Watching and Listening to the Wolves

Each year, my fascination with the wolves returns. In general, it is because winter brings more visible wolf activity, and often times it is quite close to home. That makes it easy to become an armchair observer of their habits and behaviors.

We have learned to keep our window ajar at night from the latter part of February to early April. This allows us to hear the wolves if they start to howl. Sure enough, the last few nights, we've been able to listen to their songs. It's generally just once a night that we hear them, and for some reason, two nights in a row, they started at 2:35. Did someone schedule a concert?

After listening, in the remaining quiet sounds of the regular night, I found my mind filling up with questions. Why do wolves howl? How far away are they? Did they just kill a deer and they are ringing the dinner bell? Or did they just finish eating, and are singing their happiness for full bellies? Most of the answers to these are things I'll never know. But it's great to have the opportunity to contemplate them while anticipating my next chance to hear the songs again.

We took an early walk on Gunflint Lake one morning this week, and no sooner had we reached our landing then we noticed a deer kill to the west, just past Sharlene's cabin. The ravens were swirling and hopping as they jockeyed for position to grab a few morsels. A wolf was on the carcass, enjoying a few bites. Despite the fact that we were several hundred yards away, the wolf heard our footsteps on the snow. It looked up in our direction, and then decided that it was time to head to Canada. Off it trotted. Greg decided to go back up the hill to get his camera. While he was gone, a second wolf came down from the shoreline, and took the place of the first one. It sat down and began to gnaw on a bone.

Wanting a closer look, we went up the road to Shar's driveway, and then quietly, slowly, made our way down to her landing. The wolf was quite focused on it's meal, so we were able to get into a good position to observe. Most interesting in this case were the sounds that we heard. The wolf was crunching through the bone as though it was a carrot. The ravens were chattering to themselves, and then they would swirl up in flight, wings whistling. We were able to watch for several minutes, until this wolf, too, heard sounds that signaled company. Soon he picked up his bone and headed north as well.

We continued our walk by first going out to the remains of the deer. All that was left was the skull and a few bits and pieces. We walked north, in the direction the wolves ran, but then turned east, toward the sun. Just ahead, we could make out a third wolf, running to Canada, too. I speculated about how they would find each other to be reunited. Between scents, howls, and excellent eyesight, I'm sure they had no problem.