My story of coming to know Spitfire, from the beginning
(this is but an overview of events – when I tell the whole story in its final form, there will be much more detail)
When I first arrived in Lamar Valley and finally got to see the Lamar Canyon Pack they were high on top of a hill above the ranch. I kept hear “06’” over and over and then learned that she was the alpha female and a very popular wolf.
Now, back then, I knew so little about the wolves and so could only guess that “alpha” meant leader, or, top dog, if you will. When watchers spoke of 06’ that day, it was with an obvious affection in their voice.
The pack’s beta male (I did not know what that meant either), the alpha male’s brother, had been killed by a hunter just three weeks before and wolf watchers were having a difficult time trusting park visitors around “their” wolves. Consequently, an unknown from Idaho, the wolf hating capitol of the universe, was looked upon with wary eyes, particularly if she toted a camera because that mean that she also wanted to get close enough for photos. And, at that time, my lens was pretty puny.
My plan was to spend the winter in the park, in Lamar, learning about wolves and trying to decide for myself if they were as bad as people claimed and so the fact that the keepers of the wolves had been keeping me at a distance, made things difficult. Already I could see the changes in Lamar and see for myself that wolves made for a healthy eco-system because aspen trees were returning and the valley had more grass.
True, there were no elk standing around and munching their cuds, without a care in the world, as they had been in the past, but they were now up high, or spending their days in the trees, emerging at night to feed. The elk were there, if I looked but it was apparent that they had learned ways to keep themselves safer from the wolves.
Anyway, that day in Lamar when I first got to see the pack, 06’, was stretched out on top of the hill with her back to us and that was all I ever saw of her because she was dead the following day. A small black wolf that some women I had never met, had named “Spitfire,” was not on my radar and I would not have noticed her at that time. Instead, a few weeks later, I noticed Spitfire’s sister, a collared gray wolf that had been given the research number, 820F, when she stopped to look into my eyes as I drove past.
Obviously, I still knew very little about wolves that New Year’s weekend, 2013, but knew enough to know that the bold way that she stopped, standing absolutely still, but with poise and confidence, and looked directly into my eyes, meant a death sentence if she left the park. And, so, at the moment that I fell in love with my first wolf, I began to brace myself for her inevitable demise. When 820 looked back at me, I couldn’t resist trying to capture my first close image of a wolf and so picked up the camera that sat on the seat beside me, and snapped a couple of frames while still, very slowly, creeping by her. The camera’s settings were all off for the low light conditions of early morning, just after sunrise but, somehow, I managed to capture 820’s essence with a snap.
Of course, for the rest of the day, I half walked on a cloud of wonder, after having seen my first wild wolf up close, while at the same time feeling the cold shoulders of wolf watchers who had surmised that there was some way of me knowing that wolves were preparing to cross the road.
The watchers decided that I had purposefully gone to intercept those wolves and acted like it was the crime of the century for which I should be ejected from the park. I have since seen person after person, purposefully chasing after wolves and preventing them from crossing the road and realized that even if I had have had a clue about what was happening, it would not have been worst offense ever committed. So, we go back to the fact that I was from Idaho and a photographer.
At least I knew enough at that time to stay well back from the wolves when they appeared at the side of the road, and allow them to cross without worry – and to not hang out of the car and take photos while they were crossing. I will never forget how awful it felt that morning to find the wolves crossing, even though it was a moment I had dreamed about, just because of the judgement and criticism that constantly surrounded the actions of others.
My moment and it should have been filled with happiness and joy. Actually, as bad as I wanted to see wolves, I would have thought that people would have been happy for me to have that moment. Particularly because it was the moment that my fate was sealed and that I would become an advocate for Yellowstone wolves, in many more ways than just that they should not be killed by hunters, though that was my primary concern.
That night I posted a photo of 820 and wrote about my experience – and, when people looked at that image of her, they began to fall in love with a wolf they had never met, never would meet, and maybe never heard of before. Because she was collared, beautiful and bold, some had been watching her since a pup, but the world in general, of those who either did not visit the park or were able to spend very little time there, did not know the wolf and so I felt as though I introduced her to the world. And, that through my photos, stories and caring, she won many hearts.
This is my first post about 820F and, as you can see, instead of being ecstatic about my encounter, as should have been the case, I was fraught with concern about what others would think. While my arguments have become more refined with time and knowledge, and have since gotten to know many of the wolf watchers and have little or no issues with them, my concerns are still the same when it comes to wolf advocacy – you can’t fight hate with hate of one another.
For me, this situation has much improved and I have few complaints about the way I am treated, though do hear many gripes from other people. I stay out of those gripes and just do my best to educate about the wolves whenever possible. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse and have indeed moved on and forgiven what went on way back then, though the losses that I suffered are difficult to get over and forget. But, the point is, this is part of MY story and why I am still here, doing what I do – it shaped the way I do things and made the subject of wolf advocacy one that is dear and close to my heart. Unfortunately, the only tool I have to fight this with is my own behavior and so I keep learning and walking forward doing the best I can. Tomorrow (or the following day) continuing the story of how I came to know Spitfire.
Happy New Year and my dreams for 2013
I will not fight hate with hate – instead I will use the tools of education, kindness and respect. Everything in the natural world is a gift that I get to enjoy for a short time but do not get to keep, except in my writing, photography and memory, which I will share with you in hopes that you pass it on to someone else.
This morning was an ultra early start with -1 degrees, but it was rewarded with nearly 15 minutes of howling from the three members of the Lamar Canyon Pack (When they left the park there were thirteen wolves and from what I understand they fear that two were killed legally but have no idea where the other 6 are.) After the howling stopped some people told me that the wolves had disappeared and so I decided to drive and stay warm. Well, right after I entered the “no stopping” zone there were three wolves getting ready to cross the road. Except that they didn’t just cross but stopped and lingered. After yesterday I was upset about not being able to continue through because of what everyone else would think – instead of enjoying the wolves and worrying about their safety. Geez, Deby, get over it – right!? I didn’t take any photos initially, but when I passed 820F she was next to the road and turned to look. My camera wasn’t ready and the ISO was at 5000 for some odd reason and I was too chicken to come to a complete stop so literally snapped a few on the crawl. She could have cared less. My fears were not unfounded. Oh, and then later, when they came back, Yellowstone buses were stopping in the zone, along with others, and I got trapped behind with three wolves lingering off to my left but, again, I didn’t take the shots. Later, a man walked up to another photographer and yelled at him for stopping, despite the fact that he had passed on through and missed getting great shots of the wolves coming towards him. Getting out of control! All (for me) to keep peace with some folks who seem to be looking for problems. Not everyone is acting like that of course but it is a tense situation out there. Really takes the fun out of the experience of seeing and learning about the wolves, which seems counterproductive to the fight to save them.
I have no desire to have arguments or problems with anyone out in the park – this is supposed to be fun, educational and productive. But there are a few things that I will fight for and those are honesty, respect and equal treatment, not necessarily in that order. You can’t fight hate with hate and no one owns those wolves as they are there for the enjoyment of us all. I stand for hours and watch wolves, but I also photograph them, and all of my experiences are shared with everyone – which I happen to think is a valuable asset for educating people. And so it isn’t only people with scopes and little point and shoots, that fit in the scope, that get to see the wolves – they are there for everyone. And, if they wanted to avoid us the wolves know how to do that. They choose to walk between cars to cross the road and I have no control over that.
And so I spoke to the ranger and he assured me that I was fine – and he also told me to take the shot next time.
“You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself…”
Peace be with you – may you find love in what you enjoy and be able to share that love with those around you so that they might see the beauty also.
I really don’t want to get into a discussion about this – particularly any bashing of anyone. We can all do a little better, myself included.