I will try very hard to explain the aura of the day.
The moon is waning but still above half. It’s setting about two hours past dawn and it’s mighty bright if the day is clear. Today on the way to my secret spot was no exception but clouds came in fast after I was settled. However, with the combination of the moonlight dispersing through the clouds and the first pre-dawn rays of sun doing likewise, shooting light came early. But if was as if the sun stopped rising shortly after I could see my crosshairs against the amber grass. It failed to get brighter than new morning for the duration I was in the woods. The yellows and golds which seem bright as they welcome the dawn became sickly, jaundiced tones as the hours progressed without a sun.
A few squirrels chattered from their trees, but too few. And why would they not come down? A few birds called but from the safety of heavy brush in the woods. Why all this hesitation? Only the crows were active and it seemed that they were out in force to compensate for the lack of other life. They purred, burbled, cackled and screeched above my head. Their wings a terrifying swoop with every beat, much more fitting of a pterodactyl than a bird of their size. They would not rest as if to taunt the other creatures, shut up against the day.
All I could think of was malaria – bad air. Yes. The air feels bad. Too thick. Too still. Too…I don’t know. I am missing something. This like a febrile dream. Some unknown horror on the horizon. Tension at every turn for the something that is chasing you. But what thing? A think unknown. You turn to run but time slows and you cannot will your legs to run. It takes an eternity to move and inch and all the while the unknown is closing fast.
The clouds above scraping their bellies on the mountain tops, thinning to wisps that cascaded down a contour line or twelve in places but always, ever impenetrably thick. Enforcing, reinforcing, the anxiety of the air. Not even a breeze to stir the mood. No laughter of Aspen leaves as they caressed the tree one last time on their winter decent. Only the foreboding voices of large black birds criss-crossing the heights above my meadow.
My inner animal whimpered. Domesticated man had her hand on a rifle, with full knowledge of every single fifteen plus one rounds in her sidearm. But the deep neurons, the few still wired for the wilds were alarmed. I was naked and I knew it. Some sense that told all of God’s creatures to stay in their own thick brush or hole-in-tree equivalent of home with locked foors was lacking in my toolbox. Lost to my genetic line from years of breeding towards domestication or atrophied from want of need. Either way, when called upon it was not there.
There was a collective holding of breath. Waiting, waiting, waiting and though my nerves wound to match the strung bow tension of this mal air I could not name the aggressor. I could not determine if I, the great white hunter, should tremble at the unknown terror or perhaps this unnamable horror was my quarry and my heart should race instead for thrill. Over and over I tried to read the signs. The air. The clouds. The birds. The squirrels. The air. The squirrels. The clouds. The birds.
I heard the neighbors hound first, joined shortly after by our rent-a-dog, Cooper. What did they know that I did not which stretched their tension to finally snap?
East – A lone wolf howls.
This must be my antagonist I begin to unwind. But something is odd.
North – A coyote yips, howls. This is something I have never heard before on my mountain. Then in short order from the South East – another bachelor wolf.
Why had every canine around me come undone? What could they hear? Smell? Sense?
To the west, my answer. A wolf howls and is joined by another. Still more join in multi-toned chorus. Voices mounting and echoing as counter point as time stands still. Clarity washes over me with each wave of voice on voice. One wolf can silence a thicket of deer, but a pack unnerves every creature on a covey of mountains- including their own kind. Their solitary brethren fear them too.
They are getting closer, moving south and east, traveling thick timber. They are hunting.
That this act is natural is unmistakable. Much more so than my scent destroying chemical, high velocity with penetrating plastic tip for tough game, laboratory proven camouflage patterned presence between stump, rock and cedar.
The animals, the pack, the song, the swift sure motion of the unit towards a goal. It is also supremely beautiful. But it is a stark cold beauty, formidable, vain. A vertical traverse up an ice covered stretch of slope, gleaming white and blue. The chance of death much greater than that of success. It is the beauty of evolutionary success in action. Lithe bodies running through thick cover, seeking scent of prey. The beauty of staring into the end of a life.
A call breaks out across the trees. Ten bleats of a cow elk, steady and pronounced. I take this as a warning. No elk pursued directly could call out so clearly, so evenly. “They have arrived. You cannot hide. To the swift goes survival. You must run. Run!”
Close on the heels of this message comes a renewed cadence of ethereal howls. “Yes we are coming for you. We ARE the swift. We will outrun.”
Silence follows for some minutes. All creatures turn an ear to the chase. Their very lives depend on the death of some other life.
Another bleat. This a cry of agony, a cry for help that will not come. They will have hamstrung the elk. Back legs worthless it tumbles and they close in. It calls once more, shaky, fading. They will start at the stomach, then the back legs, a fury of blood and teeth, while the elk struggles to rise on front feet only. Loss of blood will bring on shock and the elk will cease to feel as light fades to darkness behind its eyes. But the peace of death will take an agonizingly long time to come. I strain to hear but there is no more.
The fever has broken. The mountain wakes stiffly, slowly, echoes of nightmare still clinging to consciousness. Now gingerly it fingers the idea of food, drink, something activity other than waiting out a horror in the clutches of a dream.
As darkness crept in beneath the shadow of the mountain, I heard the pack again. They were hunting. There are half grown pups to feed and they are hungry. This will continue until the elk move to another mountain and the wolves follow. I was thankful that I could shut the door behind me.
Idaho is one of a few states with a wolf season and they are currently huntable. 3 wolves have been killed legally (read: that were reported instead of buried in the woods) near here recently. One attacked a female bow hunter and she shot it with her side arm. Another was tracking a hunter closely enough that when the man went to shoot he had to wait for the other hunter to turn or risk shooting him. A third was taken in Bonner's Ferry, 7 feet long, 200 lbs. In unit 4 IN TOWN a wolf attacked 2 horses. Hamstrung one and did enough damage before it was chased off that it had to be put down. The other was severely wounded but they think it will survive. It is a miracle we survived the domestication process.