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In the end, he spent the better part of two weeks in the backyard, screaming at night. At first, it sounded like a wounded deer, or a baby, or a trapped raccoon. I knew it couldn’t be a baby, but there is something about an animal making desperate human sounds that pulls you out of bed and into the night. It had happened before.

I left my baby--no longer a baby, really, but almost as vulnerable--in the house. She peered out of the window into the darkness. I told her to watch for my headlamp, that I would call out to her when I made it to where she might see the light’s strobe, streaking against the moonless sky.

August nights beckon winter with abandon, a shameless cold. My warmest robe and Rainbows, flip-flopping through dew-heavy grass, taking off the sandals to wade the creek, robe pulled up, creek muck sucking feet down, rinsing feet, stalking.

My child shouts out from the window, “Mama, I’m scared about you!”

She has seen my light disappear into the heavy brush and it’s not until I am hip deep in grasses that I consider the reality of living on the edge of a golf course. This is no place for sissies. Here and there, daybeds, matted grasses telling of mama moose and baby moose, the proclivities of bison, their hulking shadowed masses still as an abandoned automobile, and lethal.

The crackling scream is nearly above me now, and I am just so close that I can almost see this creature, and even though I know what it is, I need to see it to reconcile the aching cry it makes over and over again, pained and imploring, ceaseless.

Several more paces. My daughter yells again from the window. I marry her tone of voice with my imagination and come up with a grisly image: a child watches her mother disappear on a simple lookabout; standing guard in the window, as instructed, she listens closely as the silence turns to chaos, her mother being trampled to death.

I retreat.

My girl is relieved, the bed is warmer than it has ever been. We leave the curtains open, and talk about the creatures outside: the wolves we saw less than one mile away, the bird feeders hung high to discourage bears, buffalo larger than the back door. No wonder the poor child never wants to hike.

And then, the scream. It is nearer than ever, an arm’s reach away, just outside the glass. Together we hold our breaths, both of us waiting for it again, and then, it is the sound of a conch shell held to your ear, the rush of ocean suddenly, magically in your palm: the fireplace a megaphone to this expanse of feathers spreading, giant wings pushing air, bringing body to a halt.

A clamor of talons, the tinny echo of claws clasping the metal flashing around the chimney top. My quarry has landed, and if we could just crane our necks out the window and look up, we could see him: massive, unmistakeable, crying out ten feet from our pillows.

 
 
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Paw print at the crossing
On Christmas Eve, one of my best friends sent me an iPhone video that was nothing but blackness. “Make sure the volume is up” he told me.

Off in the distance, echoed and hollowed sounding, the howl of wolves. I imagined them, large paws padding the fresh snowfall, wending their way between the river-bottom firs.

What I know of wolves are speck-sized dust spots in my scope, the Lamar Valley, and so many head of elk running to and fro, careening like a flock of waxwings across the snow.

I was taught early on as a birder that the secret to identifying species is silhouette and context. The details get lost in the distance, the absence of glass to bring their barred and bibbed patterns in close a missed opportunity to tick a lifer off your list.

Nine o’clock in the morning. Late. The traffic of daily living already quieting. Sun high and a ribbon of inversion knitted together by the cold and rising. Priceless, but here, commonplace.

Click. Beautiful. Again.

The iPhone is a poor tool for such moments, but as the saying goes, a bad camera is better than no camera at all.

Besides, you don’t drive your preschooler to school thinking that on the way you’ll see wolves.

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Black wolf, zoomed
The car was stopped. They came from the south. After two, I knew to wait. Accustomed to the ways of migratory shuffles, there are always more.

Black wolf. White snow. Cottonwoods. Grey wolf. Road. Grey wolf.

Three in all.

Lumbering and leggy, their run is a rocking-horse rock, their mouths the open mouths of carousel animals, bridleless. It’s full-out or nothing at all.

E watched along with me, speechless, a witness.

Much later, on the way home, we searched out the tracks, the place where the wolves crossed the road. I sunk, thigh deep into the sage flats and compared my palm to their paw, the way their tails cantilevered their gait against the awkward pull of the snow, wet and spring-like by midday.

I was still half-thinking we had somehow, the two of us, conjured the whole thing.

It wasn’t until later that I realized there, in my iPhone camera, in the big, wide view, the first black wolf is there. You can see him!

Not at all a ghost: opaque, pricked ears, that wild tail.