Note: Part 1 and Part 2 are already posted. If you haven’t read them, I suggest starting there.
M21, the well known alpha male of the Druids for many years. We first knew him as a black wolf. Over the years he became very distinctive with a sliver belly and face; and darker back and nose. He wears a telemetry color.
Sept. 24, 2000:
The Lamar Valley is freshly dusted with snow. A whole passel of Druid wolf pups are spread out on the valley floor. What a bunch of shenanigans! Most of the pups are black, a few grays. Rick McIntyre tells us 20 our of 21 puppies have survived and are all out there with one adult. Some are vole hunting, some are rough-housing. They look quite big. At first glance I don’t know if I would have realized it was a bunch of pups.
A large grizzly has come out of the far woods. He stands, then wanders over to the pups and right into their midst. We hold our breath, but all is well. No confrontation. The pups know enough to harass from a distance. Deep pink tops the snow capped mountains to the east as a clear, cool dusk takes over the valley. At last light the grizzly is still out there.
April 27, 2001, 5:25 PM:
Luke and Maleah have just pointed out a bison cow and calf being harassed by many wolves. They counted 18 at one point. It’s the Druids. All is quiet when we arrive. We can see the cow and calf but no wolves.
One wolf and then another pops up above the sage. Tail up the cow turns to face the wolves. They back off. Now three approach cautiously. With her calf behind her, the cow shoos one to the left and one to the right. She sticks tight to her calf and the calf sticks tight to her. If she can just get back to her herd, her little calf will be all right. But where is the herd?
Time passes slowly. The wolves just test and retest …. And seem to get bored. The cow and calf start to move off, but that suddenly brings ten wolves out of the sage. The people who arrived first have already been watching for an hour. Dale thinks if the wolves were serious, something would have happened by now.
7:09 PM: Dale and I have now been watching for an hour and a half. Most of the time the wolves just disappear into the sage and wait. We wait. The cow even grazes a little, but as soon as she tries to walk off, the wolves approach.
7:35PM: M21, the alpha male of the Druids, arrives on the scene. If body language could speak, it was obvious M21 said to his kids, “Com’on guys. Quit picking on the neighbors and lets go hunting!” Leading his pack of mostly yearling wolves, he trots off with the youngsters strung out behind him. We are comfortable the calf will live to see another day. At this point the only bison calf the Druids have been known to kill was one that got separated from its mother.
It was dusk by the time the encounter ended. We stay out in Little America, talking to a hiker. A crescent moon hangs high in the star studded sky.
9:32 PM: The wolves are howling! Many wolves. High voices, medium voices, and one particularly deep one, probably M21.
Feb 20, 2003.
My heart sings. My fingers burn. The Druids have been resting on a ridge but now M21 and F42 are coming down the valley. Fine blowing snow softens the cottonwoods and grays the valley. Over the years both M21 and F42 have become quite grey. Hard to believe they were once black wolves. They behave as if they are ready to hunt, but the snow and approaching darkness will keep this hunt private. I close my eyes and I can still see them disappearing into the blowing snow and grayness.
Note: Sketches were done on location; paintings from our photos.
About a year later F42 was killed by wolves, and not long after M21 went missing and was eventually found on top of Specimen Ridge. Both died natural wolf deaths and had lived a long life in wolf years. The pack held together because first F42 was replaced with a new alpha female, and then, when M21 died, a new alpha male stepped into his position. The new alphas tended to keep their pack farther from the road, not so visible, not quite so dear to me. Still, it saddens me to think the Druids are now down to one wolf. But their genes live on in many other wolf packs. Their era really hasn’t come to an end.