Wolf pups, from one of Conservation Northwest’s remote cameras.
Daylight Saving Time has sent the sun to bed early. I step out of my cabin to walk to dinner and the world has already slipped into pure night. It’s cold, my breath immediately plumes in the light of my headlamp. Small glowing circles form out of the lights from the other buildings down the hill, seemingly miles away. Through the trees I can barely see the glimmer of lights from the lake and the dam.
Out of the silent dark forest a strange eerie noise reaches my ears. Howls, a chorus of howls. Long and echoing in the new early darkness. Wolves? Yes, but just cubs of the human variety: our traditional “Meal Time!” call for Mountain School. Thirty 5th graders and a handful of adults calling out. Some are eager to howl, some take some coaxing. It’s all I can do not to join in. I love the howl.
Winter is approaching; the cloud cover is low, it is snowing up on the peaks tonight. Somewhere many miles east of us, on the eastern slopes, there are real wolves. A new pack, wolf cubs born just this year, giving the North Cascades its first wolf pack since the 30’s. Powerful predators, needed and valued members of our North Cascades ecosystem.
When I howl to call in the children for meals, I think of the real wolves. I am amazed and proud that wolves are returning. Proud, although their success has nothing to do with me. Proud because they are our wolves. But with that pride I also feel responsible — and scared that I might let them down. That I might let down both the real wolf cubs and our 5th grade wolf cubs. I think of how human’s fear of wolves drove the wolves to extinction in these mountains. It is easy to be afraid. It is easy to step into winter darkness and hesitate. It’s easy to see a big predator with large teeth and be worried. It would be easy for our new wolves to be killed off again by fear.
Darkness, winter, wolves. It’s a tangle of tough emotions to face. When I make the wolf howl I think of fear, of endangered species, of how much work is left. Everything is so fragile right now, even with how far we’ve come. The wolves will come back, though, with our protection. We just have to dive headlong into each opportunity to share the wonder, not the fear. One day at a time. One wolf howl at a time.
For more information on Washington’s new Lookout Pack, and how to get involved in their conservation, you can check out Conservation Northwest’s webpage on wolves.