Just in case anyone still follows this blog, check out wildcardhikes.tumblr.com for my newest life adventure, a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail (starting in 2 weeks!)
Just in case anyone still follows this blog, check out wildcardhikes.tumblr.com for my newest life adventure, a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail (starting in 2 weeks!)
I had the opportunity to go back to camp this weekend, and I didn’t. Couldn’t spend the money on gas, and knew the pass would probably be a mess.
However, I can’t help but think about how I could be cinched into my sleeping bag right now, after a night at Syl’s. Watching my breath glow in my headlamp beam. Listening to the girls sing me to sleep.
It would have been nice, to run away from this semester and the immediate impending future, to hang out in the cold trees and cook in the shed with Jess.
It’s been almost a month since I left Wolf Camp.
The first couple of days were almost impossible… I couldn’t sleep because every car driving by woke me up. I couldn’t handle being on campus because the people were so overwhelming, but I couldn’t handle being at home because it was so artificial. Then, muscle memory took over and I adjusted. I peed in the back yard a few times, and still feel cleaner before showering than I normally did after showering at WERC, but the point of that is that I am showering.
It seems almost like a dream, and my impressions/reflections on the summer continue to change. It was, overall, a positive experience, and ultimately I do miss it.
I have their pictures on my wall. The three of Himtuuqin, then the girls, then the boys, all underneath the running wolf bumper sticker.
The other weekend I went to Oregon, driving down with the sunset, listening to my wolf camp playlist, and it was almost like being in the car with Lauren, driving back up from Lewiston. Sometimes a song from this summer will come up on shuffle, and I’ll pause and smile to myself. Sometimes “Body in a Box” still makes me think of finding and saying goodbye to Himtuuqin.
I got a wolf tattoo on my forearm. It represents to me qualities they have that I should always strive for: strength, wisdom, resilience, justice and so many more. It makes me think of the Owyhees and how they were given a chance to start over. It makes me think of how Himtuuqin came to trust me, of MiyooXat, still going strong after losing a leg, and of Piyip, still alive after all this time, the legacy of a pack that directed me down this path. It is a symbol that means to never give up, and it’s proof that I can get through anything.
I miss the trees. I miss the stars. I miss peeing on the road. I miss not looking in a mirror for days and it not mattering. I miss the intern experiences. I miss the wolves.
Sometimes when I’m just barely awake, I almost think I can hear them howling. It’s enough to make me pause a little and realize that of course, I’m not hearing any wolves. It’s like their song is echoing around deep inside of me. When this happens, I can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, in the woods outside of Winchester, they might actually be howling.
I worked my last visitor center shift, locked the carved wolf doors for the last time. The interns I arrived with are both gone. This time tomorrow, I will be long gone.
Everyone knows that I’ve been looking towards this with anticipation, but it is somewhat bittersweet. Each time I do something for the last time, a montage of memories runs through my head.
As I stood finished up my last guest interaction, I thought of all the different people I greeted this summer. My first anti-wolfer, with his belt buckle and cowboy hat; that old lady who hugged me; the Sawtooth followers in tears; that legacy tour who shook my hand and told me that the world has a great place for me in the future; the kids on our first day and the countless other faces.
Sweeping out the VC one last time, I thought of our times in there. Cleaning it to open with Jessica; the hummingbird that we thought was dead but we saved; that bird I grabbed in my hand; when no-finger-friend stood petting the wolf pelt; chasing the chipmunk around; huddling together eating left over pancakes; that first staff meeting.
I cooked my last meal in the cook shed tonight. We used to sit in there with the lanterns drinking tea at night; hanging out with Bud and Sam; drinking wine at the table in the dark; sharing the couch and blanket waiting for Jeremy during training; finding the dead mice drowned in the wash water.
Tonight, I’ll stand under the stars and brush my teeth then go to sleep to the scratching of mice and bounding of squirrel feet one last time.
I will miss the wolves. I will miss living in the woods, not having to shower, never looking in a mirror, peeing on the road, waking up to the sunlight, sleeping in total darkness, navigating by star and moonlight, the smell of morning in the trees, the change of light as the day ends. I will miss sitting on my porch in the wild, drinking a cold beer after a long day. I will miss just hanging out on the porch of the VC on work time. I will miss going to the Saloon and ordering my usual without having to plan ahead or try and find a friend to go with. I will miss falling asleep to the howling of the pack, waking up in the night listening to them, and starting my day by greeting them.
At the same time, I’m glad to be putting parts of this behind me. And so much of it is different without Himtuuqin, that I’m ready to leave. This summer was not what I expected, and I’m not sure I’d do it again. However, I do not regret my choice of coming.
Google maps is confusing me and I don’t have a printer, so my plan is to just get in the car and trust that I will end up in Tacoma.
In the morning, I’ll wake up and pee on the road. I’ll lace up my hiking boots and eat my last protein bar then go on my final enclosure walks. I’ll move everything from my tent to my car, then say goodbye. Right now, I’m not packed at all, so I’m not sure when I’ll actually leave here tomorrow, but the exact time is not of much concern, just knowing that I am leaving tomorrow is enough.
Little victories, right? That’s what I was listening as I headed out here. I got by. I’m proud of myself.
Thank you for reading about my summer, thank you for sending encouraging thoughts.
It is with a mixture of sadness and relief that I finally write these words. For almost a week we’ve been kept to whispers amongst each other, waiting for the statement to be made to our public, waiting for confidentiality to break.
He was, always and by far, my favorite wolf.
On Tuesday when Lauren and I were off, driving around Lake Couer D’Alene, I got a really bad feeling about camp. Once we had service, I texted Lizzy, and she said everything had been fine that day. Turns out, as she was responding, Himtuuqin was behaving oddly.
Wednesday morning, I was told to make sure to get a good visual on him, up and moving around. I entered the enclosure and sat down, talking to the boy like I always do. Something in me sensed to get up earlier than I would have. I walked only ten feet, and stopped, looking through the tree branches and grass, something gray was there. It was such a small view, but deep inside of me I knew. I had found Himtuuqin, or Tuqie as I’d been calling him lately, dead in the grass. I stopped and talked to him, hoping he was sleeping. I shouted at him, I shook the entrance gate; nothing happened. Then, I convinced myself it was a rock, I could see no defining shapes and it was too far to see fur. I went on the rest of my walk, hoping to see him sleeping in the shade, lifting his head to stare at me with those piercing yellow eyes. I saw the girls, and no one else. I went back, hoping he would have gotten up, having just been in a deep sleep; he was still there. I went and got binoculars, I thought I saw fur, but wasn’t sure. I went on another walk.
Grasping at straws, I called Jeremy in Jew Jersey, hoping he’d be able to say “there’s a long rock there, it’s fulled interns before, don’t worry.” Instead, I was told to get everyone else, and to get a visual on him or find a way to confirm it wasn’t a rock. Eventually, we got the confirmation we needed. Better binoculars showed distinct fur, and the right angle from up above gave us a view of hind legs and a tail. XayXayx came up and smelled him and nothing happened. We knew he was gone.
After we closed that afternoon, we went and confirmed death. Thursday I was on walks again, and sat there by his body in shock. Jeremy returned the next day and we pulled his body out. I rode up with him to WSU to put him in the cooler. Holding his ears, petting his body as he lay there dead on the tailgate, saying my final goodbyes and thank yous, I couldn’t help be think of how different this goodbye was than the one I expected to be having on Thursday. The initial necropsy showed he died of natural causes totally unrelated to anything we may have done or not done. We’re still waiting on final results, but may never have any.
The night we pulled him out, there was the saddest howling any of us have ever heard. We haven’t heard any howling since.
Here are some of my favorite memories with him:
He was the first one to ever greet us.
One time, he came up to greet me, with a goat leg stuffed into his mouth. When I didn’t put my hand up, he stood there smelling the fence where I should have.
Another time, XayXayx came up to greet me right as he was about to, he turned to her and growled her away, then took his time smelling my hand and making that deep, soul searching eye contact.
He walked with me to the boardwalk, when I sat down, he laid down close to the fence, watched me, and fell asleep (a sign of trust).
I hadn’t been on walks in a while, and didn’t see anyone the first half of my walk. Himtuuqin then saw me, and got up and walked up to me, looking kind of weird. He proceeded to have diarrhea while staring at me with the saddest face, then came up and greeted me with so much emotion I could almost hear him saying “Jennaa…. this is awful, but I wanted to come see you.”
On one of my last tours, he came up and greeted me with a sniff that could only be described as seductive, making the group giggle a little bit and love him instantly.
He was the only wolf I really felt I had bonded with and connected to. I gained his trust, and am honored by that. He wasn’t socialized, so there wasn’t that type of bond, but that made it even more special.
I miss him. It’s just not the same without him. At least he died in a better home than he was born, after having made some form of difference for his wild relatives.
How weird is this? At 5pm today, I locked the gate to wolf camp and ended my last full week as an intern.
Tomorrow, I’m extra all day. We finished noxious weed control, so we’re done with projects. The other interns and I just agreed that extras should be able to start their day at 10 rather than 9, since all we’ll be doing is sitting on the deck reflecting on the summer and the recent changes.Tomorrow night we’re going to take one last trip to town with the four of us. Then, we’re sleeping on the boardwalk. Partially to watch the meteor shower (this will be the area with the least light pollution —yes, including YNP— from which I’ve ever watched the meteor shower, and for that, I’m pretty excited), and partially for the challenge. I might have mentioned this before, but apparently interns often try and sleep on the boards and fail, because Bigfoot and Nez Perce ghosts come and scare them away. Jeremy says it’s cheating to do it as a group though, so we’ll see what happens.
Monday, I’m off. I’ll sleep in, probably clean up my tent, and start packing. I’ll make my last lonely day off trip to Lewiston for my last comfort food. Tuesday and Wednesday I’m I’ll open the VC and then spend my afternoon hanging around. Chelsea will leave Tuesday, Lauren will follow on Wednesday. Then, Thursday morning I’ll wake up to the beeping of my watch one last time. I’ll go on walks and say my goodbyes. Sometime that afternoon, I’ll drive away from this place one last time. I’ll convince myself to head west rather than east, and that night, I’ll arrive in Tacoma.
I hate that I’ll be glad to leave, I was looking forward to the joy associated to being sad to leave a place behind. But, I don’t think I’ll be leaving with regret. And, within about a week, the relief now promised by departing will be explained, and completely understood.
This morning was like a little blast to the past from training. Lizzy was working the AM shift, and it was feed day, so Jeremy, Lauren, Chelsea and I were all walking the 2-acre enclosure together, something that hasn’t happened since the very beginning. Also, I peed on my foot a lot this morning, another thing that hasn’t happened since the very beginning.
I love when life provides these little bookends.
It’s almost over. Finally. For real.
Sometimes, things don’t go the way you expect them too.
Sometimes, just when you really believe everything is going to be great, it all changes.
Sometimes, a week goes from feeling too short, to feeling almost impossibly long.
That’s all I have for you right now; confidentiality is a bitch. I’ll post a real update when I can, which may not be until I’m in Tacoma, a week from this time yesterday.
For now, once again, if you’ve got some extra strength, love, or peace, send them out to wolf camp.
I just made photocopies of our final schedule. The last two days of it are just a big X, because by then, most of us will be in different states. It’s that point where I start getting reflective. A year ago, I was driving around YNP, with some of my absolute dearest friends, knowing something was changing within me, but unaware that I’d be suddenly leaving the park in only five days. A year from now, I’ll be somewhere on the AT headed south across the US. And right now, I’m sitting in the intern office with only twelve days left at Wolf Camp, waiting to present my final movie at the state park. Tonight I’m showing “Wolves At Our Door” which is almost ironic, given that its namesake book sparked my interest in WERC, given that it’s about the original pack, and that it will be my first time ever seeing the movie.
We’ve been on noxious weed duty ever since my last post. It’s resulted in sore backs and thighs, and a pathological hate for daisy. We’re closer to done than not though, and once that happens, it’s literally just hanging out, waiting to drive west. One of the two areas we have left has rattle snakes though, so that’s a whole new level of terrifying. Now there’s a rational reason to fear snakes! Speaking of… I’ve been doing so well with them! Yesterday multiple were slithering around me in the meadow and I barely even reacted. Today, I walked past one that was facing me, taking up half the path (alright, I jumped past it because it moved its head and that scared me). A week ago, there was a HUGE one that I then walked by knowing it was somewhere nearby in the grass where I couldn’t see it. Given how scared I was of a rubber snake in May, this is huge progress!
Tuesday night Jeremy texted me and said we had to go pick up roadkill in the morning. Lauren and I got there and found a very rotten, ripped open, large deer. We went and got back up and put it in the truck. Lizzy and I both almost vomited from how bad it smelled. Based on how green it was, it was probably at least 3 days old. We had it sitting on the weigh deck waiting for the feed on Friday. It was getting smellier and smellier, and I was hoping a bear would come and take it, but it remained. There were literally huge piles of maggots that looked like piles of sand until you got close enough to see movement. We were prepared for vomit-fest, but somehow managed to keep everything in and fed successfully. I actually can’t even explain how gross it was, breathing through your mouth was no help because then you could taste it.
Thursday I gave a legacy tour. These are our big, fancy tours that are given by Jeremy rather than interns. I was nervous because one of the people showed up on Wednesday stressing that she reserved the “biologist intern” but at the same time felt alright, because I really know my wolf stuff. It went really well though and they actually spent the first half under the impression that I was the permanent staff member rather than a summer intern.
Overall, I think this internship will have been really good for me. I think I’ve become a lot more confident, and… I’m proud of myself for doing this, and doing it pretty successfully. I’m thinking of getting a wolf tattoo on my wrist, a silhouette of one howling. I was thinking about doing so before getting here, but not only will it show something I love and admire, not only will it in a sense represent a summer that I think will be life changing, but it will serve to remind me that even when things suck, things I thought I would and want to really enjoy, I can do it. I think looking down at a wolf on my body would be good for me on the AT, when I’ll need all of that I can get (and, maybe even good to be reminded of when back at UPS…).
I should be blogging everyday, but when not doing so means I’m spending more time out in the trees with the wolves, it seems entirely forgivable, right? The title of this comes from the other day, Lauren and I had just parked and this ridiculous song that we’re kind of in love with about mmmmoter-boatin came on, so we sat there and drank a beer.
Let’s see… Last week on my day off I tried to pee in the Safeway parking lot and got confronted by an old lady; going back to orientation is going to be a rough transition. The other day I woke up to a squirrel sitting on its haunches on my pillow chirping at me looking down at my face. A couple from the last legacy tour (our fancy/big tour) sent in a big donation and mentioned me by name (Jeremy gave the tour, we were shadowing him) about being very friendly and well informed, so that was really cool. I’m giving a legacy tour on Thursday since Jeremy will be gone, and am kind of nervous, but pretty confident. Sarah, Riley and her parents visited, which was really great, even if the wolves were hiding. I’ve given a couple other normal tours and the wolves have been really well behaved during them. Himtuuqin and I have had some pretty great moments recently, I’m going to miss hanging out with him.
We’ve been doing a lot of random projects getting ready for Jeremy to leave for vacation. Now, we have one project left for our internship: taking care of noxious weeds. We’re hoping to power through the weeding (even though it’s a pretty huge task) so that the end of our time here can be spent just hanging out, relaxing, embracing and reflecting. The last project that we did was to change the water for pack, which meant going inside the enclosure. We also did some weeding, so a few times we were within like six feet of Himtuuqin with no fence, which was pretty cool. The other night I was in my tent, about to go to bed, when Jeremy texted me to come party with everyone at the office, which was actually a lot of fun.
I was off today with Lauren. We went to the Nez Perce Historic Museum, had lunch and then went to Moscow and Pullman, had dinner and came home. It was a really nice day and a pleasant change from just sitting alone in parking lots trying to find someone to talk to me on the phone.
Tomorrow is the last day of July. I’ll have just over two weeks left here. I remember when I thought this would never happen. I remember when June was ending and I could hardly believe there was still the full month of July left before August, now, I’m not sure where it went. Jeremy leaves in the morning, so (in theory) the stress (which has been so much better recently) will be over, the interns will be in charge, he’ll come back in time to see me leave, and then I’ll be in Tacoma.
It’s weird to know that it’s the official downhill period of the internship… Things I’m going to miss: living in the woods, waking up to the sun filling my tent, how dark and silent it is at night, the wolves, walking with the wolves, being greeted by the wolves, hanging out at the saloon, sitting on my porch drinking beer watching the sunset, driving around aimlessly through the countryside, not showering, peeing on the road, having very few things to worry/stress about, not being called about the ticket printer, being done with everything at five, the trees, the meadow, the lack of power lines, the friendship, the lack of standards. Things I’m looking forward to: how easy it will be to do everything; electricity and running water will be way more appreciated now than they ever were before.
I’ve been thinking about coming here rather than going to Yellowstone. While sometimes I miss the park so much it hurts, I know this was right. This had more misery than going home ever would have, but distance makes the heart grow fonder right? I know I’ll go back there, I know the canyon will still be there, but this was a once in a life time changing experience. I think I’m more confident now, and I think it’s a confidence that will last when I return to school. I think this will be helpful for the AT.
One more park program (at the last one, I was cuddling with this couple’s border collie, and it bit me on the nose; I forgave it and kept cuddling with it though), two more days off, a lot of weeding, as many walks with the wolves as possible, and then a drive west. Time flies, right?
Life at Wolf Camp seems to (finally) be what I expected and have been waiting for. My parents were here a few days ago, I’m off tomorrow, Sarah and Riley will be here Thursday, and a week from tomorrow Jeremy leaves for vacation. Then, the interns will be in charge for two weeks, and then I’ll be packing up and heading back to Tacoma. The skies are often blue and clear, and when they’re not, the storms are refreshing.
Living in camp is now second nature, intrinsic, comfortable. Squirrels come in my tent in the morning and I don’t even bother trying to get rid of them. Spider-voles crawl around on my walls and I either kill them or just ignore them. I pee on any and all surfaces I can, but rarely my own feet or legs.
I feel more confident these days. I know my wolf info well and am finally developing trust in my own abilities, both as an intern and as a person.
Last night, I sat outside and read Harry Potter, then went and hung out with XayXayx; that’s a pretty nice life, right?
Leaving is no longer a distant fantasy, but is becoming an impending reality. I’m curious about the return, the adjustment. Will I fight it? Try and linger in this lifestyle? Or, will I embrace it fully? Only time will tell.
I think part of what makes this feel different then the approaching end of a season in YNP, is that it is a real end. The day I got here I knew what day I was leaving, with no other possibilities other than quitting. I know that’s technically true in YNP as well, but there was always that romantic possibility that the night before, rather than packing, I’d just extend my contract, stay there forever and forget about UPS entirely. That isn’t, never was, and will never be a possibility here. Some country song plays a lot with a chorus line of “this is my temporary home” and it strikes true here. This could never get the home feeling that Yellowstone has, because this was always only going to be temporary, a one time deal and done. I came here expecting to find a new home like Canyon, but I realize now, that was never even an option.
I’m doing well here now. I like it almost all of the time and am rebuilding a positive relationship with my boss. But, when I sent my parents away towards Yellowstone, knowing they’d go and look at the canyon and not feel what I would, it took everything I had not to jump in the car and head east.
Last night Lauren and I headed to Syl’s. Cliff, this old rancher who likes to flirt with / harass the WERC interns was there, and proceeded to buy us all of our drinks. I like Cliff, he’s harmless and full of entertainment, and kind of reminds me of the old dead end road. When hanging out at Syl’s, especially when talking with Cliff, I always want to bring Sam out here. We ended up rather drunk, then Lizzy and Chelsea showed up with Taco Bell and took us home. I peed on a real road that people drive on, and then we ventured down to Jeremy’s cabin in the dark, to spy and see if his lady friend was there.
It’s always refreshing to talk with visitors for a while (ones that are actually really interested) and have them express so much faith in my future. They don’t know me and are probably just being polite, but it always makes me feel good anyway.
I’m off tomorrow and excited to have a real day off, to sleep in until whenever I wake up (probably until 8 when the squirrels get me up). Unlike last week, when my day off was dedicated to butchering the horse. In regards to that: The only other time I’ve watched an animal die was Duke. And while that wasn’t peaceful due to how hard he fought to stay with me, it was clean and in some ways, comforting. This wasn’t. One minute this horse was standing, walking, breathing, and the next it was down, blood coming out of his forehead like a fountain, bubbling out of his nose, and coming from his mouth as he took he last gasps for air. I was caught off guard by how long it took for him to die. I knew it was his time and it was better for him, but I felt sad that he was just there, surrounded by strangers awkwardly waiting to cut into him, remove his limbs and head. A gross act that had been anticipated for almost a week. It was the circle of life and the right thing to do, but I think the image of his last minutes of life and first minutes of death will always be with me.
Unique life experiences. Everyday I find myself, saying and doing things that I never have, and probably will never do again, before. Just over three weeks, and I won’t be living with wolves anymore.