Tuesday, October 30, 2007

   Everything changed today. It started to rain while were parked at Tower this morning, trying to decide where to go next. We drove through Little America when we heard about something in Canyon. We couldn't hear the whole message. Tim wanted to go down there, but I wasn't anxious to make the long drive.
   Laurie was parked alone at Slough Creek, so we pulled in next to her and rolled down our windows. She said "The Hayden white female is dying." Bob Landis found her by the road, evidently attacked by other wolves, probably the Mollies. I am in shock. I just saw her yesterday, Monday, sniffing behind trees in Cascade Meadow, playing with the pups, lying next to the single black pup. And the Mollies were seen in the Tower area the same day - proof that wolves travel very far very quickly.
   I have always wanted to see the Mollies, a pack secluded in the eastern part of the Park. Yesterday Tim and I hiked into Pelican Valley on the trail that was closed last May for bear management. It begins in a narrow meadow then climbs through forest and a burned out area, finally opening into an immense valley of rolling hills. Pelican Creek zigzags through forming one "S" after another. Bison graze contentedly. There is no sound, not even a bird call. I am swallowed by silence. That is what it is like to be in the wilderness. Looking out over miles and miles of meadows and trees I see how they remain invisible. That is what intrigues me about them and makes them appealing. They are there and no one sees them. But yesterday they weren't there and when Annie told me they were at Tower I felt it could only mean trouble for other packs.
   Laurie tells us that 540F was almost 8 - old for a wolf and not prolific. Her litters were small. Her parents were from the Nez Perce and Sawtooth Packs, neither of which exist now. The Sawtooth Pack was one of the first packs to be introduced into Yellowstone. For those reasons her genetic lineage is important and for other reasons, 540F is important. Pure white, she was striking. She was a survivor in a harsh environment for wolves. I always believed that isolated in Hayden Valley her pack was safe from inter-pack conflict. More worrisome was the lack of elk, especially in winter, and the hazards of hunting bison for food. I guess I was wrong about other packs and I'm afraid we will see more conflicts this winter.
   Tim says he doesn't know how he feels about going down to Hayden now. I want to go. I don't know why I want to, maybe just to see where she was, maybe to see how the rest of the Haydens are.
   This morning we drove through Lamar Valley, while bison grazed just off the road. Turning at Tower Junction Tim spotted a big grizzly boar foraging on the hill along the Gardiner Hole Trail. He turned his nose up in the air, sniffing, like he smelled something. A string of wolves, gray and black, trotted towards us down the road into Yancy's Hole. The Agates. They detoured into the brush and up the hill as a cow elk pranced into the meadow, head held high, advertising her health and strength. A black wolf and two grays leapt into the meadow and loped toward the Yellowstone River as the bear moved in their direction. I never saw the wolves and bear pass each other, but they must have, because later the bear was seen crossing the road west of Tower Junction.
   We then drove down to Aspen where the Slough Creek Pack was feeding on a carcass in the Lamar River. Three black pups and one gray dragged parts of the carcass through the water while adults traveled up the hillside. One of those wolves was 527, though I couldn't see collars. A black wolf stood on the hillside and howled. They all look good. Very good. Large and healthy with beautiful coats.
   Then it started to rain and we heard about 540. Now it seems like it's raining inside me.
8:15 p.m.
   It's clear the Mollies killed 540, or attacked her - she will not last long if still alive. The is Park different now. Gazing at the mountains dusted in white, I am taken in by beauty and silence. And I see cruelty in magnificence.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2007