It has been three years since I last saw the resident wolves of the White Wolf Sanctuary (WWS). Last Saturday I boarded a plane in New Zealand and arrived in Eugene, Oregon, about 19 hours later. I spent the night in Eugene and the following day getting lost in the town’s multitude of one-way streets, constantly reminding myself to keep right after spending most of my life driving on the left-hand side of the road. Once I found myself on Highway 99 to Florence my stress dissipated and the scenery quickly changed from large fast food buildings to pine forests and open road.
When I made it into the small, colourful town of Yachats it was like being welcomed home. The ocean stretches to your left for as far as the eye can see, the forest covers the mountains and hills like a bristly blanket, and the bright, multi-coloured buildings smile down at the highway invitingly.
For the duration of my volunteer work at WWS I’ve got myself a lovely room behind the Drift Inn pub & restaurant. The Drift Inn has always been my favourite place to eat on the coast, and since I was last here they’ve put together some enchanting little studio apartments that are rented out to visitors on AirBnB. Each room is unique, with beautiful mosaic tiled bathrooms and hints of coastal inspiration everywhere you look. My room is nestled up a flight of stairs and is the perfect place to retreat to at the end of the day, with the sun streaming in through the windows and the ocean breeze offering songs from the Drift Inn’s regular live musciains down below.
Arriving back at WWS on Monday was quite surreal. For the most part it hasn’t changed – the habitats are the same (the Director does not like use of the word “enclosure”), the meat prep. area and tours haven’t changed; it has been very easy to fall back into the routine that I’ve become so familiar with. Things that have changed are the people here, and there are some new wolfie face I’ve met as well as being reunited with old friends.
The four siblings, Nike, Tehalin, Sakarri and Modoc who I first met in 2010 are here and delightful as always. I never know when it will be the last time I see them, so I hang on to every moment with these beautiful souls. Nukka and Malina are also still here – they were two relatively young female siblings I met in 2014. Back then they were young enough to be housed together, but now they have mates of their own. Malina is paired with a so far elusive male from Washington named Baker, and Nukka’s habitat mate is a stunning young male with a pink nose named Everett. Everett also happens to be Baker’s son.
I have spent some wonderful time with Nukka and Everett so far. I’m always a bit nervous that my old friends may have forgotten me – but Nukka has been straight into gifting me with sloppy wolf kisses and it almost feels like I never left. Everett is an absolute darling, and he’s also treating me like we have known each other forever.
Tamahawk and Archidamus are still together. In 2014 I had a bit of a scare with timber wolf Archi when I pulled a gate too hard and the loud noise and sharp movement frightened him. When I walked around the sanctuary with a staff member on Monday I was informed that that’s quite normal for Archidamus, and he actually growls and barks at people he is wary of, which tends to be most men. In this first week back I’ve been as respectful of Archi as possible, keeping my distance from his fence (his territory) but Tamahawk has insisted on pats, and it turns out that Archi wants them just as much as she does! I’ve shared some lovely moments with them both so far, and I’m very thankful that Archidamus has forgiven any past transgressions.
The final two wolves at WWS are Queenie and her mate, a fluffy tundra wolf aptly named Goliath. Queenie is inquisitive but rather shy, and has not fully approached me yet. Goliath is our oldest resident at 14 years of age. He is a bit slower than the others, and his hearing and eyesight aren’t as good as they once were. Goliath seems to have taken a bit of a dislike to me, much to my sadness! He’s tried to nip me a several times so far – I’m hoping that in the coming weeks he’ll begin to trust me a little more in his own time, but we’ll see.
I haven’t noticed it rain once this entire week. Up on WWS’s mountain we don’t get much of a breeze, so the wolves spend most of the day sleeping until the sun gets a little lower. The days here are very peaceful. Tour groups often stay longer to sit on the porch and just listen to the natural quiet; the occasional rustling of the tall, dry grass; the calling of the ravens and crows. It’s difficult to capture this peace in writing, but perhaps you can imagine it; twelve wolves dozing happily in the afternoon sun, turkey vultures gently circling overhead in search of carrion, an old leaf here or there lazily gliding out of a tree to the earth below.
There’s actually something here that is making me increasingly anxious, but I’ll get into that another time. For now there is a beautiful, quiet day to enjoy. Below is a video I took while writing this; I was watching Queenie up near our driveway, and the wolves began howling. It is a haunting, joyous song that echoes around the hilltops.