Some stories need to be told. Some are so incredible, inspiring and bigly amazing that to hold them back would be one of the great injustices of the world. This might just be one of those tales. Written in just one hour for this week’s #NatureWritingChallenge, I present the following.
I knew before I sat down that feeling the cold, steel toilet against my skin would be the worst part of my day. It was the middle of winter in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, where highs in the single digits seem to be as commonplace as bison. On this day, the windchill was -5 and I had barely felt a breeze briskly walking from the comforts of heated seats to the pit toilet. I had left the house a few hours earlier, spending the early morning sunlight racing to the park, gradually waking with a combination of 80s break beats and coffee. I was warm. I was happy. I just needed to make one stop before spending the day snowshoeing Pebble Creek. So there I was, prepping myself to sit down.
“Might as well get this over with,” I thought to myself.
I get it. Hearing about this may not be a great intro, but it needed to be told. Many of our finest hours start in less than glamorous situations, and this is one of them. Knowing it would be over quick, I gained the strength to place skin to frozen seat. My first thought was “Oh no, this was a mistake.” In a millisecond, my upper hamstrings nearly cramped up, as the cool steel was doing its best to give me the world’s strangest case of frostbite. The frozen twinge of pain was so much that I nearly let out a howl. And that is when I heard it.
Perplexed, I sat there with a series of thoughts darting through my head. Had I imagined the howl? Did it came from someone in the pit toilet next to me? Was I suddenly a believer of ghosts?
The number of “Owooooooooooooos” quickly increased and I soon realized what was happening. I was on a frozen toilet in Lamar Valley, hearing a pack of wolves in the distance. As I set the lid down and put some PURELL on my hands, I knew that I may be in for a truly remarkable day. Opening the door, the non-existent breeze did its best to send chills down my spine, but the time for being cold had passed. There were wolves to see.
Before I hopped in the car, I stood silently, looking out into the immense prairie to my south. Lamar Valley is home to many incredible animal experiences for me, including this one time I met a guy more excited about seeing a bald eagle than watching wolves. But that tale is for a different day.
Listening intently, another “Owooooooooooooo”, broke the silence of the snowy landscape, letting me to that they were to the east. Knowing the park far too well, especially this corner, I jumped in the car and headed to the next pull off, just a mile or so away and around a bend in the Lamar River. By now, the music was off, the coffee was empty and the windows were down. Could I have heard the wolves howling over the noise of the four cylinders? Who knows, but I had to try.
Rounding the final corner, the first view of the pull off was caught. A handful of cars were there, with people standing in front of them, staring through spotting scopes and camera lenses, looking south. I parked quickly, not looking ahead to the field until I had grabbed my camera from the back seat. Double checking the settings as I removed the lens cap, I pulled up my head and was in awe. A few hundred yards away, in the middle of a snowy wonderland, a pack of over a dozen wolves was running down a hillside. Howling and jumping, the leaders of the pack emerged ahead of the main group, beelining toward a reddish spot between the hill and the road. Zooming in, I could see it was an elk carcass, explaining the commotion.
For the next four hours, I stood with a handful of others, watching a pack of wolves take turns eating a somewhat fresh kill. It honestly felt like 30 minutes. Overhearing the more serious wolf watchers, I learned that the wolf was killed the night before, making this a perfect day to be out watching. As the lower ranked wolves cautiously approached the kill, the more dominant in the pack would saunter away, bloated off of the tasty treat. When each wolf had dined, very aware of the onlookers to their north, they retreated back up the hill, laying in the late day sun, occasionally breaking into howls, as if to rejoice in their gluttony.
(Sorry for the rough spots in this video!!!)
While others around me had thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment and tripods, which one wolf watcher in Yellowstone will illegally try to sell you one, I rocked a smaller lens, taking pictures of what I was actually seeing. My fellow wolf viewers surely took better pictures than me that, but that doesn’t bother me.
I took great pictures that I love.
I watched a pack of wolves eat for hours on end.
I got to hear them howl as I battled frostbite on my glutes.
I had an amazing day that I will never forget.
*This post was written in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge. Follow the Hashtag on Twitter to be a part of next week’s writing adventure.
Douglas Scott is an expert on all things Yellowstone, thanks to 30+ years of visits and employment in the region. With this knowledge, he has put together a wildlife watching guidebook to Yellowstone National Park, helping animal enthusiasts of all ages experience the incredible sights of the park.
Purchasing The Ultimate Wildlife Watching Guide for Yellowstone National Park is the perfect start to planning your Yellowstone adventure and is sure to get you excited for all the wildlife viewing potential. Preorder a copy today and get ready for a fall full of reading, day dreaming and planning your next adventure.