Wolves have always captured the very essence of wilderness. From various Indigenous folklore to european fairy tales, they have always inspired awe in the human race. Aside from being incredibly beautiful, wolves are also mysterious and widely misunderstood; this only adds to their appeal.
The story of how this photo came to be was partly luck, partly planning, and partly a desperate need to get out of the city and into the forest.
Mid July, I needed a change of scenery from the city. I was burnt out from the constant grind of daily life and was craving the kind of embrace that is only felt when surrounded by trees. I have always loved nature, and as such I actively seek out wild places to explore. I especially love the underappreciated and seldom visited spots where nature is still pristine, like the spot in Waterton Lakes National Park where I had one of the most special experiences that I’ve ever had with a wild animal.
To provide a bit of backstory, I’ve always been the person who was totally in love with the outdoors. As a kid I was the “animal girl”, and would read massive National Geographic encyclopedias full of animals for some, you know, light reading in my free time. I would wander through forests talking to the trees, and would feed the backyard birds out of my hands at home. Today, I am still that animal loving, nature-obsessed person, and it’s one of the things I love most about myself.
Anyhow, back to the story. I drove out to Waterton, and had rented out a charming cabin for the week. The place was small, but it was comfortable and sat on a gorgeous little plot of land. The largest window in the cabin looked out onto the variegated mountains, and waterfowl could be seen frolicking in the small pond out front. The first night was spent quietly inside, and I went to sleep early because my plan was to wake up at five -- maybe even four thirty -- the next morning. While I’m sure this sounds hellish to many, waking up this early in order to go for what I like to call “wildlife adventures” is my specialty. Animals are most active at dawn and dusk, and in order to maximize my chances of experiencing something incredible, I like going out at dawn. I also love to be awake this early precisely because no one else is. It is when the human world is still asleep, but activity in the natural world is in full swing.
The morning came around quickly, and as I woke up the sun was still just below the horizon. I first made myself a hot cup of coffee and then enjoyed a bowl of oats and some freshly picked berries. Fuelled up, I began to pack my backpack for the day with all the essentials -- bear spray, food, sunscreen and my camera. I drove up to a lesser known trail and began to hike. At this point, the sun had begun to show itself over the horizon and paint the sky soft shades of pink and coral. The cool morning air smelled of dew, ripe saskatoon berries and the green aroma of all manner of plants. Serenaded by birds, I started making my way up the densely forested trail. It wasn’t long before I heard a rustling ahead of me on the trail -- something larger than a squirrel or a bird in the underbrush. Being famous for its bears, I felt for the bear spray, certain that I would see a Waterton black bear up ahead. I made my way forward, gently speaking a few words of greeting to the critter ahead of me so as not to surprise it. It was me who was surprised, however, when I found that my new friend was not a black bear but a black wolf. If you are familiar at all with North American wildlife, you know that wolves generally avoid humans at all costs -- I mean, I don’t blame them; we’ve hunted them both cruelly and relentlessly over the years. With this said, I was initially frightened that the wolf was sick, but it did not appear to be. In fact, it looked to be a healthy weight, was acting perfectly normal and had a thick, black pelt which made me think just the opposite. I carefully pulled out my camera, cautious not to move too quickly lest I would present myself as a threat. I was still quite far away from the beautiful creature that watched me with its inquisitive, golden eyes, but fortunately my camera has a long lens. I was able to take several photos that I consider some of the best I’ve ever taken, and they perfectly capture the essence of this encounter that in truth was, to me, quite spiritual. After several minutes, the wolf retreated back into the woods beyond where I could see. I could still feel its eyes on me even as it dissolved into the shadows; not in a menacing way, but more with a sense of curiosity as to who had invited themselves into her home.
I, quite satisfied with the day’s events thus far and feeling deeply connected to the nature around me, turned around. I would find another spot to hike for the rest of the morning so that the wolf could continue to make its way unbothered through the pristine wilderness that it calls home.