Dawn, and the lake is shrouded in gossamer wisps of fog. Howls erupt again, this time on either side of our camp. I am moments out of the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag, rubbing sleep out of my eyes. Then in a jolt, I am alert. A yipping just to the north of camp crescendos into a distressed wail.
Three full-throated howls answer from the south. The wolves exchange calls back and forth, drawing closer to our camp each time. My mind shorts out, unable to decide whether this is good or bad.
Again to the south, three howls explode. Closer still. Then a crashing in the brush. Along the trail leading to our site, a gray wolf appears and flashes into an opening. I catch a glimpse broadside in full trot, a ghostly gray streak, ears perked and broad snout pointing forward. It vanishes. Then dead silence. We’ve just witnessed a rendezvous of four of the island’s last wolves.
We decide to hike five hours back to Windigo to tell the rangers; I gleefully fill out the wolf encounter report. Our observation will be relayed to the scientists, contributing one important tidbit to the research. The rangers are shocked to hear that we saw wolves exhibiting social behavior so far from the Chippewa Harbor pack’s historic territory. Were they extending their claim? Were some wolves breaking to form a rival pack?
The answer, I realize later, is both wonderful and sad: We may never know.