It’s been six years since moving into the woods. One urban dweller occasionally asks me when I’m going to be done with this experiment and return to a life of nonstop social whirl and people who don’t fly flags in support of the 45th president. I reply that most everyone’s social whirl has greatly slowed if not come to a complete stop, and a vast percentage of the flags around here disappeared after the January 6 insurgence.
City life would be rather jarring at this point. I like traveling eight miles in eight minutes, having the postmaster call me by name, and only having to lower the shades on the few hottest days of summer. If I hear a car approaching, I have about a minute before it reaches the door, and on clear nights I can see the stars.
I can also see an array of wildlife you won’t find in a city. There was a bear in the breezeway two years ago, and I’ve seen bobcats in the front yard, deer everywhere, and what I originally thought was a coyote.
We hadn’t been here but a couple of weeks when I was having coffee on the deck. A neighbor’s cat shot across the clearing. It had been watching two rabbits, which also made for the bramble. The flurry reminded me of the animals fleeing before the Tasmanian Devil arrives in a Looney Tunes cartoon. I glanced down, and there was a German shepherd standing between the well house and a sequoia. When I focused, I realized that it wasn’t a dog. It was a coyote. I told everyone that I’d seen a coyote that was twice as big as the Los Angeles coyote I had come face to face with, and I kept telling people for three years.
Three years ago I was at a dinner party with mostly strangers. No one would dine with strangers these days, but it was a normal thing to do back then. They were asking me about life in the woods and I listed the wildlife as usual when one of the men chuckled. As we ate, he asked me to describe this so-called coyote I’d seen along with the three subsequent coyote sightings.
I said it was at least waist high, and approximately the size of a large dog with a wolfish face. He explained that he was part of the national forest’s wolf tracking program and asked me a few more questions, including the general area where I lived. “You live right on the migration path. You have wolves.” He then explained how else he was certain, and I was convinced.
I told one of the neighbors, as she has been in the area for years. “Yep, they’re wolves,” she said like I was a simpleton and could only be addressed with patience and understanding. I imagine her tone would have been similar if I’d described a tomato to her. “Yep, that’s a tomato all right.”
I like having wolves. I don’t have dogs or cattle to worry about, and the neighbor’s sheep have done nothing more for me than break out at times to devour my garden. The deer occasionally get a hankering for roses, and I rather like that the wolves keep them at bay. Circle of life is my motto if you so much as eat one petal on a flower that I’ve cultivated and waited for.
I hadn’t seen the wolves for a while. I tend to see them one at a time, but they are occasionally a pair. Last Saturday I was carrying kitchen waste to the compost bin when something larger than a squirrel hustled through the low brush above the herb garden. It startled me as it retreated. When I came back inside, I glanced out the window and there was a wolf between the well house and the sequoia just like six years ago. Two days before, a young doe had been eating fallen apples and decided to rest like a lawn ornament on that very spot. The wolves have typically come through about a week after a deer lingers, but it only took two days this time.
The deck is about three stories above the ground and probably 70 feet from the well house. Since it’s a safe place for observation, I stepped out to get a closer look. I usually say something to the wolf to see how long it will hold my gaze before fleeing, but before I could say anything, another wolf shot across the clearing toward his mate and then flipped around to look at me. After marking their territory, they were gone in a flash.
My pictures were blurry, and the perspective made them look much smaller, but I know they’re out there somewhere. Like political leanings, just because something isn’t in plain sight doesn’t mean it’s not there. When they come back, may I continue to enjoy them from a distance. No one wants a wolf at the door; figuratively or literally.
© 2021 by Patrick Brown