That time I… Walked with Wolves

An up-close encounter with one of nature’s most elusive predators.


Photo courtesy of Amanda Otto

Amanda Otto, Writer

I was kneeling down, changing out my Nikon lens, when a few gasps of excitement and hurried whispers trickled out from the audience. I glanced up to see what the fuss was about, only to find myself face to face with a wolf. Time stood still.

human and beast on the same frequency

Young Cael nosed me distractedly with his long, pointed muzzle. He was nervous. His large amber eyes darted here and there, out to the audience, and then back at me. I reached out my hand — better to ask forgiveness than permission — and ran my fingers through his dense, blonde coat. The outer layer was thick and coarse, the undercoat soft like a plush blanket. We stared at each other.

Had I been standing, I’m not sure he would have dismounted the presentation table to grace me with his presence. Perhaps he was waiting to approach on his terms, human and beast on the same frequency, Eye level. There are few moments more awe-inspiring or humbling than finding yourself on equal ground with a creature so beautiful, yet equally dangerous.

Over the course of time, the human race has become disconnected with nature and more readily synced with our iTunes playlists than the wonderment and solace found in the wild. Handheld devices have replaced intimate connections. Project Wildsong traveled from their facility in Frazier Park, Calif. for a special “howl-oween” presentation in hopes of restoring a piece of that sacred connection. The Fullerton Arboretum hosted a large crowd for the event on Sunday night, Oct. 30, 2016.

This nonprofit, educational organization strives to promote conservation and unity with nature through physical interaction with some of the world’s most alluring creatures. Wildsong handlers Kimmi Kraus and Amber Montgomery presented the night’s wild guests of honor — Damu and Cael. The two wolves lounged contently while Kraus discussed their life and history, meanwhile answering questions about their ancestors’ life in the wild. The audience was shocked to learn a typical day for a wolf consists of roaming up to 100 miles, a bit further than an evening jaunt for the average pup.

Enchanting audiences with the rare wonders of nature

These up-close encounters are meant not only to educate, but also enchant audiences with the rare wonders of nature. Even so, as an Idaho native, I have seen wolves from a distance, but certainly never brushed whiskers with one until this Halloween eve. Project Wildsong believes that rather than forcefully mitigate nature, mankind must strive to coexist with wildlife.

“Coexisting” is not to be confused with ownership. We humans often toy with the illusion of control in hopes of conforming something to a specific, desired trait. At the domestic level, people want a dog with a Golden Retriever’s personality, but they would prefer it looked like a Rottweiler or Siberian Husky. Interacting with a wild animal is nowhere remotely close to the most independent of dog breeds. Wildlife is deemed wild for a deep and ancient instinct which cannot be manipulated. A common question from the audience inquired about the difficulty of owning a high-content wolf dog.

“It’s like having a perpetual three-year old who’s eaten too much Halloween candy,” said Kraus during the question and answer portion of the presentation.

Regulations vary per state and some disallow ownership of an exotic animal entirely. Most people think of the gray wolf as seen on various television programs. Ironically, unless you were watching a documentary of wolves in the wild, you were probably seeing a wolf hybrid — a cross between a wolf and northern breed such as the husky or malamute — or a dog such as the Tamaskan, which is not wolf at all. Game of Thrones, for example, features Northern Inuit dogs as the Stark family’s direwolves.

Project Wildsong has partnered with prominent figures and celebrities such as performer and violinist, Lindsey Stirling, featuring their ambassador wolves in photo shoots and music videos. The hope behind this creativity is to give invitation to explore and collaborate  — to introduce people to a world of ethereal beauty they were once familiar with long ago.

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