adventure, america, animal rescue, animal welfare, anxiety, arctic wolf, arctic wolves, bully, bullying, depression, Florence, Gem of the Oregon Coast, mental health, Ocean Haven, Oregon, sand dunes, self care, travel, USA, volunteer, White Wolf Sanctuary, Yachats
After my partner and I spent several days exploring the USA’s west coast from California, we had made it to Yachats, the “Gem of the Oregon Coast”, and the place I consider to be my second home.
When I first ventured to Yachats it was 2010, and a very different time for me. I was feeling very alone, I had not yet properly acknowledged my depression or anxiety, I was not settled in a home environment. I had no full-time job to tie me down, but I also had no financial stability. The dynamics of my family had recently changed. I had planned a three-month trip to the USA to do an internship at the White Wolf Sanctuary. It was a beautiful but trying experience, and I’d wished that I had someone special to share it with.
Now, I was able to share it with my life partner. What an incredible thing to be able to do. Better yet: my mother and sister would be joining us in a few days! My favourite place in the world had held some lonely times for me in the past, but I was now turning that all around.
My partner and I spent our first day checking out the sand dunes in Florence, the next town south of Yachats. Florence has these amazing sand dunes stretching for miles – rolling hills and valleys of them. My partner is quite into his fitness and sport, and we hired a couple of sandboards for the day. My partner is very athletic, but I am very the opposite, and while he flew down the sandy slopes I merely faceplanted. The sand dunes are a really neat destination to check out if you have some time in the area – you can go on ATV tours, hire buggies, and even hike around the waves of sand. I got tired pretty quickly out in the hazy sun wandering around the dunes with my partner searching for the perfect slope. I slept very well that night!
It wasn’t long before my mother and my sister arrived. Mum and my sister opted to stay somewhere in Yachats, while my partner and I were at my favourite little spot on the coast (Ocean Haven), so there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with only one vehicle. After everyone was settled in to their accommodation we got ready for the tour I had planned for us: a guided tour (with me as the guide!) of the White Wolf Sanctuary.
So that brings us back to WWS. My heaven, my heartache. My world and my woe. I know that sounds very dramatic, but it’s the best way I can sum it up. And it’s all true.
This place is impossibly dear to my heart, and if I dwell for too long on how far I live from it I am easily saddened. Before my partner flew up and met me in California I volunteered for over a month at the White Wolf Sanctuary. I was so looking forward to being back, and to updating everyone frequently on the exciting work I was doing. But after my first day back at the Sanctuary I was ready to throw the towel in and leave it behind for good.
In 2010, fresh out of university, I headed to the White Wolf Sanctuary for the first time as an intern for three months. I had been excited and ridiculously nervous to meet Lois, the Founder and Director of this incredible sanctuary. Lois was a passionate, inspiring woman whose opinions on environmental topics resonated strongly with mine. I wanted nothing but to do a good job for her, and hopefully befriend some wolves along the way.
Turns out the wolves were easy to bond with (such wonderful creatures they are), but despite working hard for the Sanctuary I came to feel like I would never be good enough. The first week of my internship in 2010 with Lois was bliss; she was my role-model, friend and confidant. I looked up to her, and spent almost every day there working by her side. But after that first week her demeanour with me changed. She began to bully and belittle me.
I live with a mental illness. Sometimes I still find that shameful to say ‘out loud’, but it’s not. We need to make this topic less taboo. I believe that my quirks, personality traits and the way my mind works can make it difficult for me to be with sometimes. I do recognise this, and while I have shunned that acknowledgement in the past it is something that I have worked hard on in recent years, and I’m now in a place where I am incredibly proud of and happy with myself. Lois is an indescribably amazing person, and I love her, as so many people do. I can recognise, however, that at times she is difficult to be around. I’m not going to put a label on why this is, but I do know that people have given up on her in the past because of how she treats them. She has told me that she loves me, but she’s also told me to go back to my ‘own country’. She sings my praises regarding my relationship with the wolves, then she’ll yell at me to get out and not come back. I’m told that I’m a wonderful friend, and then that I don’t truly care about her. The ups and downs are difficult to bear with. Hence, being at WWS under her direction is bittersweet. I gladly work hard for the sanctuary, getting my hands dirty with wolf poop and prey carcasses and muddy water troughs. Quiet time with the animals is my utter bliss, but the negative interactions with Lois are upsetting. I look up to her, and want so badly for her to acknowledge me positively. Unfortunately, due to her own demons, she cannot always do this.
When I came back for my third time during this last visit, Lois was not physically well. It was difficult to see her so frail; she has always been so sprightly and tough. A staff member who I had never met before was taking care of things around the sanctuary while she was mostly staying indoors. I got to learn that he was working very long hours because other staff members had left. He was having to cover the daily duties (including food preparation, cleaning, tourist tours, property maintenance, etc. etc. etc.) as well as checking up on Lois, as well as staying until after the sun went down to feed the wolves at night (so that the hordes of crows didn’t eat their dinner). In summer the sunset happened late in the evening – this man had his own family, but no time in which he could be with them.
On my second day, during a disappointing encounter with Lois, this staff member was told to not come back. Why? Because, she told him, Sam was here now and he wasn’t needed. He told me this as I was getting things ready for a tour that I assumed he’d be leading (I wanted to refresh myself on the ‘ropes’). Blimey, did I panic when I realised that now I was expected to carry out all the duties on my own. I had also committed to doing online work for my New Zealand job in the evenings – it would be impossible for me to fit everything in. It would be impossible for me to not burn out. At first there were a couple of other people who could be counted on to do the evening feeds, but that soon fizzled out. Past volunteers were then begged to, and these lovely folk agreed to help out at night so long as they only had to deal with the wolvesies. It was a constant battle and an exhausting few weeks – not physically, but emotionally. Loved ones back home were begging me to take care of myself; to step back and remove myself from the source of my constant anxiety and upset. But then who would care for the wolves each day?
Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and I’m here in Oregon with my family. I’m meant to be taking them for a day trip to see the wolves, and I’m terrified. Will Lois curse at my family and tell them to leave? How have the small rally of volunteers coped with things over the last couple of weeks? I make a decision not to introduce my family to Lois. I tell them all about the incredible things she has achieved, and teach them all about the wolves on the drive over. We take the five miles up the forested mountain to the sanctuary slowly, admiring the american jungle around us and its utter beauty. We reach the fence line to the first enclosure and my mother gasps as I once did when I first arrived seven years ago. I smile, and smile, and smile, about to introduce some of my favourite humans to the beasts that I have spoken so much about for years.
My family are nervous. They are about to meet and touch wolves for the very first time. They know that this moment means a lot to me, and they want to make a good impression on these incredible animals. I know that they will.
My partner meets Everitt, a beautiful, incredibly social male (here’s a list of the current wolves of the White Wolf Sanctuary). We approach the fence together, walking normally – not too fast, and not slow. Once we reach the fence we crouch down, and my partner places the back of his hand against the cold metal. Everitt wanders right over and greets him, licking his hand and turning on his side for a scratch. My heart swells.
My sister and my mother meet Sakarri, the most gorgeous little sweet soul. Sakarri flattens her ears in excitement and looks like she’s about to take off; she can’t get to them fast enough. She kisses them all over their faces and buries her nose in their hair. She rubs her side against the fence and tries to cover herself in their scent. Even shy Modoc comes along to say hello, interested in who these joyful and gentle people are that I have brought to his home.
We spend the day making the social wolves and ourselves wholly happy, and we are treated to multiple howls and uncountable kisses. We return the next few days to ensure that everyone is fed, watered and content, and sadness suffocates my heart as we drive away for the last time to continue our trip. And writing this, right now – this is difficult for me to end.
How I miss the wolves.