Thursday, October 29, 2009

Meeting Mr. Wolf

The tale I'm going to tell (and it is a true one) took place thirty-some years ago when we were homesteading on the first piece of property we bought here in Minnesota.

It was about this time of year, in the fall, and we had our milk goats housed in an old log barn that had originally been built on the land when it was first homesteaded in the early 1900s.

That particular late afternoon, my husband was about a mile down the road at a friend's who owned and operated a saw mill. Our daughter was three or four years old. As I got ready to do outside chores, I gave her the choice of coming with me or staying inside. She knew that when neither her dad nor I was in the house with her and she chose to stay inside, she had to gather together some books and stay in a designated comfy chair to "read" while we were outside. Fortunately, that day she chose to stay inside.

The barn was a ways away from the mobile home we were then living in, and I always had my hands full when I took the hike down to the barn to do the milking. That day I had the wash bucket, the milk pail, and another bucket of apple peelings to give the goats. The door to the barn was on one of the short ends. It was a dutch door, and I had closed the bottom part of it earlier in the afternoon because it was windy out and all the goats were snuggled down inside the barn. I had to walk along one long side of the barn and then take a left hand turn to get to the end the door was on.

As I turned that corner, I stopped in mid-step when I came within three feet of one very large, beautiful white and gray wolf sitting on his haunches in front of the closed bottom part of the barn door.

Silly me. My first inclination was that he was someone's AWOL sled dog. There was a family living about two miles away that had a small team for mushing, and I immediately thought of them as occasionally one of their dogs would get off his chain and the whole neighborhood would be alerted to be on the lookout for the escapee.

I said out loud, "Well, whose sled dog are you?" Other than to tilt his head and look at me inquisitively, the wolf didn't move a muscle. We looked at each other for a few seconds before it slowly dawned on me that this was no runaway domesticated dog. This was one honking, huge, healthy timber wolf.

Starting to talk to him in a very calm voice, I slowly backed up the way I had just come. "You shouldn't be here so close to the barn. We have big goats and little goats in there and you would really scare them if you were to jump over that door into the barn. You need to go back into the woods now and stay away from our buildings."

I walked backwards about halfway up to the house before I had the nerve to turn around and scurry the rest of the way up to our porch. When I reached the house, I saw the wolf trot up along the same path I had just taken. Gulp. He was a big one. About a third of the way up the path, there was a road going off to the right we had made by driving across one of our hay fields. This road eventually led to the thick woods where it became one of our ski trails.

Mr. Wolf ambled down the road until he disappeared from view. I got on the phone and called the house where Roy was. The nine year old daughter answered the phone and I told her to go outside to find Roy and tell him it was no emergency, but I'd like him to come home as soon as possible which he did.

I related my story to him. He took a gun (not to harm the wolf but rather to scare him away if need be) and went down the road to see if he could spot any evidence of the wolf. He was gone about ten minutes when we heard one shot fired.

Roy had followed the road to where it crossed a small creek before going up into the woods. Near the creek bed he heard some rustling behind a huge boulder and then saw two big, fuzzy, pointed ears slowly showing over the top of the boulder, and then a forehead, and then a pair of healthy, sparkling eyes. (All the better to see you with, my dear. Hee-hee.)

He fired his gun into the ground, and shouted at the wolf that we'd appreciate it if he'd stay away from our animals. The wolf turned tail and loped off into the woods.

Roy returned and told us what had happened and remarked, "That was one big, beautiful specimen of a wolf!"

When my heart rate finally returned to normal, I realized what a truly unique experience I had just had. The wolf didn't feel threatened by my presence nor was he in the least aggressive toward me. Because he was so calm, and inquisitive, and beautiful, I didn't think to panic when I came upon him.

That was the last time we ever had any problem with wolves being so close to our buildings or animals. Well, except for the time our ninety pound, bear-like Bouvier dog, Max, was lured out into the field by a female wolf in heat and her husband/boyfriend/significant other came charging out of the woods intent on having Max for lunch.

But that's another story.


Mama JJ said...

Whoa! Impressive.

RuthieJ said...

I have seen only a couple wolves in the wild and I was in a vehicle. This story had my heart beating a little faster. You're very cool-headed Mama Pea!

Chicken Mama said...

Yayyy, Mama!!! You finally told it: my favorite story!

How very Ma & Pa Ingalls! ;) It reminds me of the story when Ma (Ingalls) & Laura went to milk the cow because Pa was late in returning home during a snowstorm, and Ma SLAPPED the side of the cow to get her to move into the barn (wondering why the cow hadn't gone in when the weather got bad) . . . only to find that she had slapped the side of a big, ol' shaggy bear! Pretty much the same story only with a different critter & 100 years in between!

P.S. Readers, don't you think it would be a WONDERFUL idea if Mama Pea would write a book about all the experiences she & Dad had as modern-day homesteaders?! There sure are some good tales to tell! Like . . .

- Me and the black flies!

- Yes, the wolf & Max.

- You and me skiing home thru the woods with wolves howling . . . or do I remember that one wrong?

- The Move up here with the high-sided trailer. How many trips, the long hours, the animals in the open trailer.

- The horse water trough in the living room!

- The cookie bakes.

- The trips over the lake for Thanksgivings at S's cabin. D hauling me in the sled & not realizing I'd fallen off some ways back!

- Dad parking the blue truck SQUEEZED up next to the trailer so it wouldn't blow over in the storms.

Etc., etc.!

Mama Pea said...

Hi, Mama JJ - It was an experience I've always felt privileged to have had!

Ruthie - Cool-headed? Thanks, but it probably was more wanting to tip-toe quietly out of the situation!

Mama Pea said...

Chicken Mama - Well, Chickadee, you've given me more fodder for stories to tell.

Some of them are downright funny, some a little scary. Thinking about that time you and I were home alone in that terrible snow storm and I was SURE our rickety, old, uninsulated mobile home was going to blow over . . . still makes my innards clench up. Yes, you do correctly remember the time we had to ski home through the woods with the wolves howling. But you forgot to mention that it was pitch dark out. Fun times, huh?

Chicken Mama said...

Mom, HA! I didn't even "think" about that (it being pitch-dark out) adding to the story!

In another storm, I have very strong memories of sitting on your lap with you in the white (now blue plaid) arm chair holding me. It was at night, and I think I should have been in bed, but . . . did you get me up? I just remember us both sitting there watching those two big windows in the west wall shaking & quaking back & forth the wind was so strong! (Which was pretty stupid, in retrospect, 'cause, had they blown out, it would have been right at US! Or, were those some of the not-glass windows?) Seems like Dad was there, though, too, battening down the hatches . . . .

Mama Pea said...

Chicken Mama - Those windows were made with some of that plexiglass-type material and in strong winds they would bend and bow and I was always afraid they were going to pop out of their framing. I remember that specific night, too.

Anonymous said...

Wolf stories? I used to be a forester in N. Minnesota. I have wolf stories! They used to follow me around, walking in my snowshoe trail, while I painted timber sales. One wolf urinated on my boss' parked snow machine, but not on mine. I took that as a compliment;)

One night, while walking my dog, I was admiring the northern lights...then heard a wolf howling off in the distance. "That's cool," I thought to myself, as I stepped off into the darkened backyard. Just then a pack of wolves returned the first wolf's howl---the pack was just inside the woods that butted up against my yard. That made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I pulled my dog tight against my side (more worried they might attack her than me) and eased my way around the corner of the house opposite the direction I had originally taken, and where the treeline stood only feet from the house. As I squeezed myself and my dog between the trees and the house, I heard the wolves running past in the dark---I could have stuck my boot out and tripped one.

I have a million-billion wolf stories. And, personally, I don't know how people can look at a wolf and not see God? Having said that, they are predators and VERY intelligent ones at that! They really could kill a person if they wanted to and I seriously doubt, in the woods, that there is much any human could do to stop the wolf from taking them down---if the wolf really had a mind to do the job.

I once surprised a HUGE white male wolf that happened to be walking away from me. Its tail was facing me. When it finally heard me, it turned around and looked at me and for a split second...for a split second I could see in its eyes that he was debating whether or not to make me dinner. Seriously, those eyes are intelligent---REALLY intelligent and that wolf was weighing the possibilities and I knew it. I had unconsciously stopped breathing and when he turned and loped away, I let out one very long and relieved breath of air.

Quick story: Pack of wolves pushed a small herd of deer (3) onto the early, thin ice of a rather large border lake. The deer broke through the ice, couldn't get back out, and froze into the ice. The wolves hunkered down for days on end and waited for the ice to become thick enough to support their weight. The wolves ate the deer.

A local snowmobiler approached me to complain about the wolves becoming "aggressive" whenever he tried to approach the deer carcasses. He seemed upset at my solution: Stop trying to approach their food!

Frankly, I doubt the wolves were aggressive. I think he wanted me to shoot the wolves, because he was afraid of them.

Erin said...

I agree with ChickenMama, very Ma & Pa Ingalls! I used to devour all those books when I was little and it was even more interesting to me since I lived so near the "Little House in the Big Woods"! Go ahead and put me on your "pre-order list" for your book, lol! I love the story, and especially what you said about the wolf not being fearful or aggressive. That just shows how much better humans living in unpopulated areas are at coexisting with wildlife. In the city, not being fearful of humans is a bad thing, usually means being aggressive, and what most don't realize - is a direct result of inappropriate human reaction with wildlife and their habitats. I too, remember hearing "the Call of the Wild" while xc skiing and the sound sending chills up my spine but afterwards when I was somewhere warm and safe, recalling how it felt to be so close to Mother Nature and God, incredible stuff! Thanks for sharing your story... I felt like I just read a short story from my BWCA Journal Magazine! Although you have only made my homesickness worse, lol! You are lucky indeed to live in what I consider the most beautiful place in the U.S.! My husband says the same about when he lived in Alaska, but says that MN is close! Must be why he is okay about retiring there. I have had people actually ask me why I would ever move back there (all people who have never been there) and I just smile and shrug... Lord knows I don't want them to move up there and spoil it, lol!

beth said... need to tell some more stories. You're very good at it. AND those little house books.... I enjoyed them as a child and then again as I read them over and over again to my kids.

Mama Pea said...

Anonymous - I'm sure you fellas that have worked out in the woods must have lots of stories to tell about wolves. After all, this is their natural habitat and we're the ones intruding on them!

Erin - Thanks for sharing some of your feelings. Minnesota will benefit when you and family move back here.

Beth - Thanks for your kind words. And The Little House books . . . isn't it amazing that they have such an appeal to very small children all the way through us "mature" adults?

Anonymous said...

Mama Pea -

I agree with all the folks commenting here. You are a GREAT writer and I, too, would encourage you to write a book!

Sue said...

I came across two coyotes once and thought they were someones German Shepards that had gotten away. I'm glad you were okay. It's funny how differently we react when we think its "just a dog".
Wolves just plain scare me. Their eerie howls creep me out.

Mama Pea said...

Anonymous - Gosh. Thank you very much for the compliment!

Hi, Sue - We have a lot of coyotes around here, too, and we hear them yip-yapping more than we hear the wolves howling. Whenever I see a coyote or timber wolf run across the road, for instance, my first reaction is that it's a dog. Sort of like when you see a moose, you usually think, "Is that a horse that's loose?"

Mama JJ said...

I want to hear about the horse water trough in the living room.

Mama Pea said...

Mama JJ - I'll put it on my list for a future story telling hour! For now I'll just say that we had a VERY. BIG. LEAK. we were trying to contain.