We came from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri, and as far away as Arizona, all for the love of wolves. Our group of eight women and two men wanted to see wolves, to howl with them, to get to know all about them and, maybe, help find ways to protect them. That’s why we flew and drove hundreds of miles to the far-north outpost of Ely, Minnesota June 11-13, 2010. It was a “learning vacation” at the International Wolf Center with a side trip to the Vince Shute Bear Sanctuary.
When Jess, our IWC representative, asked why we were there, many of us admitted–outright–our love of canis lupus. The couple from Arizona started to explain what it meant to them to be there and the husband stopped speaking mid-sentence as tears sprang to his eyes. Oh, yes, we were smitten before even seeing the objects of our affection.
We also had a general love of nature (biophilia, as E.O. Wilson calls it) that drew us to one of the most wild and refreshing places in the United States, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. As Kim, a retired teacher said, “I just love the Earth.” During our weekend we saw eagles, deer, loons, woodpeckers, and fourteen wild black bear cubs and their mothers wandering through the bear sanctuary. The forests and lakes provided the sweetest air you can find anywhere.
Staying at Wintergreen Dogsledding Lodge, we also saw sled dogs having the summer off. Paul Schurke, arctic adventurer and keeper of the Lodge, made sure that we got to visit with the new pups, only two weeks old. Whenever I stopped by the kennels, the dogs sent up a howl in reply to my greetings.
As for howling with wild wolves, we tried. Jess took us to a remote location and led us off with her impressively tonal howl. We joined in with our best vocalizations but got no response. We did manage to locate a female wolf the next day, however, by radio telemetry. We didn’t see her but we knew where she was on the map and we knew by the frequency of her radio collar that she was a member of the Madden Lake Pack.
The five wolves that indulged us with their presence were the ambassador wolves kept at the International Wolf Center. Though they have more than an acre to roam, they stayed near the viewing windows for much of the time. One named Grizzer approached the window only a few inches from the woman from Arizona. They had a wonderful moment of connection. I chose to observe Aidan, a two-year-old male, and did some deep listening exercises on my side of the glass to see if we could communicate. I felt connected to him in a meditative way and thanked him for his presence and all we can learn from him and his species. When we visited the pack after hours, we heard them howling full tilt, triggered by some unseen presence or distant noise. That was an experience to remember, even if the wolves we heard were in captivity.
There is a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way in which Cameron suggests having an “artist’s date” on a regular basis to activate your creativity. This is a date with yourself to go somewhere inspiring, such as a museum or simply a colorful fabric store, as a way to keep your artistic self alive. Being in northern Minnesota was like having a “planet date,” a reminder of why I love the Earth so much and want to tend to nature, in both the sense of caretaking and as in “attend,” paying attention to the wildness around me.
Sometimes a long-married couple needs a romantic outing to renew their relationship. “Oh, yes, that’s why I’m crazy about you.” I recommend a wilderness date with something in nature that interests you. Maybe it will be wolves, even Aidan, my special fellow, or simply a flower in your yard. It is too easy to get distracted and forget the bounty of woods, beach, field, mountain, and sky. But, I guarantee, once you are out there, you’ll fall in love all over again.
I’m pretty sure that all of us at the Wolf Center did.