A Family Wolf Encounter
by Glade Brosi
Every weekend possible my family heads out into the wild for an adventure. This past weekend, the middle of November, we decided to head up the Icicle River for a hike that soon will only be possible with snowshoes.
The weather was nice in a unique way. It was not too cold, with highs in the low 50s, and there was patchy fog that our kids like to say is “dragon’s breath” on the mountains. My wife, Andrea, and I have three young children aged 7, 5 and 2. We all love to hike: Our two oldest children take turns being the “trail leader,” and our 2-year-old likes to ride in the Ergobaby carrier while holding her special baby doll and asking for snacks every few minutes.
Andrea started off carrying the baby while I held the bag containing the requisite million snacks, sippy cup and various Nalgene bottles. We hiked on a trail that is listed as “moderate,” but our kids are tougher than most adults,and we hike almost every weekend.
The forest was stunning in the quiet fog. About a mile-and-a-half up the trail,we stopped for a snack break. Our eldest climbed up a few branches of a large ponderosa pine while our girls took a pee break. The kids ate snacks and drank water and played. We had our black lab, Jayber, with us that day, and he was focused on the dropped snacks he could snag from the kiddos.
In the misty fog the lichens on the dead lower branches of the trees seemed to softly glow. The forest was quiet,and a light rain started to fall. I asked my wife if we should turn around,and she suggested we try for a few more switchbacks. The ‘baby’ (our 2-year-old is still called “Baby”) wanted me to carry her, so we fastened her to my back, and we continued up the trail. With Jayber leading the way and leftover Halloween candy in our bellies we climbed on with renewed vigor.
Then all of a sudden it happened. I saw a large black animal move in front of us up the trail.
“Look at that,” I said to the kids while pointing at the shadowy black figure. “Is that a moose?”
The animal was so large, long- legged and dark that the first thought in my mind was that it was a young moose. Then it stopped.
All at once we all realized that the animal was a wolf. A large black wolf. And then we all realized that there was a second wolf with it. The black wolf stopped broadside and stared at us. I softly whistled to our dog to stay close by, and we all excitedly chatted.
“Oh my God – a WOLF! WOLVES! Does everyone see the wolves?!?”
Everyone saw the wolves, even the baby on my back who pointed and said nonchalantly “Oh look that’s a wolfes.”
Jayber was completely oblivious. The black wolf continued to stare, and the grey wolf, which was significantly smaller, licked the black wolf’s face. A minute passed, and I estimated the wolves were 80 yards away. We couldn’t quite see their eyes well enough to see color, but we could make out their overall expressions and see their tongues. We saw their entire bodies, their long powerful legs and their tails. There was absolutely no doubt we were looking at wolves.
The wolves did not seem to be anything other than observational. They stared at us, and we stared at them. We weren’t quiet, but we were not loud or intimidating either. I never reached for anything. Then our 5-year-old daughter started to feel uneasy about the whole thing and started to whine.
I loudly said, “That’s enough wolves… go on” much in the same way you would talk to a neighbor’s dog that wandered onto your property. The wolves turned, took a step and disappeared into the trees.
We turned around on the trail and walked back toward the car. I stopped a couple times and looked around, but I never felt uneasy: There were four of us, plus a baby and a dog, not exactly a group any wolf would ever take on. I had a face off with a cougar once while bowhunting alone and this experience was nothing like that. I was never scared.
When I was 15 years old, I read the essay “Thinking like a mountain” by Aldo Leopold, a man considered to be the founder of wildlife ecology and biology in the United States. In the essay, Leopold writes about an experience he had in 1909 that changed his views on ecology and specifically wolves (this essay is only two pages long, so go read it and then everything Leopold has ever written). In the essay Aldo Leopold writes that an area with wolves “distinguishes that country from all other land.”
On that mountain side and in the days that have passed since I have thought a lot about that experience. I feel so fortunate that I got to see wild wolves, that my children got to see wild wolves, and that my dog is well trained at staying close to us. When I was in my 20s, I saw a friend’s dog killed by coyotes when it was lured into an ambush by a single coyote that tricked the dog into chasing it into the waiting group.
I am a hunter; I have raised and protected livestock and chickens; I have seen the beauty and elegance of nature and I have witnessed first hand the horrors. I write these things so I am not lumped into any group. I know folks who are scared of wolves, and I know folks who revere wolves. Me? I am an agronomist, not a wildlife biologist, but I feel fortunate to live and raise my children in a place that is still truly wild.