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Washington Voices

Encounter with the wild still echoes

Sat., Jan. 1, 2011

I wish I could dream the dreams of sleeping dogs. They get that growly noise going with eyes shut tight and paws flicking. I suspect these dreams are remnants of wolf instinct and cunningness and, for a brief respite, they’re back in the day of intense chases, protecting the den, being the alpha.

Several years ago my dream of seeing a wolf in the wild was within reach when we toured Yellowstone National Park on motorcycles. Riding through this geological wonderland combines rider with an environment that can turn precarious should an obstacle of equal force appear.

It was a mist-saturated morning when we rode toward a location known for wolf sightings. Cool, wet air sliced across my face as we rounded the corner, edging toward our destination. I rolled on the throttle, then immediately grabbed the clutch, eased on the brake.

Just ahead, standing guard over a mighty fine patch of asphalt, stood the massive, broad-shouldered body of a bison. Tufts of brown, curly hair encased his now lowered head as he pointed an intense gaze in our direction.

Taking into account (1) that adventure means, well, adventure, (2) our deep respect for a land forged by all things wild, and (3) the potential of being pummeled into mince meat, we pushed the kickstands down and waited.

The valley held a quietness, where gravel underfoot and careful whispers echoed. We zipped jackets, pulled do-rags tight around ears and leaned against the bikes to watch Yellowstone’s other inhabitants.

A car approached, sputtering and fuming much like its young driver. She cranked the wheel, putted around us and toward the bison. He slowly moved, just enough to let her pass, not enough to clear the road. A wary eye remained on his chrome targets as two more motorists pushed their way around him oblivious to their brush with nature.

After 20 minutes, the burly beast hadn’t budged. We decided to backtrack. The rumble of the bikes converted our precarious position into a force not to be reckoned with. Our bison friend extended hoof into the deep terrain of grass and gully and, with one final snort, sped toward the meadow.

My feet lifted from the asphalt. The sun was dissipating the mist along with my dream of seeing the wolf. However, the reason our journey was delayed was clear.

It’s not often you witness life’s dichotomies firsthand. I experienced nature almost up close and just about personal. It was exhilarating. As well, I observed the display of human superiority toward wildlife, and that hit hard.

Brief interludes such as this take years to decipher. Since that day, I’ve thought about how we admire the wild’s prowess, beauty and wildness, yet when those attributes disrupt our lives we want them pushed out of the way, controlled, perhaps shot, stuffed and mounted over a fireplace.

I’ve thought about the outrage displayed when the wild acts, well, wild … as if we expect it to behave differently. I’ve concluded there’s no justification for abuse, killing to extinction, killing for profit, poaching and other maladies we’ve inflicted on the animal kingdom, be they domestic or wild.

Mostly, I’ve scrutinized my own attitude toward the animal world. The winds of change have been blowing ever since.

As for my wolf dream, I don’t know why it came true that day, but it did. He was magnificent; black and aloof, trotting across the sage grasslands toward his den. Photographers holding cameras with lenses the length of my arm snapped away. Silence prevailed as we watched his passage.

I like to think there are reasons for everything – even in Yellowstone. In my mind, the bison delayed our journey long enough for the wolf to step into his groove and my dream to come true. In my heart, I needed to understand what the animal kingdom has always known: that we are equal travelers of the earth.

Years later, I’m left with dreams that haunt. Instead of growly noises and flicking paws, my dreams stamp their feet, snort in supplication, challenge me to change what is.

How much easier it would be to dream the dreams of sleeping dogs.

Contact correspondent Sandra Babcock by e-mail at


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