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"Do it again"

between howls, Okanogan Highlands, Nov 2019

between howls, Okanogan Highlands, Nov 2019

We went for blue grouse but found wolves instead.

As I worked the snow-free side of the arid hip of granite on which we ascended, a deep groan began to lean against the wind. It issued from the burned slopes to our west-southwest; she ran to get a look at the wolf. The howl began faint, distant, but as we adjusted our position and gained full exposure toward the slope on which the wolf stood, the sound became sharper. She glassed and glassed finding only burned stumps which more than once fooled her eye into believing she saw the wolf, my ice climbing injured right eye distorts my vision so much that I can’t spot anything stationary at a distance so I was of no use in her search. When the wolf stopped howling she dropped her binoculars and said: "Do it again."

Though I travel in the land of wolves, dense populations of them both at my home in the Okanogan and the Kettles, I had never seen or heard a wolf until then. In retrospect, I think the wolf that first howled began to do so because I had been cawwing like a raven on our ascent to the whitebark pine krumholtz for our grouse hunt—as usual. When she told me to howl, the moment before I tipped my head back and moaned contained a quick respooling of my history with wolves and my gratitude at finally being in audible interaction with them.

My rich tenor enticed first one individual to howl along with me, then another, then a cascade of three more about a quarter mile to our north—they were the closest, separated from where we stood by only a few scrubby pines and some sagebrush. My body thrilled with awareness, soaking in the moment, and while I was totally alert there was not a shred of fear in my body. As they continued to sing, I once again fell silent and began to have the distinct feeling that I get when I’m in intimate contact with the more-than-human––particularly large carnivores. I felt charged, skin prickling with anticipation, cold at the gut with the sensation of nearly touching the unknown. Giddy at the interaction, which lasted fifteen or more minutes, we ambled uphill again working pine, juniper, and sage trying in vain to rouse the sleepy alpine chicken.

On our descent, backpack empty of birds, I decided to leave my 12 gauge loaded despite our precarious travel over icy week-old snow. Again, I began to howl; again, they answered but their numbers and enthusiasm this time had grown. In the same hollow to our north they had congregated in what sounded to be great numbers and they whooped, bellowed, and moaned all at once. This chilled me with a rightful sense of my own smallness and yet the total comfort in being someplace, among a group of beings, where I truly belong. Their cacophony continued intermittently for the entire trip back to the car, the silence between their sounds perhaps more chilling than the chorus itself. Once we arrived back at the trailhead, we could tell by fresh footprints that the pack had surveyed my Subaru while we were out walking and chose to leave us be.

Historically, the wolf and raven were companions who traveled together across the continent. One alerted the other to kills of which they both partook. Imagine the day that, once again, wolf is as abundant as raven.

Brittany Aäehunting