Written on Monday 8th September
It definitely felt a little intimidating coming back to the White Wolf Sanctuary after several years – the more I got in touch with the centre the more I realised several different people were replying to my emails and phone calls; new names and voices. In the earlier stages of planning this trip I remember trying to figure out how many staff members were now involved in WWS – back when I first visited in 2010 there were a few of us, but I was really the only full-timer there for the three months of my internship.
The day after I flew in to Eugene, Oregon and got settled into my abode at Waldport, I bought a $5.00 ‘burner’ cellphone and called the Sanctuary asking what time they would like me there the following morning to start. Lois (Sanctuary director) wasn’t near the phone so I spoke to a girl name Elle who has been working and living here full time for the last few months. She said that they had so many people coming in the next day I wasn’t really needed. This was, of course, bittersweet for me – in that I was really excited for the Sanctuary having so many helpers, but of course I was wanting to come and greet everyone as soon as possible. The day off, however, ended up being greatly appreciated, and I caught up on a bit of work I needed to get done for my day job back in New Zealand, plus I managed to explore some of the local area.
Finally, Friday morning I headed back out to Tidewater through the Siuslaw National Forest. I turned in to the private driveway of the Sanctuary, somehow remembered how to open the forestry gate, and headed up the mountainside.
It was just as I remembered. You head up a dusty, gravelled dirt road that winds its way around a mountain for two miles. The forest utterly surrounds you, aside from the bare, dry patches of land where clear-cutting has occurred. Back when I was up here in 2010 there had been a particularly steep portion of road that would see many cars sliding backwards, so I was a little worried about how my rental vehicle would manage it, but the road has been improved since and the car made it up just fine.
You have no idea of the very many emotions that were bubbling through my little body as I drove up the forestry road. Nostalgia hit me in full force when I passed through a second gate which still has “NO HUNTING” signs plastered all over it and an American flag hanging high above. In front of me was the green cabin that Lois’ mother had lived in before Lois arranged for a pre-built house to be brought up the mountain in three ginormous pieces. The little cabin is now fondly known as the “Howliday Inn”, and functions as accommodation for staff and/or volunteers who do not live in the immediate area. Unfortunately when I had organised to come back to the Sanctuary the Inn was already full, but there have since been some staffing changes so I may be able to stay there after all.
The house that had been brought up in three massive pieces four years ago now sits comfortably up the top of the mountain overlooking what has come to be known as the Visitor’s Cabin (which served as Lois’ place of residence before the new house was built). As I came closer and closer to the house, wolf-proof fences ran alongside me and I drew in my breath as I spotted two fluffy white bodies trotting through the trees. There was a small line of cars near the new house, so I parked alongside the others and wandered over to Lois’ door. She opened it before I got there, and greeted me with a big hug. It was simply surreal being back.
In the last four years, five of the ten wolves I grew to know have passed away, and five new creatures have been lucky enough to be placed at WWS. The first fellow I met this time around was a strapping Tundra wolf named Goliath. He is ten years old and his habitat-mate is a beautiful 15-year-old lass named Hope. As soon as I had gotten out of my car Goliath raced down to the fence to “check me out”, according to Lois, and while Hope is generally reserved she also came down to greet me and even planted delicate elderly wolfie kisses all over my face. It was such a delight. I know that it was nowhere near as intimidating as the first time I ever, ever met a wolf, but I still had the ‘Are they going to like me?’ worry.
The real ‘test’, however, came at the end of the day after the jobs were done and the wolves had had a long rest in the shade. The whole point of working with the Sanctuary is to give the wolves the best life possible, so, for example, if the animals are sleeping we do not go and wake them up unless it is absolutely necessary. Friday had been a very hot day up the mountain – not a cloud in the sky – and the wolves were completely stretched out in deep resting mode. I had worked around them, doing chores and cleaning enclosures and such, but because they had been sleeping I hadn’t yet had a chance to say hello to Tamahawk, Nike, Sakarri, Modoc or Tehalin – the five wolves that I had bonded with during my 2010 internship.
Lois long ago said that once wolves get your scent they will remember you forever. I was so very nervous that having me come back after four years would throw this theory out of the window. I have told you about the precious, quiet moments I used to have with Tehalin in particular; how we could sit for hours in each other’s company – I feared that despite all the strong memories I myself have of those times, he would treat me like a stranger.
Sakarri and Modoc were the first to say hello – on this day they were in the habitat closest to the Visitor’s Cabin where I had spent a lot of the day. Elle went along with me to see how the greetings went. Sakarri’s name means “Sweet” in Inuit, and there isn’t a better description for her; she scampered up to the fence all smiles as I approached, and lifted a little paw in the air – an indication of her excitement. Modoc – often shy – also ambled over to greet me. It was just lovely, as if there had hardly been any time between now and when I last saw them.
After Elle and I gave Sakarri and Modoc some cuddles through the fence, we then headed down the driveway to finally see Nike and Tehalin. You can’t, of course, take anything animal-related personally, but I found myself fearing Tehalin’s rejection! It was odd knowing I had thought about and missed this creature every single day, but I may have to start all over again with him.
However, my worries were for naught.
Nike and Tehalin were pacing back and forwards along their fenceline excitedly, whimpering loudly with their eyes on Elle and me as we approached. You must be sure in your actions when you approach the wolves; being too slow and cautious can make it seem as though you are stalking them, and of course running over to them would scare or overexcite them, so I tried to compose myself as much as possible even though my heart felt as though it was beating out of my chest. Nike’s beautiful, lean white body was just as I had remembered, and Tehalin gazed at me with those incredible eyes of his, framed with yellow-tinged fluffy arctic fur.
I got to their fence, and knelt down. It was such a gorgeous reunion – the pair smothered my face in slobbery kisses, whimpering excitedly, pressing themselves against the fence to be scratched. It took a long while for them to calm down – this was no ordinary greeting, as they would behave with a stranger. Who can say what they were thinking, but it was so good to know that they at least recognised something familiar about me.
Greeting Tamahawk was a little bit different – she has always been a sprightly wee thing, and now has this incredibly stunning habitat-mate named Archidamus. Archidamus is actually a timber wolf, not an arctic wolf, but I will share his story with you another time. Tamahawk is now seven years old, and Archidamus is only two, so you may think he would have her on the run sometimes – but this is certainly not the case! Tamahawk didn’t greet me as a stranger, but her mind is always working at a million miles an hour so she was quite happy to run off and play after a shorter get-together.
In summary? Wolves do remember, and it feels like home to be back again.