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.

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.

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