Wolf Talk

Wolf Talk
by Rebecca Wallick

[This piece first ran as and Endpiece in Bark Magazine's Sept/Oct 2006 issue. The photo was not included.]

A wolf.
In the wild. 

Grey wolf. Photo credit: Joel Sartore/National Geographic

Running a trail in a remote part of the Payette National Forest in Idaho, my two Malamutes and I were allowed to commune with nature in a way most can only dream of. First, he and Maia exchanged direct looks. Then Meadow turned to see. Then, I looked into the eyes of a truly wild wolf. I will carry the mem­ory forever. 

Standing in the dense Ponderosa pines and low undergrowth, he was gorgeous, the sun dappling his coat and illuminating his amber eyes. His coloring was much like Maia's, gray with black guard hairs, a hint of brown mixed in, no white on his muzzle. He was tall, with long legs. 

He had been following us as we ran on a wide dirt trail through a dark section of forest. Maia heard him first. She'd stopped, turned and stared into the forest, tail down, facing him. Her quiet anxiety caught my attention and her body pointed me to look where I would never otherwise have seen him, blending as he did with his shadowy environment. I followed Maia's stare. He was a mere 100 feet away, watching us, head and ears perked, standing very still, eyes intense and interested. 

So close. 

I didn't sense danger. Nor aggression. Just curiosity. His body language put me totally at ease and I had no desire to run away. It was peaceful, almost surreal. A gift. 

I gently told the girls to stay, breaking eye contact with the wolf to make sure Meadow was listening (she was), though actually, they didn't seem inclined to move. When I looked again, he was just turning, then calmly he trotted away from us, so light on his feet that he was almost dancing. To make sure he kept going, I clapped my hands together once, loudly. After quickly glancing over his shoulder at me, he picked up his pace. I felt badly about scaring him, but was glad he was moving away. 

   I didn't see any others, although it's well-known that a pack lives in this part of the forest. I felt certain they were nearby, perhaps watching from the deeper shadows. Except for the occasional faint crack of a twig as he gracefully slid away, all was quiet.

The entire encounter lasted mere seconds. Reliving it while driving home, it felt as though I'd dreamed it. 

The girls and I had been three miles from the trailhead, on the "back" part of an out-and-back route we'd done once before. On a weekday, it's deserted, which we prefer. We had just stopped and gone a few feet off trail to drink from a stream. Back on the trail, Maia started at a noise. Throughout the run, her mood had been happy as she took the lead position, but her tail had dropped a few minutes earlier, a sign that something was making her nerv­ous, something was out there in the dense forest. I assured her we were fine, that the presence was likely the elk we'd seen on the way out, the one that made such a racket crashing through the undergrowth to avoid us. Within a minute of my soothing words, Maia turned and saw the wolf. 

After the encounter, we ran - at a faster-than-normal pace, more aware of our surroundings, but not fearful - toward the car. Even Meadow's tail was down now, something I'd never seen in my happy-go-lucky younger Malamute. She trotted right beside Maia for a couple of miles, as if both reassuring and tak­ing reassurance from her. I looked over my shoulder a few times, I admit. It wasn't until we were a mile from the car that Maia started focusing on chipmunks again, and Meadow's tail came back up. Their unease was over, and so was mine. 

It was a relief to see that Meadow in particular had no interest in approaching or chasing the wolf. Also a relief - to me - that she made sure I was never more than 20 feet behind them as they ushered me toward the car those last few miles. I marveled that we all had reacted the same way: cautious, curious, awed  - and quietly ready to retreat. We were the trespassers.  

   I'd give anything to know what Maia and the wolf were thinking when they exchanged that initial look. What did their eyes say to one another?
Rebecca WallickComment