Holding Vigil in Lamar

Endings and Beginnings
Endings and Beginnings

At this moment I am sitting with one eye on the Lamar den area and another on this computer.  Holding vigil – hoping and praying for a sighting and a miracle.

I pulled into Foot Bridge just as some RVers cranked up their generator, put the chairs out and opened their pullouts, in preparation of a night of camping in Lamar Valley.  My nerves are frayed already and the generator crashing its way into my thoughts  and the sound of the wind as it blows across the trees and the sagebrush was just too much.  I did not feel like being robbed of my moments with nature tonight – or of my thoughts and worries over the future of the Lamar Canyon pack – or of Spitfire specifically.  Without a doubt she is a survivor and she will make it through but her many losses in less than two months time make me sad.

When I first met her
When I first met her

How does she feel about the losses, only she knows.  I am projecting my own emotions onto a wild wolf.  But, I see these animals – I watched her from the beginning of her love affair with Big Grey, through the self-sacrifices for her sister’s pups and then their disappearance, along with that of her brother, Prince.  I watched her and Big Grey cement their relationship and operate as a team and saw them gain health and beauty.  Saw her belly grow big with pups and then I watched everyday for so long, waiting for the first glimpse.  Wondering, did the two adults succeed in keeping pups alive and how many were there.

Spitfire and Big Grey
Spitfire and Big Grey
Spitfire and Middle Grey on an old bison carcass
Spitfire and Middle Grey on an old bison carcass

But, long before all of that happened, I sat day after day in Lamar Valley waiting for a glimpse of Spitifire and for the moment the Lamar Canyon pack would rebuild and fill the valley with howls.  No one sat with me on those long days.  She was just one wolf, without a collar, and not much was expected of her.  But I expected her to be a great wolf and she is, even through all of these hard times.

spitfirealongriver001 copyspitfireandgrizzly002spitfirefall2013001
Was thinking today, when the emotions hit hard upon the realization that Spitfire is now alone.  Her pups are gone to somewhere and the four males that came courting her 5 weeks ago have returned to their pack – the Prospect Peaks.  I was thinking that her and I are similar in some ways.  So very strong and independent.  We are willing to do things ourselves and unwilling to depend on others for any help.  Yet, we yearn for love, comfort and a rock to lean on, but our strength and independence won’t allow us to let down our guard long enough to ask.  Were we born that way or is that self-protection a result of the hurts and losses that we have endured?

Maybe, in Spitfire’s case, she was born that way.  I did not know her mom, 06’, and so can only go by the stories I have heard about how she pretty much did everything herself.  And, maybe the loss of her mother – being witness to her and her uncle being gunned down – deepened her natural instincts.

In my case, it was definitely the results of many hurts – of a father who did not like me and the subsequent years of bending over backwards to do something to please him only for it to never be good enough.  I had no one to count on, to lean on and was afraid to show neediness and so I built an independent wall so thick it will never be penetrated.  Not even in my later years when a shoulder to lean against would be so very nice.

(I just saw Scarface and for some odd reason his presence fills me with comfort).

And, so I don’t know.  Rick says that wolves are more like people than any other species and I believe that is true.  Maybe we love them and fight over them so much because we seep bits and parts of ourselves in them.  I do know that to see a pregnant mom, left all alone through no fault of her own, hits me hard.  I feel the loneliness and helplessness, while also feeling the determination to make the impossible possible.  I would not give up and don’t believe she will either.

spitfiresodabutte001crop copy
I do know that all of these thoughts and feelings about Spitfire have come from many hours of watching her over the past two+ years.  Not watching her from the comfort of my computer but while being out in all kinds of weather, through long days and many miles, and seeing her through my own two eyes.  I have looked into her eyes more than once, because she chose it that way, not because I pursued her.  And from writing the many stories of her days, which I have shared with thousands of people.  And because of those stories so many more came to know the she wolf that we call “Spitfire,” and they love her also.  My observations and stories of this little black wolf have brought her to you like no one else could possibly do without the long hours of waiting and watching.

What I have brought has been the truth – the good, the bad and the ugly.  Oh, how I wish it were possible to fill you with pretty stories about my favorite wolf, where the ugly green monster never enters her life and robs her of any joy.  How I wish it were possible to only always tell you the beautiful stories of nature but that is not the reality of what I see out here.  If I were reading about the lives of these animals on the computer, instead of watching their pain and suffering – or their love and joy – with my own two eyes, it would be so much easier to keep things light and pretty.  But, I can’t dismiss what I witness.  At heart I am an educator and something in me feels like the truth is important – that for others to fully understand nature they need to know about all aspects, even if some things are unpleasant.  And, I don’t feel like our anti-wildlife folks will take us seriously if we gloss over the truth about the animals.  There are still some out there who don’t like to be lied to and who value truth and honesty when making important decisions.  In reality those are the folks who should be following my work, not those who simply want to be entertained with pretty stories, because the facts of my observations will often disappoint.

And, so while I sit here and wait for a glimpse and a miracle, mourning the many losses of this little black wild wolf, even though she might be just fine, I can’t help but think of how very difficult and emotional it is to be here watching the lives of wild animals.  In many ways I love the powerlessness of nature and that there is nothing that we can control in this environment, while on the other hand I want to see them thrive with fun, families and good food.  Which is ironic because often my favorite animals kill my favorite animals for food.

In some respects I am confused and surprised by my own level of emotions, that have built up since the death of 925, because I like to be reality based by accepting what is, right now.  But, I wish for better things, which is human nature.  And, some will fault me for bringing my own emotions into the trials and tribulations of this wolf but I am the one here experiencing the moments and there have been a lot of ups and downs.  The truth is that there have been days when I have wondered if my heart can take any more reality.  The disappointment and sorrow have been relentless.

But, it is not just the lives of the wolves out here that make up the harshness of reality in the park.  Just today I was thinking that Yellowstone is a horrible place to be for a person who dearly loves the wolves and wants to watch them, photograph and learn more about them, if one is not accepted in the group of friends who come here just to watch the wolves.  Many of the people are very nice and wonderful but some are so nasty and possessive – so dishonest and selfish, that they make it ten times harder for others to enjoy the wolves than it needs to be.  It is as if they believe that they own the animals and that they are part of the exclusive club who gets to really know the truth about them.  Unfortunately, for them, that is not true, we are all entitled to equal access of the wolves.  But getting them to behave like we all belong here is an impossible task and they have years of practice at making things really hard on those that they do not want around.  I am told that many, many people have been run out of here and away from their passion of the wolves due to this nastiness and can certainly see why.  I have a choice and that is to stay where the wolves are and fight this nastiness nearly every day, or to leave.  Which would you do?  I believe that even the strongest of people would eventually cave because they would wear out from trying to stay upbeat and positive with determination to enjoy watching the animals they love so much, while all the while fighting for information about where they are or what is going on with them.  I am more fortunate than most because I do have ways of getting the information and do know that I am entitled to it as well, but it still takes a lot of effort.

Wolf World is a hard place, not just because nature is tough and cruel, leaving us with a lot of disappointments, because human nature is mean, nasty and dishonest.  My hope is that one day everyone will get to enjoy these wolves equally and with little effort, except for finding them.  That the sight of a wolf running across Lamar Valley, or the sounds of a pack howling in the early morning, will be filled with only joy and a yearning for more.  And because that hope is strong and I believe that when it comes to fairness, it is our right in our national park, I will continue to educate people with the truth.  My hands are already dirty with fighting this battle, even though it has been fair and honest on my part, and I will continue to let people know that no one in Wolf World is any more special or privileged than anyone else.  If that, the truth, makes me a pain in the ass and keeps me unpopular, than so be it – my belief in fairness and honesty is way bigger than my need to be well-liked and surounded by friends.

At the end of the day, I want to know just how much us tough women can take from life’s let downs or the cruelty of humans, before we just don’t want to be anymore because everything we love and care about is yanked from us?  I so imagined that this would be a much kinder place…

Pregnant Spitfire 2015
Pregnant Spitfire 2015



Owner, publisher and photographer for The Yellowstone Daily. And, passionate about nature and wildlife

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13 thoughts on “Holding Vigil in Lamar

  1. Thanks, Deby, for bringing your great Yellowstone world onto my laptop every day. I hope that Spitfire can get through the bad and find joy again. And I wish the same, for you, sister. But if you cannot find the heart to carry on I understand that, as well. Here is hoping that the two of you can find peace, together.

  2. Deby, I am so touched with your truth and vulnerability that you write with. I look forward to reading your stories and reports on the Wolf World. Thank you for sharing your world with us.

  3. Deby thank you so much for all that you are doing, and I realize it is very, very hard at times. Even from my apartment in Bozeman, being a wolf and a wildlife advocate is simply hard because we do care so very much. It would be so much easier if human egos would simply get out of the way, however after over five years of doing this, I realize that is never going to happen. Just try and remember all the people you have made aware of wolves and all the other wonderful wildlife who call Yellowstone their home. And therein lies the problem; some people are simply jealous of you. Looking forward to seeing you next month.

  4. Magnificent writing, Deby! I so appreciate your honesty and truth telling, even so very difficult at times. You relay the truth of nature and of life, but we as human’s many times love to be immune to the truth which never serves us well.
    Our wolves and other wildlife are great teachers and I have learned so much from them as I have watched them for years! Your appearance upon the scene has allowed us from afar to continue our visits via your intense passion for the animals and I am so grateful for this. You fill us with compassion and understanding for all of the creatures and I can’t find enough words of appreciation for your sacrifices you make to bring us this world of awe and wonder. IT is my great teacher!
    I’ve stood on the knoll in LaMar and watched the mighty pack with 06 as lead as they played their way through the span of the valley – that joy was profound and it leaves you changed forever! I have felt the posses effects, I have witnessed the realities of animal live, but never can that outweigh the joy and beauty of this place called Yellowstone! Carry on my friend, you are AMAZING!

  5. Thank you for your beautiful words, wonderful pictures and hard truths. I love these wolves and look forward to reading your post daily. I have a job at a desk but for a few moments each day I am in Yellowstone following the drama, the loves… the losses and it makes me feel a part of this wonderful complex world–that is a beautiful and sad and wonderful place!!

  6. I love your stories about the lives of the Yellowstone wolves, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You have a wonderful way with words that make us readers feel like we are there watching the wolves right beside you. Keep up the great reporting and wonderful photos.

  7. I am new to your site and subscribed because it has been a breath of fresh, honest air with valuable insights. Much of what you write is moving, and your determination to be a better alternative to the wolf posse is greatly valued and important. I have seen them firsthand and was stunned by what I saw and heard. So, from Virginia, thank you for standing strong for honesty and truth.

    1. Welcome to YD and thank you for standing there with me. I believe that if we all stand together change will happen, not only in Lamar Valley but for the lives of all of the wolves. But, we must tell the truth and put these animals before our own egos, in both instances. Some people often say that but saying and doing are two different things.

  8. You have captured her in your photos and stories, and you have captured our hearts.
    Praying for her and hoping for the best for our little Spitfire.
    Thank you Deby for all you do.
    Keep safe and keep strong.

  9. Deby-Thank you for all of your hard work and honesty in your stories and beautiful shots. I appreciate all of your heart-felt emotions and even with all the turmoil in your life, just to provide us with your work of love and reality. Thank you my friend.

  10. Deby, you are doing your job well! I’ve learned so much about the wolves through your stories and photos. I’m sorry about the toll it is taking on you and your emotions, but please don’t give up! Your updates are the first thing I look for on Facebook every morning even if the stories are not always what I want to hear. Hoping for the best for Spitfire and her family…and for you! I think there’s a whole lot of people “hooked on wolves” because of you!

  11. Deby, I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for you with your being right there witnessing all that is happening every day. As we know, life is certainly not always fair. Even though I have never met you face to face, I know you are a strong woman in more ways than one. You have followed your heart and your passion for wildlife and photography since you have been in Yellowstone. Since I started following you on Facebook in 2013, I have seen a lot of growth in you as a photographer and a wildlife advocate.
    Only you can say when enough is enough, but please be sure it’s what you want to do and not what some mean, spiteful person would like to see you do. I don’t think you would ever be happy with that.
    Only time will tell what will happen with the little black Spitfire that you have helped all of come to care so much about. If it were not for you and your photography and wonderful writing, I probably would not know about Spitfire and the Lamar Canyon wolves. Many visitors to Yellowstone would not have seen a wolf for the first time had you not helped them.
    I do very much hope that Spitfire has some help when she has the pups, for we know that without it, their chance of survival is not good. But, if the outcome is not good, hopefully she will survive to find another mate and carry on. Ultimately, that is what we all must do, even in the face of adversity, carry on.
    Have a good night, Deby. Tomorrow will hopefully be a better day. Never give up!

  12. Oh Deby, I can feel your pain through your words. It is the distance that protects me. Otherwise I would be a wreck. I can get into my car and go to work and Lamar can receed to the corners of my mind. But I look for your words and images every morning and night. Its amazing you can keep up that pace. Please be sure to do good for your soul. I too have a sad family story. These days I can open my eyes every day and feel so blessed. But we feel with every fiber of our being for the animals. This week I am trying to get over the owlets who didnt make it. I have been watching for weeks, never gave their location away. Life for the wild is harsh. Please except my heartfelt condolences for your sorrow.

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