I Cried Wolf

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On August 21, 2017, I woke up shortly after dawn. Peering at the sky through the window in my tent, I saw that it was pale but clear, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m not usually an early riser, but on this morning, I was anxious. I’d been anticipating this day for years and had come to this cattle ranch outside Casper, Wyoming to view the Great American Eclipse.

The previous evening, we’d had thunder and a few raindrops after dinner. The forecast for eclipse time was favorable, but still I worried we might wake up to clouds. So when I saw the clear skies that morning, I felt elated. What to do, but go for a run?

While my husband continued snoozing, I laced up my running shoes and called my dog, Molly, out of the tent. Let’s go for a run, I told her. She leaped in the air, as she does, and then led the way.

We ran down an ATV track along a small creek surrounded by open meadows and vast vistas. The air was clear and the sun was bright. My anticipation of the eclipse put a spring in my step. And then we turned a corner and I heard a scary, weird bark.

At first, it struck me as the sound of an aggressive dog. I called Molly close, and the sound continued. I assumed that we’d crossed some other human campsite and their dog was now staking its claim. This worried me so far as it might mean a dog-to-dog encounter, but I wasn’t particularly frightened. Then I looked to the creek on my left.

On the hillside on the other side of the creek, I spotted the coyote making these sounds. Although the aggressive barking sounded nothing like any vocalizations I’ve heard from the coyotes that frequent the space around my farm in Colorado, I felt reassured. It’s just a coyote, I thought.

I kept running, and for a few minutes, all was well. Then I looked down the road and saw the coyote had crossed the creek and was coming for me. Except it wasn’t a coyote. HOLY F-ing SHIT!! It was HUGE. And it wasn’t just barking at me, it was running toward me. It was at least as large as my Catahoula Leopard dog/standard poodle mix — that is, BIG! I looked at Molly and looked at it, and then my heart rate rose to about 230 beats per minute.

“Molly, come,” I yelled. I turned around and high tailed it back to our camp. I have not run that fast in decades. Maybe never. Over the years, I’ve seen bears, moose, elk, wildcats and more, but this was the scariest wildlife encounter of my life. I have never felt so afraid.

After about a half mile, I finally turned around and saw that it had stopped chasing us. But I kept running. I wanted nothing more than to get back to camp safely.

Afterward, I wondered what had happened. My initial interpretation was that this was a coyote, but the barking was totally unlike any vocalization I’d ever heard from a coyote. The sound was startling, but the animal’s size was what made me freak out. I’d seen the creature nearly side-by-side with my dog, and it had come out ahead. It seemed impossible for a coyote to be that big. And what was up with that bark?

Could it have been a wolf? The night before the eclipse, as we’d played corn hole in their yard, the owners of the ranch had told me they’d heard wolves on the ranch, and I’ll admit, I didn’t believe them. Everyone who hears or sees something unusual assumes it’s a wolf, but usually the truth is much less dramatic. I’m skeptical about these “sightings.” Now, I wondered if they’d been right.

When we got home, I did some research. It turns out that there have been verified wolf sightings very close to the ranch where I’d had my encounter.

I googled information on how to distinguish coyotes from wolves, and what I learned was that the next time I see a potential wolf I should take a closer look at the shape of their ears.

The size and aggressiveness of the animal I’d encountered made me question whether the animal I’d initially taken for a coyote was really a wolf, and so I talked to a couple of experts. First, I called a wolf biologist friend. I want to think I saw a wolf, but please convince me I’m wrong, I told her. I expected her to give me a gentle talking down. Instead, she said, I think you saw a wolf. The scary and distinctive sound that animal had been making was probably a wolf’s bark-howl, she said. Ditto when I told the story to another friend, someone who’d spent a summer studying wolves. “Whoa — you saw a wolf?,” she said, halfway through my story.

My husband, who was blissfully asleep during my run, is unconvinced that I saw a wolf, and I don’t blame him. If the tables were turned, I’d probably remain skeptical too. But that huge canine was coming after me, and it was a wolf. That’s my story, and I’m standing by it.


Photo: Guides on Country Road.

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5 thoughts on “I Cried Wolf

  1. As well you should. I’ve only had one exposure to a wolf who didn’t follow me. I was walking down a forest trail with out my dog and it appeared right in front of me. We had a stare down. I held my place–actually I was paralyzed by fear– and when I glanced over my shoulder to see how far behind me my husband was–hurry, hurry–and in those two seconds it took to do that, the wolf disappeared into thin air. Truly disappeared–no sound–no grass rustled or moved.

  2. How had I forgotten Jessa’s amazing wolf sighting! Glad to have seen a magnificent animal, but even gladder to have gotten away unharmed.

  3. I am wondering if the fact that you had your dog with you made a difference to the wolf (I believe you!). I know that coyotes see big dogs as rivals. I think wolves might feel the same. I would imagine that if you were by yourself, you may have been able to scare it off, or she/he may have known that humans are too weird to mess with. Isn’t it interesting though how that deep-seated wildness in us gets stirred up when we actually see the wild!

  4. Oh dear, what on Earth os wrong with all you people? Your fear of wolves is utterly misplaced and based on ignorance. Wolves don’t attack humans except in extremis; if cornered and/or injured and in defence. We are not and have never been their prey species, in fact from the very earliest humans, wolves and humans have evolved together, no ex-forest apes would have survived hunting fast prey without the example and assistance of an apex predator like the wolf.
    Science now accepts this co-evolutionary role, and despite neolithic hunter-gatherers killing wolves for food, as evidenced by large collections of butchered canid bones in their camps, humans learned to live with them.
    In your country the US, Native stories often tell of playing with cubs outside the den as parents watched relaxed. Not the ravening murderous beast all you white slaughterers of wolves want to hear though. The fear is really guilt, you have to keep scaring yourselves and keeping the fear going or you’d have to face that you wiped out the wolf from much of the continental United States, and in so doing destroyed the ecological balance, because that is what wolves do, they regulate every other species. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, not only have coyotees been less numerous, but all other species have prospered and been healthier. Flower medows have broken out due to species effects within the food chain on the environment, and balance has returned.
    None of you with your tales was ever in danger. Of course the wolf ‘disappeared’, they are shy creatures who don’t want to be seen, they have learned not to trust people, or at least white people with guns. And still men with small penises try to show their manhood by shooting a beautiful animal like a wolf from a safe distance.
    I suggest you read some of the masses of literature on wolves. I met a wold once close up in a reserve, we had eye contact, then she leaned forward and touched my lips with her tongue just like a shy, nervous dog might. I write about it in my blog.
    And while you’re all digesting this information, consider this. All your dogs from tiny lapdogs ti giant deerhounds and everything in between including ‘as daft as a brush’ spaniels, share 98% grey wolf DNA. And that’s official.

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