The "pack" at Cassiar: Betty, Veronica, and Japanese bear dog Kuma.

The “pack” at Cassiar: wolf-huskies Betty, Veronica, and Japanese bear dog Kuma.

Sighting a wild wolf in Canada is a haunting thing. Seated in our brightly colored plastic Adirondack chairs on the deck, watching the river at low tide and sipping our morning beverages, a howl from the other side of the river lifted the hair on the backs of our necks. Long and low, echoing across the still water, the cry rose into the air like a ribbon of smoke, tickling our nostrils with the scent of primeval danger. The howling of wolves is one of those sounds imprinted on human DNA as profoundly disturbing—along with newborns crying, and bumps in the night that might be bears!

Just the other day, picking huckleberries, I told Tawny how the task felt elemental somehow, timeless, like my individuality was subsumed in the generations of women driven to rummage among the leaves and pluck these little red jujubes of fruit. Animals have instinctive drives and inherited memory—why not humans? I felt like I was all women everywhere throughout time who’d ever done the same thing.

The song of the lone wolf on the other side of the river was another such moment. My skin prickled, I sat up alert and began scanning, mentally reminding myself how we were safe but also thinking of how I’d feel, walking alone and unarmed on a forest path, hearing that song. We hurried to look for the wolf with binoculars and magnifying lenses on eyes and cameras, and found it: lanky and long-legged, almost invisible, its fur the brown of wood and gray of river mud. The wolf foraged along the flats, stopping to give its unearthly wail periodically.

“Where’s the pack?” Tawny asked.

“That’s always the question, isn’t it?” Caleb said, and we burst into nervous laughter as people do.

How we start each day on the Skeena River: rain or shine

How we start each day on the Skeena River: rain or shine

I’m getting used to Betty and Veronica’s “singing” at every guest at the cannery, and thought I was relatively used to their spooky wolf-howl—but I don’t think you ever really get used to it when it’s a DNA threat-level noise. Spiders, snakes, sharks… we are humbled and our nerves jangle ancient alarms when we voluntarily re-enter the food chain and see the web, hear the rattle, spot that triangle fin.

I follow a National Geographic photographer on Instagram, Paul Nicklen, who’s also an environmental activist with Sea Legacy. He’s shown us the life of a wolf pack family on one of the small BC islands near us, and his posts share their struggles to survive in the light of people’s fear, prejudice, and concerns about livestock loss, as well as habitat loss. It’s made me extra conscious not to present an unbalanced picture of these creatures, respecting their place in the world–while sharing the truth of my experience with them.

A lone wolf is a really lonely thing to hear in the wild. I hope it's not alone for long.

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