Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The “carpet squares” in yesterday’s post reminded me of the time that they came in MOST handy, and also of one of the most memorable events Chris and I ever participated in.

We’d been meaning to go up to Wolf Park for one of the “Howl Nights”---an evening in which you just go and sit in the bleachers, looking down on the big enclosures. There are little lectures and educational stories, and several of the wolves are brought in to show their size and colors and the little things they’ve learned to do. And then you get to Howl With The Wolves.

We went up on the afternoon of November 8, 2003---a VERY chilly Saturday. The park is up near a place called Battleground, for an actual battle waged there more than two centuries ago. You cross a beautiful span-bridge, then wind your way back into the countryside---so very lovely that glorious Autumn---and then enter the park.

A guide took perhaps eight of us on a walking tour---the enclosures are somewhat like great pie-wedges in a huge circle, each fenced place containing little houses and sheds, big toys and rocks and tree-trunks, with from one to several wolves---not necessarily families, but those who have grown up with or have adopted each other. We walked for a couple of hours, just watching and looking and seeing all the different mannerisms and wolf culture and their now-habitat.

They’d all been given several pumpkins for their Halloween treat, and were still enjoying bits and pieces of their fruit (a revelation to me---I’ve thought of them as strict carnivores). Our breaths were practically creating ice particles the frosty air, and our feet were FREEEZING as we tramped along the iron-hard frozen ground. We’d arrived about three, and had spent two hours in looking around and learning and enjoying, so since the Howling did not start until later, we opted to run into town for a bite of supper.
We also made a quick stop at the local Wal-Mart for a pack of insulated socks, which we put on over the ones we were wearing. We stopped at Shoney’s for supper, and I remember that I ordered coffee and just a piece of Hot Fudge Cake, because I COULD---I could have JUST CAKE if I wanted.

As we left the restaurant, and were driving back out to the park, the most glorious pink-orange full moon was rising, and I just kept craning back to watch it as we drove. It stayed that HUGE Autumn orange for quite a long time, and was just stunning when we got out of the car, with nothing between us and that moon but space.

The bleachers were rows of metal seats, with that icy wind whipping through and under, so we carried the big plaid wool trunk-blanket from the car, as well as several of the carpet squares for sitting on. Over the bleachers, there was a huge roof-like skeleton---a big armature around and up, with no covering---no awning or roof---just a huge circular hoop which must have once held some sort of cover. We were looking down into a huge fenced area, the darkness was drawing in, and the only lighting was golden up-lights into the craggy, leafless trees---just a magical setting for the shaggy beautiful fellows as they came in.

They loved on their keepers, they chased each other, they rolled madly in a drop of cheap perfume (the cheaper the better, the guide said, for they go crazy for those pheromones, just like catnip).

And then---the magical moment. There were perhaps only a half-dozen in the enclosure before us, but another twenty or so out behind us, where we’d seen them in the afternoon. The guide said, “Now, we’re going to HOWL with them. Just make a little pucker with your mouth and softly say, 'ooooo',”---and we did. For a moment it was just us, a chorus of strangers blowing warm mist into the air, then first one wolf took up the cry, then another and another, until we were a part of something which has made the hair stand up on many a wanderer, which has struck fear into the hearts of the alone and afraid, and which was one of the most magical moments of my life.

The chorus swelled and grew, as more and more wolves joined in---we mere people were almost all silent by then, just drinking in the majesty of what we were hearing---you could isolate the tenors and the altos, hearing identifiable notes in that symphony of wild voices singing a heart-stirring song from time ago. We were a part of something so fierce and fragile and so special that I could hardly take it in, that communing and communicating. It was as if a dolphin had brought me flowers or a dragon licked my hand. There are no words to tell that
And then---there was MORE. As if the chorus had ushered in the principal players, the moon made its way up and over that great structure of bare metal over our heads, becoming centered in the great circle of piping, as if all the building and the build-up had been leading to that moment.

The chills were spreading through the audience, along with the chill of the night---I think we’d forgotten to FEEL anything in the mystery of absorbing that great gift we were witnessing, for just then, a tiny shadow began to move across the moon, growing greater and greater, darkening that great splendid orb in tiny increments which slowly dimmed the glow. It was like being witness to some incomprehensible moment in Time---a cataclysm or an avalanche or a wonderfully unique moment in Creation when flowers were born, or birds first took wing.
I know my words run away with me, and I just scatter them like spilled popcorn, but that’s how it was---too much to take in, to feel, to see and hear and experience all-at-once. I cannot tell you how remarkable that was---that evening in which Wolf-Howl and communing with those wonderful creatures would have been enough, but we were treated to such a display as the heavens offer seldom, and many never see.
We sat and sat, looking down at the golden trees and wolves, and up at that celestial show---there was a warmth to that moment that the freezing temperatures couldn’t undo---it felt somewhat like we were all holding hands, with the same glowing thought in all of us, running through like golden cord.

How we came to be so privileged, so fortunate, to be at that ONCE thing---we’ll never know. But it’s a forever memory, and we’re just the lucky bystanders.


Maggie McArthur said...

"Awesome" isn't hyperbole here -- both in the event and the writing.

Kim Shook said...

Just an amazing story, Rachel. I caught my breath reading about the howling. What an experience and how wonderfully you write about it.

Chesapeake said...

Oh. My. Goodness.

You made us feel the hairs on the backs of OUR necks.

Jeanne said...

Good morning my friend, this post is a real mind stopper. I placed myself in the midst of people howling at the wolves. I love to read your stories because you are the best at telling anything.

The summer we were out West we visited a wolf preserve too. The wolves were in a natural setting but were fenced in. We also howled with the wolves but it wasn't as dramatic. Your moon shot is beautiful. A great moment in time.
Hugs, Jeanne

racheld said...

Thank you all for the sweet comments, and I wish you EVERY ONE could have been there---it was unforgettable.

Jeanne---that's not my picture at the bottom. I looked up the date and used one made at the very moment we were watching from the Wolf Park.

Tonja said...

I feel as if I were there...right beside you. Your words are such a comfortable place for us to travel on. You take us right to the experience and then let us linger a few minutes to get the full experience, then take us home with our minds and hearts filled with the beauty of our adventure.

Thank-you. I was thinking as I was reading, that just as God has created the creatures that share this world with us, He has given them the ability to praise their Maker as well. I believe, in ways I don't understand, that the animals sing prise to Him. There is a verse in the bible that says that all his creation is just waiting patiently, as we are, to be with Him one day. I can imagine these wolves sending their praise, nd the crowd joing in, and God treating you all to a spectacular show of His greatness.

sparrowgrass said...

I have heard wolves howl in the wild--lots of wolves live around Ely, Minnesota, and I actually looked out my upstairs window one day to see a wolf trotting down the highway, towards downtown.

The International Wolf Center ( is located just outside Ely, and I worked there one winter, helping with data entry for the library.

One dark, snowy evening, just as I stepped outside, a fire whistle blew. Like dogs, wolves often howl at sirens, and the 4 captive wolves at the center let loose--and I was about 20 feet away.

The sound almost stopped my heart--incredible chords that made the very earth vibrate.

I have no fear of wolves--I know that there have been very few recorded attacks on humans in North America--but that sound reached right back to the cave-person part of my brain and made me quiver.

Beverly said...

I love these magical moments in our lives, and this was surely one of those. I am so glad you shared it with us. I can close my eyes and imagine I was there with you.