to calling our little pack wolf-oytes, and the term stuck. Where wolves are large powerful and intelligent creatures who can run 35
MPH all day long, coyotes are smaller, faster
and in some ways smarter than wolves. As
I watched them grow week by week I couldn't help but wonder how the combined
traits and attributes would be blended in these wilderness hybrid wolves.
By the time the salmon run began that summer the pups were three months old and pretty much given the run of the whole place. There is perhaps no finer wilderness food than fresh salmon, and the creek 200 yards away was full of them. It was a real hoot watching Kona & her brood chasing salmon in the creek, and even more so the morning the wolves and I encountered a black bear working the creek. Before I could utter a sound they lit off like rockets towards the preoccupied bear. Catching sight of seven wolves running toward him put the bear in full retreat, with Kona nipping at his heels, showing her cubs how it is done. The bear made it to the tree line about the same time Kona responded to my whistling & yelling; breaking off the chase. As I was to later discover after seeing the same scene a few times that summer; was that the wolves only chase bears for sport. Whenever a bear would stop to fight, the wolves would simply sit down and wait for him to start running again.
We'd come to know several other off-gridders who lived as we did in other locations around Ketchikan; and most of them ended up adopting our wolf-oyte pups by the time they were six months old. Naturally the breeders pick of the litter already had a home for life with us. His name was Demon because what else would you name a creature which had all the best attributes of both species? In short order he'd shown over and again that he was smarter and faster than the rest of his litter mates, a natural born alpha male!
The following year; despite all my precautions to prevent it, Kona disappeared to run with the local pack again, with the exact same result as before, except this time only four pups were born. We eventually adopted out three of the pups, keeping one ourselves, a unique butterscotch/tan/brown female we named Nahanii. I suppose it was bound to happen, what with human nature being as it is, that I'd acquired the nickname Wolfman among the folks back in town.
Life in Gem cove was idyllic, and pristine. Even with the litany of daily chores to be done, there was still ample daylight to follow whatever other pursuits one might have. You learn to act in harmony with nature, to respect all life, and to know the meaning of gratitude. Having three full grown wolves as part of the family became normal, and a powerful bond grew between them, and me. Now, with wolves in your family, living among you as equals; although there is a strong bond it doesn't mean the wolves won't test their limits. I'll admit that I got a charge from eating my evening meal out in the boonies with wolves laying about like teenage children. Wolves are opportunistic eaters, meaning they eat whenever they can. The wolves saw me as the alpha male of the pack, and accordingly there were few real challenges to my authority, but now & then one of them would surprise me with unexpected behavior.
By the time Demon was almost a year old he was quite an impressive animal; about 75 pounds of cunning agility. One evening just as we were sitting down for diner my wife brought me a plate, then sat down with hers. My coffee cup was empty and without a second thought I got up to go refill it in the kitchen. Just as I began pouring, a loud commotion startled me and I spun around in time to see Demon, standing on hind legs at the dinner table, inhaling the food off my plate!
When your status as alpha is challenged in a wolfpack how you react determines whether or not you remain the alpha. If you hesitate, you've already lost. I was on him before he finished my dinner, since he was already standing up I grabbed him by his muscular neck, and took him down to the floor. All I had to do was stand over him and snarl as intimidating as I could. Instantly he lowered his head and displayed a behavior known as "licking intention" which is wolf body language for "You're the Boss!"
It always impressed me that with free range to go anywhere they wanted to, my wolves always came back home whenever they went out roaming. They could have just split to go live their own life any time they wanted to. That they never did, is testament to the strength of the bond between us. This bond has much to do with imprinting, which normally takes place between the wolf parents and cubs. With no daddy wolf present in our little pack, the newborns imprinted on me instead. I have found few things in this life as much fun as interacting with wolves, especially when they are in a playful mood.
I had this yearly tradition of asking my wife on our anniversary; if she wanted to renew the contract for another year. This always seemed to work well for us until the year she said no, and left abruptly with my daughter. Turned out that she had decided to pursue a more financially profitable lifestyle that didn't include wolves, or me. So it was that I spent that winter alone with three wolves in my little float house in Gem cove. I would probably still be living there today except the following spring the cape fox corporation declined to renew my contract. It was soon time for me to leave that place behind, and when I did, my three wolf-oytes came with me.
You'd think even in
with three wolves it would be hard to rent a house, and you'd be quite correct,
so I had to settle for buying a van style RV and living in campgrounds for a
while. To my surprise, the wolves
adapted to living in town rather quickly; which is not to say we didn't have
some damn hilarious moments the first time they saw so many humans. The divorce process wasn't pretty at all, and
the second time I was to have our daughter spend the day with me, my soon to be
ex-wife suggested that Kona spend the same time with her. In an act of compromise and against my better
judgment I agreed. At the end of the day
when the trade back was scheduled, Kona was missing...claimed to have "run
away." I never saw Kona again, but
several weeks later I was told by a friend my ex had given her to some guy in some
logging camp, out of spite. I eventually got over the betrayal, but the
loss of Kona is with me even now.
The following summer I was hired as a wilderness watchman by Ocean Beauty seafoods at their
facility out on Noyes
Island. At the interview they asked
me if I was the one with wolves who had worked for Steamboat
Bay ! It seemed my reputation had preceded me,
evidently the wolves and I had made a name for ourselves as security
contractors. Once again we were living
in the bush out in the quiet places. The
job was just for the summer, and every day the thought came around, whether or
not the wolves would be willing to return with me to civilization when the time
came, and that there wasn't a thing I could do about it if not. A hundred days later when the plane came to
fly me back to Cape
Fox Ketchikan, the bond
prevailed as Demon & Nahanii
jumped aboard the plane with me.
By the time the steamboat bay contract was done, I'd already decided that a future of this kind of work, while pleasing, wasn't what I desired. Once back in
we found a place to stay and I began looking for the next thing. We hadn't been back in town long before I was
contacted by Alaska fish &
game; the animal cops! All they said was they wanted to see me, so I
went to see them. I was braced for the
bureaucracy to make a play for the wolves, I feared they wanted to take them
away fro me. Stomach full of knots I
made the appointment, only to find they wanted to hire me as a full on
ranger! Not only was there a
"catch" to this offer, it was a doozy of a catch-22.
Turns out they had heard of my work as a wilderness security contractor and thought I had the right stuff to wear the badge. Seems they needed rangers to work the anti-poaching detail who could be at home living in the woods for extended periods. Just my thing, right up my alley. Until they said I'd have to get rid of my wolves because the agency had a strict policy of "no pets at work". I tried to explain that the wolves weren't pets but rather my companions and back-up. I went into great detail about how the keen senses of the wolves would give me a nice advantage over poachers, but in the end the bureaucracy wouldn't budge, so I had to decline the offer on account of the commitment previously made to the wolves.
A few years before, a bunch of us local
veterans had started a walk-in outreach center; and as it turned out I became
one of three counselors. I found the
work very rewarding as well as challenging and discovered some latent talent
for it. A few months later I was very
surprised to be asked to work for a civilian operated health co-op on Prince of Wales island, as
their new substance abuse counselor. I
soon discovered the difficulty in trying to merge my life with the wolves and
living a "normal" lifestyle.
It turned out to be feasible yet called for much compromise all the way
1983 brought with it yet another job offer, this time it was in
. Someone I'd met from another agency actually
resided in Washington State Washington; and upon
returning went to work for a corporate health care agency who was looking to
hire a counselor to work with returning veterans. Since the divorce; my ex had moved to a
different island community, and become adept at denying me visitation without
reprimand from child services, citing that I had wolves living with me after
My higher self kept telling me that the damage already done to my daughter would only become worse with two bickering parents locked in emotional bloodletting for her affections; and that I should take the offered job in
Washington. After much heart wrenching soul searching I
realized it was my life I had to pursue, no one else's, so with
bittersweet memories and hope for the future I accepted the job, to see if
there was such a thing as life after Alaska.
The wolves and I found life after
to be soul crushing and discouraging for the most part, and we all felt things
were out of balance. I opted for being
my own boss again, doing my own thing.
If renting a place was difficult in Alaska
because of the wolves; it was nearly impossible in the lower 48. It soon became apparent that honesty isn't
always the best policy with prospective landlords, so the wolf-oytes became a
shepherd & husky mix. It also became apparent that most folks in
the lower 48 wouldn't know a wolf if they saw one; after all, dog breeds are
just highly modified descendants of wolves.
As luck would have it, I found a job working maintenance for a sort of RV wilderness gated community north of
Seattle. So, we were back in the woods again, sort of,
but true wilderness it was not. The
wolves acclimated because that's what they do, and although they enjoyed being
in the woods they didn't understand why we had to be apart during the day, or
why they couldn't just roam free like always before.
They were giving up more of themselves just to be with me in the human world. It didn't feel right. Wolves are excellent companions, but terrible house pets. You simply don't cage such a spirit. To cage a wolf is to remove the very thing that makes him what he is.
After 18 months of pretending to fit in and trying to get a foothold back into the human world it finally dawned on me that it was a fools errand because I didn't really want to re-integrate into society. There was some restless energy in my soul telling me we had to be free, had to be in balance with nature. It wasn't telling me to return to what was, but rather to go forth from where we were. Now I understood why a few months previous; I'd bought a nice conversion van on impulse. The wanderlust was calling again, and I already had exactly what we needed to hit the road. Funny how it sometimes works that way, kinda being in flow with the universe.
Over the next two years we traveled around the western states like nomads, searching for something sublime and unknowable. Every where we went people were attracted to the wolves, almost as if it was an uncontrollable compulsion. After a while I started feeling a bit like an interspecies ambassador; helping humans to un-learn myths about how bloodthirsty wolves are. The truth is that there exist zero records of a healthy wolf ever attacking a healthy human, anywhere. Too bad the reverse isn't true. I think humans like to kill wolves because we envy their freedom and fear their power. I viewed the reintroduction of wolves to
park as bordering on enlightened; now all these years later they are thriving
once again, and that is good.
Throughout my travels I maintained loose connection with my daughter thru letters and occasional phone calls. It was during such a phone conversation in the year of the Desert Storm that my daughter asked if I could come visit her. Without a thought I headed north for a much anticipated reunion. It was good to be back again after so many years. I hadn't been back a week before bumping into an old friend resulted in me being offered a job delivering air freight for a local bush plane company. It was starting to feel like the visit might become a relocation. Found a neat little place to rent, a job to keep me out of trouble, and got visitation with my kid every other weekend.
It was here that Demon left us.
He was getting on in years and had developed eye problems. His health was declining, the vet saying there was nothing to do left me feeling helpless. Being nearly blind, he would growl menacingly if another dog, or jogger ventured close enough to be considered a threat. I didn't want to consider the ramifications if he should actually bite some innocent person or their pet dog. So I sat with him on the floor one night, stroking his head trying to figure out the best path to take. I went into a meditation, Demons head in my lap. As I tried to divine the answer to my dilemma; the wolf raised his head to look me in the eye, and in my brain I heard him ask, "When do I get to be what God made me?" I had my answer. The following day one of the pilots at work offered to fly us back out to Gem cove, so that Demon could go home.
The aging ten year old wolf bounced off the plane, knowing he was back in the place of his birth. He darted about with the robust energy of a yearling, collecting all the scent spore. I brought along a 50 pound bag of his favorite dog food, and made him watch me place it up above the tideline, in case civilization had slowed his hunting reflexes. Clear as a bell the wolf had told me what he wanted, and the love I saw in his face told me he was happy I had heard him. We both knew this was goodbye, and when the moment came to leave, I recognized it, and I left him there on the beach with a large piece of my soul to keep him company. We circled the cove once after taking off; the last I saw of my beloved wolf he was standing on a rock outcropping, looking up at the plane. It was a very silent flight back to
and the loneliest of homecomings when I returned home to Nahanii, without Demon.
Isn't it funny how sometimes in life, things aren't always as they seem? A few weeks after Demon's departure the job dried up, my ex returned to being suspicious I was going to contest her custody or something, and the house I was renting was sold out from under me. It was the universe telling me that the whole trip back to
was about Demon getting to go full circle, and it was now time to go
again, the wanderlust was calling. To
lessen my grief over my first wolf's departure I just envisioned that he met up
with the pack he was spawned from; as they would know his scent, and that he
spent the rest of his days well fed and retelling his adventures with the
The wolfpack was down to just Nahanii and myself now; and we wintered over with a friend on his property north of
to let our hearts heal from another loss.
It was a harsh winter that year, made all the more difficult because I
had no idea what was going to be next for us.
When the nice weather returned so did the idea that I should be doing
something to get my life back on track.
For no specific reason I just felt it was time for a camping trip. Nahanii and I headed out to a kind of surf & turf county park to get away for the
weekend and shake out winter's cobwebs. Everett, Washington
Our second day there one of the park rangers spotted my
license plates, and started chatting me up about life in the great north. As he took his leave an hour later, he tells
me to check in with the head ranger if I was looking for work. As it happened, they had a position open for
campground host, which included free rent and the use of a small trailer
reserved for whoever was host. It just
wasn't going to get any better than that, and I knew it, and took the job.
Half of the park was ocean beachfront and the other half was dense woodland with about 20 campsites carved into it. The very best of both worlds. Nahanii became sort of the campground mascot since she accompanied me everywhere and was so friendly. My supervisor knew what she was because I felt it only right to tell him. One of my regular duties was to be the bearer of bad news when intoxicated campers had to be evicted from the park. Most of them took the news well and departed; but there were always some who just wanted to argue and fight.
One summer night a very intoxicated jerk was setting off fireworks, and when we confronted him he became quite confrontational. When told a second time to pack up and leave, the fellow became a bit animated as if he couldn't communicate without waving his arms. Nahanii didn't like that. She got between the drunk and myself, lowered her head and gave the most menacing growl I've ever heard. The drunk took a couple unsteady steps backwards and said "Christ man- that's a wolf you have there." I just smiled and said, "That's right, and she's telling you to go home." As he and his buddies were packing up I radioed the state patrol to let them know an intoxicated driver would soon be departing the park.
Part Two ~ The Arctic Whites
One weekend a year later, I encountered a couple from
out camping - with their two Alaskan arctic white timber wolves. They had just recently acquired the breeding pair,
and had never been around wolves before.
These were two people who thought having wolves as pets would be exotic
fun; so they bought a pair from a filthy human running a lucrative wolf pup
mill. I did my best to convince them why
trying to make house pets out of wolves was a very bad idea, especially in downtown Seattle!
Their adventure was just beginning; and in the months that followed I was happy to play the telephone game with them; they'd call & tell me what the wolves were doing, and I'd translate the behavior for them. This exchange would happen a couple times a week or so over the following months. It became very essential when their female finally became pregnant. At first they just had big dollar signs in their eyes thinking of the five hundred bucks each pup would bring them; but they began paying attention when I told them if they weren't very careful, the male wolf might just kill the offspring.
63 days after conception Sabrina gave birth to a healthy litter - of just two pups. The owners were devastated, having expected six to eight expensive offspring. I rather expected their call that night, knowing a few things about wolf gestation periods. What I did not expect was for them to offer me my pick of the two, as gratitude for all my help and knowledge. Despite it being late evening, I drove into
see the new pups. If I was going to
adopt one, I wanted to begin the bonding experience as soon as possible.
People say it's dangerous to live with wolves; and I agree; because everybody goes about it wrong. As long as there is separation of any kind between human & wolf that danger will exist. Only by bonding with a wolf from birth, and having them live in your home as equals does the danger diminish. The danger of living with wolves in your home never goes away completely; but if you learn their language and your behavior doesn't fall below normal levels of decency, you're pretty safe for the most part.
Seeing the new arctic white wolf pups for the first time was very interesting to say the least. The mom wolf Sabrina knew me from a couple previous visits, which in no way made me cool to be near her pups. I sat down on the floor just inside the house & crossed my legs. Sabrina came over to me and began giving me the old sniff test. When she caught a whiff of Nahanii on me she stopped and just stared down at me, yes, she was that big. I started in with soft words of praise for her doing such a good job with her new pups, told her what a good mother wolf she was. After some more flattery and some tummy rubs, Sabrina was ready to let me see her babies. Whenever picking a dog I always go with the runt of the litter because they usually end up being superior companions. I was set to employ the same wisdom in choosing which wolf pup to adopt; except the pair of newborns were identical males, with the exception that one of them had a sort of golden tint to the guard hairs on his fur. It made him look like he'd been lightly dusted with gold.
New wolf pups must stay with mom for at least 5 weeks, which is when their teeth begin coming in. Suffice it to say I got a bit tired of driving into
three times every week, but it was what the situation required. I'd known from my first visit that I wanted
the gold dust wolf pup. By three weeks
old the pups were not only ambulatory, they were all over the place. I'd been spending lots of time with my pup in
the hope that he'd bond, and also choose me.
On a sunny day we moved the pups outside to the back yard, leaving the
parents inside the house. We put the
pups in the center of the yard, then each of us moved back a ways and sat down
to watch. It was a very nice thing to
see the gold dust pup take a look around the yard, then come make his way over
When the pup's teeth came in two weeks later; it was time bring the little guy home at last. There were just two issues, what to name him, and how would Nahanii react to him. She was 13 years old now, and showing her age. There was always the risk that her reaction might be hostile or aggressive. What I saw was very different. Nahanii not only accepted the little guy immediately, but she just kinda took over the role of mother. I named the new wolf Diago; which loosely translated means "He awakes on the mountaintop at dawn, stands at the seashore by sundown, owns all between".
Watching them over the following weeks, it was clear that having Diago around was rejuvenating the old girl. Knowing the park supervisor would never permit me to keep my own private wolfpack in the park; I tendered my resignation so we could all go live on a 20 acre spread I'd lucked into. It was the remnants of an old ranch out in the country near the
BLM lands (Bureau of
Land Management). It was half
open fields and half wooded swampland, with a small airstream trailer smack in the middle. In short, it was perfect. Watching Diago grow quickly over the ensuing months became
downright hilarious when he towered over Nahanii yet still responded to her as
the alpha female. Whenever she felt he
needed it she'd give him a little nip to keep him in his place.
The following spring, Nahanii succumbed to old age and the cycle of life,
leaving Diago and me alone.
Once again, I was experiencing the hardest part of living with wolves; saying goodbye.
Wolves are not like domestic dogs. You cannot just lock them up for several hours while you go off to work; it plays merry hob with their emotional balance, and eats away at the bond. So it was that where ever I went, Diago went with. He never minded staying in the van for a while when necessary because he knew I'd soon be back. By the time Diago's first birthday came around he was an imposing 85 pounds of serious beauty. I always knew he'd get big, but rough housing with him I seldom came out unscathed from claws that seldom touched pavement.
I'd purchased a quad ATV for getting around on the 20 acres, but it saw more use when Diago and I would just go out for a run together. It was the only way I could keep up. To me twenty acres is a great playground, but when you consider that wolves in the wild have a home range of up to 200 miles you can maybe understand why Diago felt penned in. Yet another factor to consider for those who think having a wolf would be keen. If you cannot provide an enriched quality of life for a wolf you have no business wanting one as a pet, even though there are perhaps a couple thousand in this country who do have wolves.
A few days after Diago's first birthday I got a call from the folks who had his parents. I hadn't heard much from them in quite a while and wondered if they took my advice to get out of the wolf mill business.
As I was soon to learn, they allowed another breeding to occur and this time it was different. Sabrina tossed a full litter of six pups this time, and the city of
was breathing down their necks to get all those white wolves out of that
residential neighborhood. The kept
Diago's littermate, so now they had three full grown wolves and six brand new
ones. As you might imagine they were a
bit frazzled over all the bad vibes they were getting; so they were working the
phones hard trying to line up adoptions.
Originally they asked if I could take half of the new pups! Told them it didn't seem fair asking me to pay for their mistake. As I was berating them for their dream of
peddling wolf flesh; my eyes glanced at the collection of innocent scratches on
my arms from wrestling with Diago... "Tell
ya what" I said, "I'll take
just one, but it has to be another male." Two weeks later Sabrina's humans called to
say they were coming out to deliver my new wolf pup.
I was a little apprehensive at first on account I'd never laid eyes on this pup before; wondering how that would affect the bonding process. Soon after delivering the new arrival they departed to make still more deliveries. They said they weren't charging anything, just giving the pups away to anyone who wanted one. My head wanted to explode in anger at these greedy fools. Now they had just condemned five pups to a brief and brutal life compared to what they deserved. At least one of them would have a decent home.
I named him
which loosely translated means "tallest
mountain in north America."
Diago was expressing happiness at having another wolf to play with, and
Denali was thrilled to be one of just two
wolves. The adjustment time was short
and seamless; and watching the giant & the newbie playing brought a warmth
to my soul.
I'd just doubled down for another fifteen years of living with wolves!
Arctic white wolves were noticeably different from my hybrid wolf-oytes. To begin with they are quite headstrong, bordering on true arrogance. They seem to know they are apex predators who can do pretty much what they want. On the other hand they are extremely intelligent and possess an incredible gentleness.
Denali's first birthday he was
almost as big as his older brother, and you almost never saw one without the
other. Diago always hogged the food and
controlled how much chow his younger brother got, it's an alpha thing. Because of this, at mature growth Diago
tipped the scales at 125 pounds and stood nearly hip high, while Denali
was always just a bit smaller &
lighter 90 pounds.
They'd literally spend hours a day chasing one another and engaging in mock combat across the 20 acre spread. They'd take a water break, a quick wolf nap or two, then right back at it for a few more hours. Unbelievable stamina!
There were times when the daily mock fighting turned a bit more serious, and it was a real hoot to see
actually intimidate his larger older brother.
On an overcast fall afternoon I was relaxing on the front porch as the two white wolves snoozed in the yard, taking life easy. The normally still air suddenly filled with the sound of several coyotes vocalizing their characteristic song. Immediately Diago & Denali were on their feet, running toward the sound. I rather frantically yelled "NO" at the top of my voice; and they stopped at the single three strand barbed wire fence separating the front 10 acres from the "back" 10 acres. Guess the bonding was holding up. Looking out across the property I could see four of five
A couple times a month I'd load up the quad and the boys for a day out in one of the lands opened up for all terrain vehicles. Sometimes I would lead and they followed, sometimes vice versa. Sometimes we'd go out to the coast to a public beach, and sometimes we'd all just go camping up in the mountains for a few days. These wolves were sacrificing an awful lot to live with a human, I just wanted to give them back as much as I could.
One night as I was cooking dinner; it suddenly dawned on me that the pair of wolves usually hanging around for snacks tossed by the cook were missing. A quick check of the house revealed the boys had given me the slip. When I went outside to call for them only my echo returned in the still night air. My wolves were gone! Next step was the quad ATV and spotlight. Heading for the gate on the quad my eye caught two tufts of white fur hanging on the barbed wire fence, and I knew my boys were off hunting together. I searched our entire 20 acre spread with no further clue as to their whereabouts.
Although we lived a good ways out in the country, I still had a couple of nearby neighbors who knew I had wolves, and worried about them getting their livestock. Because of this I didn't think it was a good idea to make a lot of noise calling & whistling; so I got in the van and began patrolling the road system and neighborhood. No wolves. Back at home it was a most nervous and unsettling few hours as I waited to see if the wolves would return, or if I'd lost them for good. Just before dawn they skulked back home. They made the faintest bit of noise jumping up on the front deck. I opened the door to see two white wolves with their faces and chests covered in blood. When I swung the door full open they filed in single file, heads lowered; knowing they were in trouble.
I was so happy they were home, and had the chance to actually have a successful hunt on their own. On the other hand I could only wonder what they'd killed, hoping whatever it was wouldn't be missed. It was impossible for me to be angry with them, much less reprimand them for what they were born to do. I decided that the bath & shampoo they each received was punishment enough.
By the time
Denali turned five years
old the energy between the brothers was changing.
At first it manifested in a little more aggression in their daily play; and some passive aggressive behavior when inside with me. Later there were a few mock fights that became real ones, and that had me concerned. This continued a few more weeks, and culminated at two in the morning one day as I was rudely awakened by two wolves locked in snarling combat on my bed. Both of the wolves liked sleeping on the foot of my bed, and since there was no room for them both, it was a first come sort of thing. Whoever claimed the spot first got it. Often the ownership of the coveted spot changed during the night, but there'd never been a fight over it till now.
Not wanting to see either of them get seriously hurt, I consulted with my long time veterinarian to set up appointments for the unkindest cut of all. Paul was a specialist in exotic breeds of animals. He reminded me that when I adopted
Denali, he'd told me that
eventually brothers could be a lot to handle.
Things settled down for a little while, but soon after they'd healed
from the surgery, they were back to constantly challenging each other. Paul had said this might happen, and if it
did the only way to prevent increasingly bloody clashes would be to separate
them from each other permanently. I knew
of only one person who was in my estimation, qualified to have a wolf. She was a friend who had a young daughter and
lots of land; a friend who like myself, had some wolf blood in her
somewhere. A few days later they came
over just to visit, and see Denali. Almost instantly the girl and wolf were drawn
to one another.
During the following week we spoke often on the phone, which was my way of making damn sure my friend knew what she was getting into, and what would be required of her in providing an enriched environment for
Denali. That weekend they returned, to make the
adoption official. I'd used the time
between visits to prepare both Denali and myself for the
new changes. When it came time for them
to leave, Denali jumped in their car as if they'd
rehearsed it. As they drove off a quiet
tear slipped from the corner of my eye and I understood I would never see him
This was a better parting than the others, but quite painful just the same because of all the doubt. I had this silly notion that nobody could protect
like me, I just couldn't protect him from Diago or genetic instinct. It felt like an exile, which was the best
deal any of us could get. In the final analysis, looking back over the five years Denali was with us; my inability to bond with him from birth as I'd done with Diago did make a substantial difference. Denali was always his own animal. He was our Heyoka, being both trickster and trouble maker. He never really bonded as closely with either his brother or me. We were just there to entertain him until the next thing came along, and when that day came; he jumped in that car, and never looked back once.
There are a few privately owned facilities that exist as sanctuaries and safe havens for wounded and unwanted wolves. At first glance such a place seems like a good idea.
I have visited a few of these places over the years out of interest. Every one of them keep wolves in cages, with minimal or no human contact. The best of such places are true havens, but the vast majority of them exist solely to make money by exploiting the wolves. There are even a few such places which only accept arctic white timber wolves. It's commendable to want to provide a safe, healthy environment for at risk wolves; but it's just human greed to put them in cages and charge people to come see your captive wolves. When you look upon a wolf in a cage all you see is the ghost of what that wolf is.
No, I could never surrender any wolf to such a place because when I agreed to live among wolves it was a lifetime commitment. The bonding process works both ways. It was down to just me and Diago now. Being as we were both getting on in years, I knew this is how it was going to be from now on, just the two of us, and I wondered: would I know who I was the first day I awoke without wolves in my life?
A few years later I followed my avocation to
at the constant urging of a friend who had moved there a couple years
previous. Beneath his claims of how
much money I could make, and other
enticements, I knew he really just wanted a room mate to share expenses. It was time to make a bold move towards my
future, and after weighing the pros &
cons I decided to make the move.
Within a week of landing in
I'd gotten a job working at a new age book &
crystal store. A double edged sword, it
gave me an income but meant leaving Diago at the house all day alone. To his credit, Diago adapted to the new
situation without chewing the house apart, which is what I feared he would do.
One day at work I overheard a customer telling the boss about a job he'd been offered but wasn't able to take. The job was out in the country half way to
Diago was ecstatic over the new digs, my friend however was less enthused at loosing a paying room mate. He was sore for a week or so, but eventually realized I had to look out for my own best interest here in this foreign new place. It wasn't about me, or him; it was about finding the best possible habitat for the wolf! all other considerations were secondary.
Things were fine for a few seasons; and then suddenly, they weren't. Seems the owner of the llama ranch had a long lost brother who was down on his luck; so she gave him my job. Just like that we were kicked to the curb, and living in the van again. My former room mate put us up, but it was temporary; because I was once again feeling the wanderlust beginning to bubble up. A few days after my abrupt (and illegal) eviction the area was treated to a thunderous wind storm which left a great deal of damage behind. The next day while watching news coverage of the aftermath we were astounded to see a shot of what remained of the caretakers cabin at the llama ranch; under two trees which had fallen on it. Suddenly I wasn't so angry over being fired anymore. It was the universe telling me to move on, at least for now, I was done here. In the weeks that followed I kept "hearing" in meditation, that I should go to
It made sense to me, I knew what it was about and what awaited me
Diago and I were overdue for some vacation time, to get things all sorted out before venturing to
Taos. I'd fallen in love with a few years previous, and
made a point of returning every chance I got.
What I thought would be maybe a week on the mountain developed into a
month. For that month Diago was definitely in his element, and
for the most part was given free range.
The parks department had learned that dogs who were restrained tended to
do way more damage to the fragile ecosystem.
Diago was the only "dog" on the mountain most of the time, so
he was allowed to roam free as long as there were no complaints. Even though he made his way into every
campsite on his rounds, nobody complained.
Great work if ya can get it! Mt.
Diago and I spent a year in
Within a month of returning to
spirit led me to yet another home in the woods, located on a heavily forested
hillside overlooking the Russian river. It
was cool and shady in the summer beneath the massive redwood trees; and bone
chilling cold in the winter, which the white wolf was pretty happy about. He was always happiest in the snow. The bonding between this wolf and myself
dictated that his needs would come before mine; therefore leaving him alone
while I went to work elsewhere was no longer an option. I took my retirement from the world of the rat race, seeing how the
rats won, and became what some would term a hermit.
It was about this time that I first heard of Timothy Treadwell, that 'Grizzly Man' who spent like 12 summers living wild & unarmed with the Kodiak grizzly bears in
Alaska. It kind of helped put my own insanity into some perspective to know someone was going to
such extremes because of a commitment.
People always asked me if I was afraid I'd end up like Treadwell did,
attacked and killed by a wolf I trusted.
As it turns out; I was always
in more danger from some of the humans I encountered.
~ Epilogue ~
Over the course of the next five years the wolf and I aged more or less gracefully together. It seemed our health issues went hand in hand. Neither of us were able to go romping thru the woods as we once did. As I was gradually loosing the use of my legs, Diago was going deaf, and hobbling around like me much of the time. Quality of life was the name of the game now, his, not mine. The time arrived when I could tell that Diago was in more discomfort than he let on, he was starting to detach somewhat. I became aware of a local service called heaven from home, where a licensed qualified veterinarian would come to where you lived to euthanize your companion in familiar surroundings instead of a sterile lab room somewhere. Something about that appealed to me, and I decided to make the call - but kept putting it off because I didn't want to lose him. We were so emotionally connected, I know he could feel the pain I was going thru.
Several nights later we got a visit from an old friend; which perked us both up somewhat. When he departed, Diago and I walked him down to the driveway to say goodbye. After the car disappeared down the hill we turned to go back to the house, but instead Diago headed off downhill. He'd never followed or chased a car in his life, so this alarmed me a little. I caught up to him, put my hand on his shoulder to turn him back toward home but when we got back to the driveway he again turned around and started walking downhill again. When I caught back up to him, and reached out to touch him Diago whirled his head around and snapped his teeth hard, with a vocalization I'd never heard from any wolf. If he'd wanted to bite my hand he would have; instead I got a shot across the bow as a warning that something was happening which I wasn't allowed to interfere with.
Diago stood there looking into my eyes, waiting for me to understand, and I did.
I hugged him around the neck, and kissed his face as all wolves do to show love, then I had to let him go his own way; to end his life his way, on his terms - no humans allowed.
Watching him calmly walk down the hill and disappear in the darkness broke my heart, and it occurred to me that for the 15 years he'd been with me, Diago was the alpha, he just let me think I was. He could have gone his own way up on
, or in the wilds of Mt.
Shasta , any time he wanted to. That he chose to stick with me for the
duration is nothing short of love. Washington
On that foggy summer morning in 1963 while watching the wolves at secret lake; I had no way of knowing the life of adventure & freedom awaiting me, or that I would spend thirty years of it living with wolves as equals. It's great work if you can get it.
© 2015 full re-post with permission only
Related Augureye Posts:
* * *
In the News: