28 July 2006
We spent the night in a bunk-bed in the dorm and crawled into action at the 5am alarm, driving into the park in our little silver sunfire through unmanned gates. We didn’t really expect to see wolves. But the early start was worth it for other reasons. A buffalo, right by the road. Mule deer with velvet antlers picked out in the sunshine. And a coyote who came out into the road behind us and sat down, trying to scent us, inquisitive, tentative. For me, it was like a second chance. cycling through Yellowstone my experience was dominated by the traffic and crowds and I hadn’t really got beyond that. Now we were there on almost empty roads, in the beautiful, hillier northern part of the park with wildlife strolling onto our path . . .
after the wolves we drove back to mammoth and had lunch with marcia, chris, andreas and two of their friends. how great to meet up with marcia twice in a week!! then back to gardiner to meet a friend and neighbour of jim’s. sandy lectures in anthropology/wildlife/photography had spent a summer inteviewing visitors to yellowstone. she found that folk had a strong sense of being on a pilgrimage to yellowstone: but not so much a pilgrimage to wild and wonderful nature as to national pride and the wonders of the USA. we had a really fascinating conversation. i told sandy what i thought i’d found so far. first, there are people who really have not heard of global warming (i’m using this term for now because people understand it more readily than ‘climate change’ even if it’s less accurate). that raises a whole lot of issues around communication and the media (that old baddy, fox news again!!). second there are people for whom climate change is just not on their radar screen in relation to other day to day issues. third are the people who think it’s real and that it matters – but, either genuinely or tendenciously – believe that it’s a natural phenomenon and therefore that there’s not much we can do about it. and finally, even the people who think it’s happening, that it matters and that human activity is contributing to it are very very rarely making connections with their everyday lives, lifestyles, choices about trucks, flights, food, etc. one of sandy’s comments was that the myth of the wild west is still alive and strong – part of the american dream is that we can all head west and exploit boundless nature and that this is the manifest destiny of the american people. and this is a view not readily compatible with cutting back on carbon emissions or with sustainable development in general . . .
On the road to the pass, sure enough, a group of people with binoculars and telescopes as jim had said – the wolfwatchers. We parked and joined them. At first seeing nothing except an open hillside and distant forest. Then, look! Over there! Just by the creek-line…could just pick out tiny moving shapes. With binoculars, wolves!! five or six adults, and about the same number of pups. the pups dark, adults silver-grey, some charcoal, playing and roaming in the valley. We watched them lope leisurely across the hillside, stop and play-fight. We watched an adult pick up an old antelope leg and the pups follow. This to a wonderful commentary from the gentle-mannered and highly informative warden, rick. “folks, we’ve got two black pups in the telescope, anyone not seen the wolves through a scope yet?” “folks we’ve got a female in the scope, probably 141, the sister of the alpha-female..” the wolves have been given numbers rather than names by the researchers – on grounds that the names would be anthropomorphic and the school-kids involved in the project would get too attached to animal with names – and rick knew each one. At one point, a group of pups and a young adult some distance from the rest of the group started to howl. The group responded. Wolf cries across the valley. Incredible sound, not all fiercesome as the myths suggest but wild and evocative and full of subtlety. A real highlight of the whole trip.