It was the usual frozen scene of blinding snow and mountains, devoid of movement, when suddenly a dark shape solidified between the trees. Something dog-sized – no, larger. The wolf’s head hung level with his spine, and his legs were moving loosely, purposefully, following the course of the frozen creek.
“Can I call you back? I just noticed that there’s a wolf walking by,” I hastily interrupted the friend I had been talking to. With only a slight twinge of guilt that I cut her off because of a wolf, I signed out of Skype and ran outside. Easy enough to hook up with my friend again, but rare to have a wolf walk by so closely. Sam rushed outside with me. Animals tend to have an electrifying effect on us.
The dark wolf moved steadily down the creek, away from us, doing nothing more spectacular than putting one paw in front of the other, seemingly lost in thought. A protruding rock outcrop would make him vanish from view soon – too soon for my liking. I suggested to Sam that we howl: maybe it would buy us a few more minutes of wolf watching.
My wolf howl imitations have brought rather mixed results over the years – usually, they remain unanswered. A few times I’ve had a response and once, a wolf pack silently drew closer under the cover of trees, formed a half circle around the dogs and me and then, suddenly, began howling back. Which was rather unnerving at the time since I hadn’t noticed their approach.
But here was the chance to actually watch the reaction of a wolf to our howls. I kept my eyes riveted on the animal as Sam and I took deep breaths and began a soulful wail. The air had barely left our lungs when the wolf stopped in his tracks as if he had hit a brick wall. He spun around and looked in our direction, tense with attention. We stopped our song to give him a chance to answer, but only heard the whining of our dogs back in the cabin.
The wolf waited a few more seconds, then hesitantly turned to continue on his way. We howled again and watched the animal stop, turn around and slowly sit down, facing us. Elated, I elbowed Sam and continued with our song. Thrilled as I was by our wolf audience of one, we still didn’t manage to get a response other than the doggie ululations from inside the cabin. Eventually, Sam and I ran out of melodies. The dog choir petered out not long after and the wolf, after waiting politely for another encore, eventually rose, turned, and after one last look over his shoulder, vanished around the rock outcrop.
I sighed, still excited at having held the wolf’s attention and at the same time disappointed that it hadn’t lasted longer. The scenery lay as motionless as before, proof of the wolf’s existence limited to his tracks in the snow. It reminded me of the children’s game where your friends try to rush up to you while your back is turned. You feel the commotion behind you but in the moment you turn, everybody freezes.
As I walked to the cabin to call my friend back, the slight feeling of guilt returned. It comes and goes and is rooted in the awareness that we are incredibly lucky to live like this. My friend, a single mom, had been telling me how much she’d like to just take a short time off from her life, to find a bit of peace and quiet.
I turned on the computer and thought about how today, I had fed and watered the chickens, hauled two buckets of water, gone for a three-hour walk with Sam and the dogs. After lunch, we went to cut firewood for a bit over an hour. Then I had started the bread dough before logging on to Skype and having the call interrupted by the wolf. I sang to a wolf and later on, I’d write my column. What a life.
Then again, I consoled myself, there’s the hand laundry, the backbreaking aspect of water and wood hauling, and … probably a host of other detrimental factors that I don’t notice anymore. They slip away so easily out here, get swallowed up by the landscape like the wolf.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.