The stars create a mosaic of brilliant light in the clear summer sky, and a crisp breeze runs through the leaves of nearby aspen trees. As I sit on the ground gazing up at the milky way, the song of the wolves begins in a hushed tone. The song crescendos as more wolves join in, creating a moment that I will never forget. Sitting below the vast expanse of the universe, I became aware of every minute detail of my surroundings. All of my day-to-day considerations vanished, and I became one with the world. In that moment, it was just me, the wolves, and the universe.
As a child, I had a more negative view towards wolves. This view is quite common, especially due to the role of wolves in children’s literature. Wolves are presented as menacing characters in the stories they are featured in, including favorites such as Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Peter and the Wolf. From a young age, we are taught that wolves are stealthy creatures that seek out livestock and people as their prey. There are very few stories that present them as otherwise, so my opinion (and that of others) had no reason to change.
During the summer before my freshman year of high school I participated in a wilderness camp called “Whitewater and Wolves”. This was the trip that changed my perspective and gave me a new awareness for the future. On this trip we visited a wolf and wolf-dog sanctuary located in Westcliffe, Colorado. Kent Weber, the sanctuary’s co-founder, began officially building the refuge in 1988 after housing a number of wolves and wolf-dogs that desperately needed safe shelter. The construction of the facility began in the middle of winter, and was referred to as Mission:Impossible due to the conditions. The name Mission:Wolf resulted from this title, and has stuck with the sanctuary ever since. Today, the sanctuary has 80 fenced-in acres for the wolves and 120 acres for land conservation*.
When we first arrived at Mission:Wolf, I was stunned by its locale. The sanctaury is surrounded by breathtaking mountain ranges and acres of forest land. As we took a tour, we learned that the refuge is self-sustainable, meaning that it uses very few to no outside resources for its daily functions. After taking the formal tour and setting up our tents, the moment had finally come to meet a wolf face-to-face.
I didn’t know how to prepare myself for this moment. It is an experience so monumental in human history, and is quite unprecedented in the lives of those who witness it. Nevertheless, as I entered the enclosure a sense of calm washed over me. As a group we were directed to sit and relax, and allow the wolves to approach us once they were comfortable with our presence. As I sat looking over them, my world did not seem so different from theirs. We share the same ground, the same air, and the same mountain view. We both have heartbeats, fears, and curiosities. Then the moment came. I made eye contact with Magpie, a beautiful wolf with ash-gray coloring, and she approached me with grace. As she came closer, I was drawn to her stunning yellow eyes. She stopped before my feet and gazed into my eyes. In them I could see wonder and caution, and I’m sure she could see the same in mine. She tentatively sniffed my face, our eyes never breaking contact, and after a few moments gave me a very affectionate kiss on the cheek.
It was then that my entire perception of wolves was shattered and rebuilt, this time with real experiences versus common tales. As the other wolves in the Ambassador pack greeted me, my mind was reeling with a recently discovered truth. Wolves and people have much more in common than meets the eye, and in my heart a spark ignited a kindling flame of passion for the values of the sanctuary. That night, my enthusiasm grew as I experienced something that many never do throughout their entire lives: the wolf song. It starts off low and humble, with one or two wolves singing their renditions. The song spreads over the sanctuary as more wolves (and people!) join in. In this moment, we are united as one in a song that encompasses the true connections of our world. We look over the differences and seek out the commonalities. The emotion and enthusiasm in the song is crystal clear, and it changes your life forever.
I returned to the sanctuary two years later, excited to show my family the truth that I had discovered. That night I smiled as I fell asleep under the shining stars to the melody of the now-familiar wolf song.
Mission:Wolf holds a special place in my heart, and I truly admire their commitment to conservation and education. I encourage you to learn more about this wonderful organization!
©2015 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.
*Information regarding the history of the sanctuary was gathered from the “History” page on Mission:Wolf’s website. Click here to learn more!