It is a bit of a relief to find no new snow today.
My first stop is at the Ranch. Doug M has found the Junctions on a slope behind the Institute.
He says they have another elk carcass just out of sight to the west. I set up and see a black wolf right away.
He is standing at the bottom of a hill. Above him, I notice a bloody streak in the snow. Kind of gruesome evidence. There are also three coyotes in view; two of them chase a third. And, because every day should be a three-dog day, a fox puts in an appearance, higher on the hill below some trees.
Doug tells me an Institute class went out for a hike yesterday afternoon and saw the end of the chase from a distance, then watched the wolves feed for a while. I’d say that class got their money’s worth!
The wolf I am looking at beds down. Laurie ID’s him as 996M.
Dan finds 2 more black wolves moving to the west. They look to me like two of the pups from yesterday; the mocha pup and the collared female (1229). Then Laurie spots 1109F almost at the top of the hill.
She takes a walk by herself to the crest of the hill, sniffing all the way. Then she comes down the center of it and passes very close to 996. He barely reacts as she walks by. That looks odd to me, and a little sad, since 1109 wags her tail in greeting. 996 lifts his head but that’s all he does, and she walks on by.
1109 is a pretty big wolf, a tad unusual for a female. Laurie agrees. She also seems to have a bit of a limp on her back leg.
Rick starts to tell me the morning news, but it’s bad and upsets me. New York has just imposed a “shelter in place” directive. I am worried for my sister, my employees, my clients and all my NY friends. He also says Montana now has more cases, including in Gallatin County. Rumors are also flying that the Park will soon shut down and we discuss what he will do if that happens.
It’s so weird to have the world intrude so aggressively while I’m in Yellowstone. All these years, it has been so easy to leave world issues outside. But suddenly it feels…I don’t know…wrong? To be here?
After a while, all the wolves in view get up and move west. Perhaps the pack is leaving the area. All things considered, I think it’s time for me to get back to Bozeman. Things have become terribly fraught and uncertain.
I ask Laurie & Dan what they’ll do if the Park shuts down. They don’t know, of course, but right now they figure they’ll stay a while. They are not eager to fly and at the moment, Montana feels safer than California.
We do not hug goodbye but awkwardly touch elbows and smile sadly.
I pack up and head west.
At Blacktail ponds there are still lots of cars, but enough room for me, so I stop. The plows have never had a chance to clear this lot since the big snow dump, because it’s always been jammed full of cars wanting to see the bear, so it’s now become a mess of lumpy, bumpy ice; very dangerous to walk on.
I ask the closest person if the bear was seen this morning. Yes, indeed he was. The man and I stay 10 feet apart while he tells me there are still several semi-frozen carcasses the bear has not yet found. This bear is shy, he says, and tends to eat only while it’s still dark, then climbs the hill and disappears for the day. He tends to return around 5:30 or 6 to eat his fill again.
I thank the man and say “stay safe!”
In Mammoth I visit with Allison and have a bit of a worry-cry. Then I call Jackie to make sure it’s still ok for me to stop by for a quick visit. She says yes, so, 45 minutes later I turn down the driveway of her Paradise Valley house. She has a large living room, and we sit far apart while we commiserate on the suddenly changed state of the world. We wonder aloud if we are taking a risk that we shouldn’t. It’s mind-boggling to have to think about stuff like this.
Around 1PM I continue to Bozeman, and arrive safe and sound. Three later the Park shuts down. Laurie & Dan are stuck in Silver Gate, not sure if they can fly or if it’s wise to fly. They are allowed to drive to Gardiner to get supplies but they are not allowed to stop while in the Park.
Rick is stuck too, but at least he has books to write.
I’m grateful for the wolf sightings I had on this trip and wonder when I will have a chance to return. Strange days indeed.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, bighorn sheep, 4 wolves of the Junction Butte Pack (996M, 1109F, 1229 and an uncollared black and the spirits of Allison & Richard.