Last night was brighter outside than I have seen since I left the city. One of the great things about moving to Montana has been the darkness of the nights. They are deep and velvet and the stars… in the city, I almost forgot how beautiful they are. Last night as I walked out of my last assignment I looked up and noticed an incredible moon. It seemed brighter, even larger. I dismissed this as wishful thinking and went on. But as I got home, I was struck again by how bright it was outside. Turns out that last night was the brightest full moon of 2010.
Out here, the full moon that occurs when the moon is closest to Earth on its elliptical orbit is called a Wolf Moon. That name became especially significant around 1 a.m. last night.
There are wolves in Montana. One of the things I have enjoyed most about living here is heading out onto the porch to listen to them howl and hunt around the house. Hearing them reminds me of one of my last photo shoots from my time in Maryland. In September I heard about a Wolf Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. Just a few hours north of me. I went up and spent three hours photographing wolves, it was my first time getting that close to them.
Of course, I got there early. I wanted to good light of sunrise. Such is the life of a photographer, so that meant getting up around 2 or 3 and driving along deserted highways to the town of Lititz, Pa. Once there I paid the $75 dollar fee for professional photographers to get closer to the fences and was allowed to make my way along the path and to put my lens right up against the chain link fence that separated me from them. This photo above, this is one of my favorites because of the work I had to do to get it. It was early morning remember, the grass is overgrown and soon my pant legs are soaking wet with dew. I climbed the hill to the furthest place I was allowed to go and there I found this wolf. Out here I have run into several people who dislike wolves (some of them take that dislike all the way to outright hatred). I don’t blame them for this, they have their stories and their reasons. But I am still new here, and to my mind, the wolves have a dangerous elegance I have seldom seen.
My favorite part of the day came when the wolves gathered and all began to howl. I wish desperately that I had brought an audio recorder with me. The sound of it was haunting. That cry that they make, one lone wolf baying at the moon is enough to set me on edge, the sound of all of them calling out their morning greetings, I can’t put it into words, but it’s something I shall never forget. Fortunately for me, it was late enough in the year that in the early morning you could see their breath as they howled. The photo just doesn’t do it justice.
Of the wolves I got to see at the sanctuary this guy became my favorite. His name is Tioga. This is not my friendliest photo of him. But I keep this image as one of my favorites because he looks (to me) most like what he is – a predator. See the way he stalks forward, his head low to the ground, taking in what he can learn from what he smells. In this photo, he’s coming at me. And yes, even safely on my side of the fence I have to admit, my heart was pounding. Tioga in this photo is the closest image I have to capturing what happened last night.
Sometime shortly after 1, I was startled awake by Nova barking and Valerie calling down to me from her room. A wolf outside. A dark shape moving against the snow on the driveway. Absolutely amazing. And Valerie tells me wait, where there’s one, there is usually another. Seconds later I saw him, making his way through the trees and the snow following his fellow hunter. The size of these animals is hard to explain. They’re big, but big in the way that a Great White shark is big compared to a clown fish. They move with grace, power and stealth that lets a person know instantly these are not pets. Every time I see a dog, there is a part of me that becomes a kid again and says “puppy.” Not so with wild wolves. There is nothing cute of fuzzy about these guys. Beautiful, but not cute. Two wolves went walking under my bedroom window last night under the Wolf Moon. And I don’t have a photograph of it. There was no time to do anything other than stand at the window and watch in amazement. What I do have is one more memory to add to my Montana collection. And it’s a memory I shall treasure.