Monday, January 23, 2012

The Trow Wolf Track

Deer Carcass on Moundbounder
Photography isn't always pretty.  Nature isn't either...some would say.  But it's the way of things and it's the reality of how life works.  One of the things I love about snow, and grooming snow, is in the early morning hours, when the sun brightens the woods, the stories of the dark hours begins to emerge.  It's the same when I see tracks, and I wonder what happened before I stumbled across them and what happened after.  On this morning, some of the story was left on the ski trail.

Within the first mile of grooming, I quickly cut a lone wolf track, which seemed content to just follow the powdered surface of the trail heading west.  The meandering tracks were easy to see-sunk deeply into the base getting wiped out by the ski trail groomer passing over them.  I stopped a few times just to get a closer look.  They soon veered off on an ungroomed trail, so I decided this day was the one to catch up and get it in skiing condition...besides, the tracks pulled me that way.  A short trip and we merged onto the Moundbounder trail, the name implies a lot of hills and it does deliver.  At the top of the first climb, the lone track melted into a mass of packed snow-canine tracks everywhere, like a wolf party zone.  It stopped me in my...err, tracks.  I couldn't believe, or understand why everything was tore up. I could see more tracks cascading off the ridge line above me onto this spot.  Further below, something lay in the trail.  The deer skull and spine, with snapped off ribs, had been dragged, pulled and wrestled with from the top of the ridge to the spot where it rested.  That much of the story was now clear.  I may have even disrupted the tug of war or the feeding frenzy that had taken place.
Drag lines and Rib Patterns
In hind sight, I was probably right.  After completing my first pass, I discovered fresh wolf prints in the newly groomed snow.  They were still here, closeby.  I had moved the carcass off the trail and on my return trip, ravens and a immature bald eagle stood watch in the trees above- a sure sign they were aware the deer's body had been there and the wolfs feeding earlier had not gone unnoticed.

There were several places along the trail where earlier in the day or previous night, the wolves had taken advantage of the packed snow to wrestle, play or frolic, (if wolves do that) evidenced by the hundreds of tracks, "skid" marks and body slams in the snow.  I wondered what this must look like live.  The three (it appeared to be three wolves together at several tracking points) didn't appear to be fighting over scraps of food at those places-there was no blood or bone there, just a free for all as they loped along here and there.  I'd seen this behavior last winter while grooming in fresh snow, seeing the imprint of their bodies and heads in the snow.  They also appear to love snow "baths"-something our golden retriever would do, rolling around in the snow back and forth.
Tracks of Wolf and Sue J.
Fellow skier and trail worker Sue had been skiing the evening before and said she felt like wolves were stalking her.  She cut tracks several times during her ski, and as observed, some of her ski tracks lie on theirs, some the other way around.  I don't think it was stalking in any way, she was just skiing in their house.  On one pass, I stopped again and clammored up the sidehill where they had slid down and quickly found three beds directly on the Hermosa singletrack.  They'd slept here and at some point returned to the carcass below, which Sue had dragged off trail.  Apparently, they preferred it back where it'd been.
Tracks on Corduroy-Second Pass
The hours on the fourwheeler continued on and at several places, where I finished up my second pass, I'd cut new tracks...they were still here, and I'd strain to catch a glimpse of their shadows back in the trees and brush somewhere.  A similar scenario played out last year while grooming-two sets of tracks, then one and finally they went off trail.  I stopped and followed the line up hill, below the Sidewinder trail, and "he" stood there-unmistakable large dark shape, peering down at me.  My first wolf sighting.  The moment passed quickly and he bounded up to the ridgeline and was gone.  Unlike some, I feel wolves have a place in our natural environment, so for me, it was thrill.  Should there be a balance?  sure there does...I am a hunter, but I'll share with a creature who has lived here far longer than I, and maybe belongs here more than I.  At the moment I saw him, and when I see their evidence and know they are here, I feel a bit more alive, that I am a part of something bigger than myself and that's worth witnessing as often as possible.

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