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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Without the Beasts

What is man without the beasts? For if all the beasts were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit. -- Chief Seattle

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. -- Chief Seattle

I love these quotes by the great Indian chief, Seattle. They seem particularly relevant to me now, after spending a wonderful week in Yellowstone National Park (and a couple of days near Grand Teton National Park), searching for, observing and photographing the park's magnificent wildlife.

Although wolves are typically very reclusive and stay well away from humans, we saw wolves on four different days. And we were able to watch some animals without the use of spotting scopes. One cold and windy evening, just at sunset, we watched the entire Lamar Canyon pack of eight wolves (parents and six yearling pups) trotting across the snowy landscape. We saw a small group of wolves just hanging out together. The sound of their howls as they talked to the rest of the pack across the road was spine-tingling. The morning we were leaving Yellowstone, we were thrilled to see two wolves, a male and a female, lying in the snow just 100 yards off the road. We watched in awe as they eventually got up and walked up a nearby hill. And on the last day of the trip, we followed four beautiful gray wolves as they trotted in line across the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming. Although I think all wolves are beautiful, these four were particularly magnificent. My eye saw what would have been a fantastic photograph, with three of the wolves back lit by the morning sun. Sadly, they were too far away for a photograph, but seeing them through a spotting scope was still a thrill.

One of the guides mentioned that while many people come to Yellowstone with the dream of seeing wolves, many never see them. But even then, they appreciate enjoying Yellowstone's sense of wildness. For them, as for me, just knowing the wolves are there is comforting. And getting to see them, as I did, and even getting to see and hear them howl to their brethren across the the road, was a special treat.

Elk cows on Wyoming's National Elk Refuge.
Bison were present, too, although in smaller numbers than usual. And bighorn sheep, pronghorns, foxes and even a grizzly that left hibernation months early due to the unusually warm weather. We saw bald and golden eagles, and beautiful trumpeter swans. And of course, elk were plentiful at Wyoming's National Elk Refuge. 

Wildlife are under attack in many places these days. Many ranchers hate wolves and coyotes and jump at the chance to kill them. Bison are under attack by none other than Yellowstone National Park, in conjunction with Montana cattle ranchers.

Grizzly bears are hunted in some places despite their limited numbers. Wildlife in other countries face threats from poachers, trophy hunting and human encroachment. I worry about what we humans are doing to this planet. We use it up, we
Mine it, we pollute it. Not only the wildlife, but human lives as well, may well be threatened if we don't change our ways.

Chief Seattle was a wise man indeed. So many of would "die of a great loneliness of the spirit" if we lose our magnificent wildlife. These animals, all of them, have a great intrinsic value far beyond whatever economic impact they have. Thousands of people visit Yellowstone every with the hope, however small, of seeing a wolf. We are thrilled to watch bison, bighorn sheep and other wild animals. It fills our souls with hope and a connection to something much older and greater than us.