Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stakeout

Our wifi connection has been down for a couple days. Though it's fun to be back, it also felt wonderful to lounge in bed this morning watching the sky lighten instead of connecting to the electronic world. The following comes from a couple Wednesday hikes.

The howls of wolves had been sounding in the early daylight hours before I took a walk up the hill at 9:00. I was following the old dirt road, though now it was the old snow road after a few days and inches of snow. It was one of the few times in my life I've rooted against more snow because I'd been warned that a long-delayed and finally rescheduled beer might be snowed out in favor of skiing. So we plan again for next time.

I've heard the wolves often and nearby this winter, but nothing compared to their sound this morning as I hiked alone and out of sight of the human world. As their numerous calls echoed off the hills, it was difficult to be sure where the sound originated and I scanned the opposite mountainside with binoculars in search of movement. The wolves seemed to be getting louder, closer, and more excited.




And then, much closer than I expected, one grey wolf moved right to left descending along the ridgetop opposite me (the second steady slope in the photo above). I briefly considered using my camera but knew it would fail to photograph the moment closely enough, just as it has failed to record their howls earlier. I watched the wolf by eye and binoculars until s/he veered down a track heading toward me.

I felt this turn was coincidence not actually aimed at me, but no matter how many times I've read and intellectually believed that wolves do not attack humans, and despite having once stood face to face and paw to shoulder at an education center, I couldn't help feeling that I'd make an easy snack for hungry winter wolves and decided to move back up the road closer to home. I would happily have them devour my dead body, but I'm not quite ready to turn it over to them yet. I never truly felt threatened and didn't bother taking the bear spray out of my pack; this was simply a visceral reaction to the sound of the wolves (and sight of one) and my isolation.

Heading back to Mammoth, I spotted an elk herd I hadn't noticed earlier. Most of them were tightly bunched together, and as the wolves howled again, the two elk which had been some distance from the group moved back to rejoin them, playing it safe just like me. We all watched and listened.



I waited for further developments, eventually drifting back along the road to where I'd seen the wolf but I didn't spot any new movement. As no new howls came, some of the elk began lying down, and I headed down the hill.

After lunch, I took another walk around the hot springs.











My usual route after climbing the stairs and walking the boardwalks through that area is to walk the long loop of road around them back to Mammoth. Last time I tried it a bison was just next to the road and I decided to retrace my steps all the way back along the road and down the stairs instead. This time the bison was a little farther off the road and below my line of vision as I approached and I didn't spot him until I was across from him and closer than recommended. I passed him by without disturbing him for a photo, and instead took one of these elk against a distant mountain backdrop.



I found out a couple nights ago that two of my very favorite people (including the one who gave me the holiday bread a few posts ago) will be leaving Yellowstone. Both have worked here so long that I expected them to be part of the rest of my life here, and I feel pretty blue about the fact that they won't be. Looking at the bright side, at least they'll be here for a few more months before leaving for Minnesota and elsewhere in Wyoming.

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