"The Winter Of The Wolf"

I know the Chinese are famous for determine the year. The year of the dog. The year of the horse. The year of. . .

I am not connecting with my Chinese ancestors. I do not think I even have any. However, the last two winters and this past summer have been so obviously 'seasons of. . .', I can not overlook the obvious.

Last winter was the "Winter of the Moose". Excursions to and from our pickup often found us stopping for moose in the road, moose close beside the road, moose in the distance. Several times we counted 30 to 35 moose along Elk Lake Road. That was without 'really looking'. Looking back I remember it as the 'Winter Of The Moose'.

Last summer was the "Summer of the Bear". Bears. Bear tracks. Bear spray. These dominated my thoughts far too often. With Grizzly sightings near the lodge, bear tracks up Horse Creek, a large Grizzly strolling down the road just past Elk Lake, bear tracks along the lake trail, and cub sightings near Hidden Lake - I was left with two options. Walk the road near the lodge only. Buy bear spray.

Not being one to enjoy confinement, and not being one to walk just to kill time (I walk to see, to explore, to get away from civilization - ha, civilization Elk Lake style), I opted for the bear spray. However, the numerous bear tracks and sightings in the area flavored the entire season.

This winter is turning into "The Winter of The Wolf". For those of you who have started following Elk Lake's Facebook page, you will have noticed the snippets I've added about recent wolf activity nearby. Sometimes TOO close!

In a recent blog post, Making Tracks, I discussed recent sightings. Wolf tracks in my ski tracks just up Narrows Creek behind the lodge. This was amazing. At the time we had seen wolves on the refuge and near Elk Mountain (just a few miles away) in both summer and winter. We'd also seen wolves nearby our first summer. However, we had never seen wolf sign this close in the winter.

Since that post, I have seen more tracks, seen some wolves, and heard of numerous track and/or wolf sightings.

Last Friday some Bozeman photographers who were staying with us while working on an upcoming documentary on winter range saw and heard wolves while filming moose near the lodge. That night four wolves came to the gate but did not enter the resort. The dogs threw a fit which probably encouraged them to move on.

Over the next few days wolf tracks were sighted at both ends of the lake, up the hill and out on the refuge.

The 'fun' doesn't end there. Yesterday, about noon my hubby hollared up the stairs, "Something is on the lake!"

Now this is not an unusual phenomenon. In the winter we have seen moose. Of course it was lunch time so snowmobilers crossing the lake would have been expected. We've seen coyotes out there. Shucks, look at the right time and you will find me out there on my cross country skies. However, the tone of his voice indicated something unique.

My first reaction is always to reach for my camera. Thus camera in hand I headed for the large dining room windows which offer a panoramic view of the yard and the lake's bay. Sure enough something large and dark was on the lake. In fact, it looked like a very large, leggy, black dog!

The binoculars and the camera's zoom lens confirmed what we already knew. A wolf! No doubt about it. I immediately looked for the dogs and the kids. The kids were skiing about half way between the lake and the lodge. The dogs were nearby. Rosie oblivious. Bo quietly watching the large black animal.

My hubby grabbed his gun. While we would rather NOT shoot at a wolf - after all, even if they were not protected, they are incredibly beautiful and wild animals - this wolf was far too intent on the children and the dogs. While he watched them, we watched him. After a lengthy debate, he began moving slowly away. At this point the gun was set aside in favor of the snowmobile. If the wolf was content to retreat, we wanted to make sure he kept moving AWAY from the kids and dogs.

I must admit looking out the window in the middle of the day and seeing wolf just a few hundred yards away is an awe inspiring sight. However, when you add in his intense inspection of our children and pets, it becomes a bit fearsome. And, when you realize the reason he left was, most likely, some incoming snowmobiles (he barely made the other side of the lake before they entered our yard), you realize just how serious wolves at the back door can be!

I continue to love my backyard. There is no place on earth like it - at least in my humble opinion. However, for those who see us 'western hicks' as backwards, dumb, animal haters - let me challenge you to consider what 'your' children and pets face when they step out your back door. Most likely not anything quite as potentially dangerous as mine.

Nonetheless, while I would shoot to protect them, if I had to, I must admit I love my wild backyard!

Lady of the Lake

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