Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Companion

   Cold. I had a scarf over my face and every time I breathed out I just added more ice to it. I was to the point where I had to pull it away from my face every ten to fifteen minutes and try to pull the ice off just so I could take a decent breath. The snow was falling so hard and the wind was blowing it so hard that it was impossible to see over twenty feet in any direction and I was just a little lost. I was on top of a low hill surrounded by trees and brush and although I knew my cabin was less than a mile away I had no idea of which way to go. It was getting close to sundown and I knew I was going to have to get off that hill and try to find a wind break somewhere. I would be able to survive the night even in these conditions but not on top of a hill in the wind. It really didn’t matter which way I went since I didn’t know where the cabin was so I turned to my left and started walking. For all I knew I might be heading the opposite direction from the cabin but I figured that if I made it through the night I could figure out where I was the next day. Or at least I hoped it would work that way. I have seen storms like this one blow up and last close to a week. If I could find some kind of shelter and get a fire going I still figured I’d stand a good chance of riding the storm out. The only thing I had to worry about was food. I only had enough with me to last three more days. I had only planned on being away from the cabin for three days to start with so I only brought enough extra for a couple of days.
   I was wearing a pair of goggles and even though they protected my eyes, they didn’t help in seeing too much. The wind was blowing hard enough by then to drive the snow into my face and I had to keep wiping the goggles off every few steps. The trees around me were just darker spots in the swirling snow and I was soon reduced to holding my hands in front of me and shuffling along trying to feel them before I got poked in the eye with a branch. The only semi god thing about where I was at was that I knew there were valleys all around this hill with creeks in the bottom of them. I was hoping I’d be able to feel when the ground started sloping down. There was one side of the hill that held a large meadow. I was praying that I wasn’t headed in that direction because that meadow was cover with blue berry bushes and I knew they were covered in snow that wouldn’t be deep enough to support my weight. The worse thing that can happen to you when you’re walking in snow shoes is to end up in a place where you break through the snow and get the shoes caught in brush. The only thing to do then is take the shoes off and try to plow your way. That meadow was probably forty acres and as tired as I was there would be no way I’d have enough energy to fight my way across two feet of snow brush for that distance.
   I wasn’t sure how far I’d gone or how much time had passed before it seemed like the ground was starting to slope down. I was still in the trees so I was pretty sure I wasn’t on the side of the hill with the meadow. The visibility seemed to be getting worse. I was in a total white out now and the only way I knew when I was walking into a tree was when I either felt it with my hands or my head. I already had a pretty good scratch on my forehead from catching my snow shoes on something and falling into a tree before I could catch myself. It might have been wishful thinking but it seemed like the wind was starting to die down just a little. At least I could begin to not only see shapes through the snow but I was beginning to be able to tell that they were trees. I even convinced myself that I was getting close to the bottom of the hill and that I would be able to find shelter soon. I was so tired by that time that I had to stop and lean against a tree every thirty or forty steps. It would have been so easy to just sit down at the bottom of a tree and go to sleep but I knew that if I ever sat down I would never get back up and move again.
   Finally the trees were starting to look a little bigger and a little thicker. I hoped that meant I was getting close to the bottom of the hill and would be able to find shelter quick. I had plenty of fire starters in my pack but I would have to find an area with enough wood to last at least through the night. Luckily where I was there would only be about four hours of total darkness. An even bigger piece of luck happened when the wind blew a clear path through the snow and I saw the creek before I walked off the bank. Now all I had to do was find a decent camping spot. Since the wind was blowing up the creek I headed that way also. At least that way I would have the wind to my back and might be able to see something before I stumbled over it. I was looking for any kind of fallen log, brush pile or even a thick stand of brush, anything I could hunker down behind to break the wind. Even with the wind at my back and the snow was still coming down to thick to be able to see very far ahead I caught a glimpse of what looked like a fallen log laying across the path I was following. It took another few minutes to make my way to it but it was worth it. It was a log from a huge cedar tree. The roots had been washed out from the creek overflowing in some forgotten flood. I had to work my way toward the top of the log to find a place I could crawl over it. I was trying to break any branches from it as I went but my hands were so cold I was having a real problem holding on to anything. I had a hatchet in on my belt but I would have to be able to warm my hands up before I’d be able to use it. When I reached a spot where the log was only about waist high I removed my pack and managed to push it over the log. Now I had a little extra motivation to get myself over the log because without that pack and the supplies in it I would surely die before the night was over.
   Now I’ve had to do some hard things out in the wilderness and working my way to the top of that log had to rate right up there in the top five. It was only about three feet tall at that spot to as tired and cold as I was it was more like trying to climb a ten foot wall. Once I was on top I had to just sit there for a bit trying to recover enough energy back to even be able to just fall off the other side. I had to pull the scarf down off my mouth in order to get a breath but it was so cold that it hurt trying to take a deep breath and I had to replace it after just a couple. I sat there trying to convince myself that I was feeling better and should get moving. I wasn’t looking at anything in particular just staring off into the distance when I caught a strange movement out of the corner of my eye. It was hard to see through the blowing snow but I could swear I had seen a section of snow moving against the wind. I looked to either side of where I had thought I’d seen the movement because you can see things better out of the corner of your eye than if you try staring straight at it but I couldn’t see anything so I figured it must be my eyes playing tricks on me.
   I knew I had to get moving whether I wanted to or not so I leaned far enough forward to more or less fall off the log. I managed to hang onto the log well enough to stay upright but now I had to bend down to pick up my pack without falling. By keeping one hand on the log I was able to inch my way down, grab the pack and pull myself back up. I started shuffling back toward the creek looking for any spot along the log that seemed to have the least amount of snow. If I could find a place where I could dig through most of the snow and get to bare ground and at least be able to cut some pine boughs to for a ground cover I would be able to get a fire going that would reflect off the log. I knew it wasn’t going to a comfortable night by any means but at least it would keep me alive. I was almost back to the creek before I found a spot I thought would work. The log was at least six foot thick at the bottom end and there was a spot free of snow right up against the trunk. It was only about six feet long but at least a couple of feet deep. It looked like if I put my sleeping bag right next to the log I would have a bit of an overhang to protect from the snow and would for sure be mostly out of the wind. I got down on my knees, dropped my pack and cleared away a little more of the snow. Now all I had to do was get a fire going. It took me twenty minutes just to undo the pack flap and get my fire starter out. I had a small tin box with a lighter and some tender inside. I had been able to hang onto the small branches I had broken off the log. I had to pile everything together against the log to protect it from the wind and shove my hand under my armpit just to get it warm enough to work the lighter. After a few false starts I was finally able to get a tiny flame started. Never have I seen such a welcome sight! I kept feeding small twigs to the fire and was finally able to warm my hands enough to hold the hatchet with burning myself to often. The only thing that tiny flame did was warm my hands; the rest of me was still so cold I was really beginning to worry about hypothermia. With the nearest help being four days of hard walking away I couldn’t afford to get to that point. Just seeing that flame seemed to revitalize me and after I added some larger sticks to it and made sure it was going good I was able to stagger up and start looking for more wood. Most evergreen trees will have dead branches close to the ground which was a good thing for me because I could reach them. They were out of the snow which made them quite a bit drier than anything I would find laying on the ground. I gathered two good size arm loads and placed them about four feet away from the log. I piled them in a row about four feet long and two feet wide so I would be able to warm as much of the log as possible. I was kneeling at the branches, working on moving the small fire to the larger pile when I again caught a movement off to one side. At least I thought I had seen another movement. It was still impossible to tell through the snow but I could swear it looked like a piece of the snow had risen up and moved to the side. It was just a glimpse and more like the feeling of movement than actually seeing anything. My main concern right then was getting the fire going so I couldn’t spend time looking for snow devils or letting my imagination run away with me.
   By the time I managed to get the bigger fire going it was full dark and the temperature had dropped even more. I had enough wood to last for at least a few hours so I spread my sleeping bag and crawled in. I had an older metal canteen with a cup so I drug my pack over to retrieve it. I scooped up a cup full of snow and set it at the edge of the fire to warm. I dug some instant coffee out of the pack and a couple of pieces of jerky to chew on. More that food I need something warm to drink. I didn’t wait to have hot coffee, I figured warm was good enough. Those first few drinks were wonderful. Finally I was beginning to feel warm both inside and out. I was almost done with that first cup and already thinking about making more when I saw something glint in the darkness on the other side of the fire. It was just a blink of light but it sure looked like eyes reflecting the fire light to me. All of a sudden I wasn’t feeling quite as warm anymore. I was using a cocoon style sleeping bag and had the hood over my head with only my face and the hand holding my cup uncovered. My rifle was leaning up against the log down at the bottom of the bag. If there was really something out there and not just my mind playing tricks on me there was no way I was going to be able to get to that rifle before whatever it was would be on me. I was beginning to think I had just seen a glint from an ice covered branch when I saw them again. This time they were in a different area and there was no doubt that they were eyes. I only saw them for a second before they blinked out again. I had no idea what they might be. I wasn’t too worried about bears because most of them were in hibernation at that time of year, but there were always wolverines, bobcats, mountain lions or even wolves where I was at. Of course it could be something as simple as a coon or pine marten.
   I lay there just as still as I could be trying to see what might be out there and trying even harder to hear any sound that might tell me that whatever it could be might be getting closer. There was all kinds of sounds coming from the tress thanks to the wind and there was no way I could tell which sounds might be harmless and which might be something sneaking up on me. I was concentrating so hard that I about had a heart attack when a piece of wood popped and settled into the fire. I didn’t see any sign of the eyes again finally built up enough nerve to unzip the sleeping bag enough to reach down and move the rifle close enough to reach. I added more wood to the fire, melted some more snow for another cup of coffee and spent the rest of the night staring into the woods.
   Daylight finally came. Or at least what counts for daylight in that country which meant the sky got a little greyer and you could start to identify individual trees. The wind had died down some but it was still blowing and the snow was still coming down. I had hoped that storm would have blown out during the night and I would be able to start heading back to the cabin but it looked like it was going to stick around for awhile. I put the last of my wood on the fire and started making a morning cup of coffee. I figured I was going to be drinking warm water the rest of the day. My supplies were getting kind of low and I figured I’d have to limit myself to one cup of coffee per day and pray I could get back home before I ran out. After my coffee I crawled out of the sleeping bag to see what I could do to try and make the camp a little more comfortable. I could have tried to make my way back to the cabin that day but even without the weather it would take me at least two full days to make the trip. I figured instead of being caught by darkness somewhere in between and having to go through the whole “finding shelter and making camp” routine I was just as well off staying where I was and waiting the storm out.
   The first thing I did was to start gathering more firewood. I had gathered a good size pile of branches the night before yet I had used it all in just a little over five hours. It was going to take bigger stuff and a lot more of it to make it through the next few days. All the time I was getting the wood I kept thinking about the eyes I had the night before, wondering what it could have been. Nothing had happened during the night so I wasn’t too overly worried about it, just wondered what it could have been. I tried to check for tracks but with the amount of snow that had fallen during the night I didn’t expect to find anything. I did find one area just beyond where my fire light would have fallen that looked like something had lain in the snow but with the wind and the snow it could have just as easily been a natural depression. I spent a few hours gathering the wood, even finding some really good size broken limbs down by the creek. The creek was totally frozen but I still spend some time looking to see if there might be someplace I could chop through the ice and get a fish hook in the water. I always carried hooks, line and sinkers with me when I went out in the woods. I found one place against the bank that looked pretty good and I figured I’d come back later and see if I could catch anything. As I was climbing out of the creek I found some scratch marks at the edge of the ice that for all the world looked like claw marks. I could tell what kind they were but it did look like something had crossed the creek and climbed the bank in the direction of my camp. Maybe this was the same critter whose eyes I had seen. I took a long look around but couldn’t see anything so I headed back to camp.
   Now that I had a good sized wood pile I decided to see if I could block a little more wind and snow from my sleeping area. I cut a couple of branches about five feet long with forks on the end and another that was around eight foot. I didn’t have a shovel with me but I did have a large flat bladed screw driver in the pack. I used that to dig a couple of holes about five feet out from the log and blocked the forked poles upright in them. I lay the longer pole across the top of them to form a cross bar. I spent the next few hours cutting branches and laying one end on my log and the other on the cross bar. Then I cut as many branches with the needles still on them to form a roof. By the time I was finished I had a pretty good looking lean to with both ends blocked off with more branches. It wasn’t water proof by any means by it kept the snow and the wind off. I had it high enough that I could keep the fire under cover and as the snow piled up on top it even made insulation. All during the time I was working on the lean to I had the eerie feeling that I wasn’t alone in the woods. There were a couple of time that I could have swore that I saw quick movements close to the ground and just far enough out that I could never get a good look at anything but it almost looked like a ball of snow rolling along the ground.
   I had the lean to fixed up as best I could. The wind had died down for a while and the snow was coming more or less straight down and putting a good coating on the roof and sides. I added a couple more uprights across the front and ran another cross bar at the midpoint of the roof to help handle the extra weight. I checked my pack and found I still had four back packers’ meals. They aren’t the greatest meals in the world but they were food. I figured I could get by with only having one a day if need be. I also had a plastic bag with close to a pound of moose jerky, some coffee, one packet of cool-aid and some salt and pepper. The storm looked to be a long one but I figured I’d be OK for at least the next five days and could stretch it out a little longer if I had to. Keeping enough wood would turn into a problem as I gathered all the closest stuff. Walking through deep snow while trying to carry fire wood can really tire you out quick. I took most everything out of the pack except for my fishing gear. I thought I would make another wood gathering trip and decided I’d stop by the creek and see if I could set a couple of lines. A fresh cooked trout would go a long way in getting my strength back and just make me feel a lot better in general.
   This time, as I stepped out of the lean to I definitely saw something moving through the trees. I still looked like a dirty ball of snow moving through the woods. I figured it had to be an animal but I couldn’t for the life of me think of what it might be. This time I knew I’d be able to find out though. I knew exactly where I had seen it and it was daylight, as long as I got to the spot quick I’d be able to at least find its tracks. Whatever it was it wasn’t real big. It’s hard to judge size when you trying to see something through moving snow but I could tell that it had been close to the ground so I felt pretty safe in assuming that it wasn’t a bear out of hibernation but I still checked my rifle to make sure it was loaded just in case. I found where it had plowed through the snow but I had trouble finding foot prints. It must have been moving pretty fast because it left a trough through the snow which had fell in behind it covering its prints. It was headed down toward the creek so I followed its trail trying to keep an eye ahead of me in case it was still around. The trail was making me start to think it might be a wolverine from the width and the depth but without seeing its tracks there was no way of really knowing. I was all the way down to the creek before I found the first track I could identify. I should have thought of the animal that had left the track but for some reason I hadn’t even considered it. I was standing in its rail looking down at the print of a wolf.
   As I thought about it I could see why I hadn’t thought about a wolf. I knew there were wolves around. There were at least two packs that I knew of, one on each side of the river but most of the ones I had never seen were either grey or black and I had never seen a lone wolf out and around, they were always in packs. I knew there were white wolves, which would explain why I kept thinking I was seeing snow blowing but I had never seen one in that country. It was the being alone that bothered me the most. Was it really alone or was it one of a pack, maybe the only one I was seeing. Wolves are pack hunters and their prey includes large warm blooded animals and no matter how cold I felt right then, I still fit the bill. I was snapping my head around like a merry go round as I was thinking this, expecting to see dark shapes moving through the trees toward me. I knew I had to calm down and try to think this through. I looked around to see if there were any other trails or prints but even the one I had followed disappeared at the creek. It looked like the wolf had gone out on the ice and either gone up or down the creek there was no way I could tell. I had been planning on setting out a couple of fishing lines but with this new development I decided the best think would be to head back to camp. I had stacked several piles of wood between the creek and camp and I figured I’d pick them up on the way back. I hated to have my arms full of wood with a wolf hanging around but I had a feeling I was going to need to keep the fire going all night.
   I made it safely back to camp, wood and all and immediately started building up the fire. I put on a cup of snow and added a few pieces of jerky for a hot cup of moose broth and tried to figure out what was going on. I was thinking that since I had followed the wolf’s trail this time I had probably chased it off, but I couldn’t be sure. Why would he be hanging around? Was he really the scout for the pack? Was he really on his own? How hungry was he? I needed some answers but I just didn’t have them. I hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before and I had been up for over thirty hours now. I was going to have to get some sleep; I couldn’t be sitting up all night worrying about the wolf. Even if I wanted to I wasn’t sure I’d be able to. I re-checked my rifle, my knife and the wood pile while I was waiting for the broth to get hot. I really wished I could be sure that he had left.
   I extend my fire to where the only way to get to my sleeping bag was from just one end. I had to gather more wood but I thought that if I had a line of fire all the way across the front of the lean to I would be able to sleep safely. I even cut a few extra limbs that I planned on putting across the one open end as a kind of fence so that once I was in my shelter anything that tried to get inside with me would at least make some noise. Of course I was getting so tired I wasn’t sure any amount of noise would wake up. The snow was still coming down hard enough that I had to take a branch and clear some of it off the roof plus the wind was starting to pick back up. It was going to be dark within a couple of hours and I still had no idea of what to do. I drank the broth while scanning the woods for any movement. I was getting a little paranoid and the problem with that is once you get there you start seeing what you expect to see, whether it’s there or not. Every time the wind blew any snow around I was sure it was the wolf coming back. A limb cracked form the weight of the snow and I almost shot it before I could catch myself. I quit holding the rifle after that and just kept it leaning against the log within easy reach.
   By the time full darkness had fallen I was going back and forth between dozing off and snapping back awake only to be memorized by the snowflakes falling through the firelight. I felt that I should eat something but I just didn’t have the energy it would take to put together a meal so I heated another cup of snow water and had some more moose broth. I was sure the wolf had left the area. There had been no more strange movements since I had come back to the camp. I had convinced myself that it must have been a lone wolf that had just been checking things out looking for food. I chided myself for being a baby about. After all, I had been out hunting when this storm blew up. I did have a rifle and a pistol. I had hunted bear and moose which were two of the most dangerous animals around. I had not only seen wolves before but had even trailed them just so I could enjoy watching them for a little longer. There was no reason for me to get so paranoid over the thought of a single wolf slinking around. You needed to be respectful of a wolf pack but there was no reason to be afraid. At least that’s what by mind was telling me but for some reason my body kept having its doubts It was that “single wolf” part that kept bothering me. It was something totally out of the ordinary in my experience. Well, I was just too tired to worry about it anymore. I would finish off my broth and call it a night, heaven knows I needed the rest and maybe the storm would blow over enough to head home tomorrow. I took my last sip and leaned forward, meaning to sit my cup back by the fire so I could find it easily if I needed it, I found myself looking directly into the eyes of a white wolf.
   I froze. I was still leaning forward with my arm stretched out and the cup still in my hand. He wasn’t moving either, just sitting there in the snow on the other side of the fire. I had to do something; I just wasn’t sure what it should be. My rifle was leaning against the log behind and to my left. Being right handed I would have to be able to drop the cup, grab it with my left hand and shift it to my right shoulder to have a chance at a decent shot. I could always try to fire it with my left hand but the odds of a killing shot, even at this close range was not guaranteed and the last thing I wanted to take a chance on doing would be to just wound him. I had taken my belt off and the pistol was laying on top of the sleeping bag to my right. I might be able to drop the cup and grab it but I knew it was held in the holster with the hammer loop and there would be no way I would be able to get it out and bring it to bear before the wolf made his move, if he wanted to. All of those thoughts went through my mind in a matter of seconds although to me it seemed like I had been staring into his eyes for at least an hour. The other thoughts that passed were “My God, he’s huge!” He looked like he was at least five feet tall and his head looked to be about the same size as a full grown grizzly.
   I knew he was really nowhere that big but when you’re staring into his eyes from less than five feet away he sure looks like it! Mean while neither of us had moved, he might have been sitting there thinking about having me for supper, for myself, I was too scared to move. The more I looked at him the more he shrunk back down to wolf size in my eyes. Even at real wolf size he was still bit. He’d go at least over a hundred pounds and his head and especially those jaws where still huge. I could see why I had mistaken his for snow blowing across the ground. He wasn’t pure white, but he was close to it. I took a chance of looking around behind him to see if there were any other eyes shining in the fire light. I hated to take my eyes off him for even a second but at least I saw not others.
   My first surprise was seeing him sitting there, my next surprise was when he lay down and propped his head on his front paws. I had never seen a wolf do that except in a zoo. He looked for all the world like a big ole pet dog enjoying the fire. I tried not to move my body as I set the cup on the ground but as soon as I moved my hand his head pop up. I could tell even from where I was sitting how his body tensed up and his eyes never left my hand. As soon as I set the cup on the ground I leaned back and tried to scoot over just a little closer to my rifle. As soon as I started moving he jumped to his feet and I froze. He looked at me with his head held low and I thought I could hear a low rumbling growl. He turned away and I thought for a second that he was going to run off into the woods but he only turned in a full circle. I held as still as I could and after staring at each other for a couple of minutes he lay back down.
   I’m not sure how long we sat there like a couple of statues staring at each other but there comes a point where no matter how scared you are, you get bored. My back was killing me from the way I was sitting so I figured I’d take the chance and try to get in a more comfortable position. The minute I started moved he was back on his feet but since he didn’t do anything but watch me I figure I might as well continue. Once I got going I figure “what the hell” and scooted back to where I could lean against t the log that put me in a more comfortable spot and got me just a little closer to my rifle. As soon as I stopped moving, he lay back down. Another few minutes of watching him and it dawned on me that he seemed to be staring at the flames from the fire instead of looking directly at me. I was beginning to wonder if maybe he wasn’t pure wolf. I knew there were a lot of part wolf dogs in that country and he was acting like more like a pet dog enjoying the fire than a wild wolf.
   I don’t know what made me do it but I decided to see what would happen if I tried something. The moose jerky was still lying on top of my pack where I had left it when I made my broth. I eased my right hand down to the pouch and dug a piece out. I could see that he watching my every move but so far he was still lying in the same spot. I slowly raised my hand and showed him the jerky. His head came up when I held my hand out but he only watched me. I took a deep breath and tossed the jerky toward him. He was gone in an instant! He had jumped to his feet, spun and dashed into the trees so quick it was hard to even see. The only thing left was a swirl of snow where he had been laying. I thought for sure this time he was gone. I looked everywhere I could from inside the shelter but couldn’t see any sign of him. Well, that was interesting to say the least. Now that the excitement was over my exhaustion was making its self felt again. It’s hard to believe that the body from go from nervous excitement to just barely able to hold your eyes open that quickly.
   I moved the pack over and straightened out my sleeping bag. I also took my rifle from where it was leaning and lay in on the ground next to the bag. I was getting ready to slide in the bag and get some much needed sleep when I thought I caught a flicker of movement across the fire. It to a few minutes before my eyes adjusted enough to see the slightly different color blob moving in the trees. It wasn’t until I saw his eyes that I knew he was back. The wind was blowing a lot less than it had been but even with what little there was and with the snow still falling it was almost impossible to see his body. All you could really see were those two glowing yellow eyes moving seemly by themselves above the snow. Those eyes seemed to just float toward me until it looked like his body just appeared across the fire. The piece of jerky that I had tossed over was lying on the ground almost at his feet but he was ignoring it so far. He had his head up and I could see him sniffing, trying to pick up whatever scents he could. It surprised me when he finally sniffed at the jerky then took it in his mouth. He lay back down on the snow, propped his head on his paws and stared into the fire as he chewed on it. By this time I was beyond the point of being scared or even concerned any more, I had to get some sleep. I climbed into the sleeping bag and settled down without even looking at him again. I had my hand on the rifle and was asleep before my head was all the way down.
   Morning. I was slow coming awake. Something was different but what was it. Wait, no wind. I was staring at the underside of the roof, I could see the snow still falling from the corner of my eye but for the first time in three days there was no sound of the wind. Come to think about it there was no sound at all. The snow thick and it muffled almost all sound. When I held my breath the only sound was a little crackle from the fire. I loved being out on days like this. I could see that I would have to sweep some of the snow off the roof today it was starting to sag a little. I could probably head home today. Traveling in the snow wasn’t the easiest thing in the world but as long as the wind didn’t start up again it wasn’t all that hard. I would have to think about it more when I felt like getting up. It was so warm in my bag and so quite I just wanted to keep lying there and maybe even doze off again. I really wanted a cup of coffee but I was going to have to get up for that. I started thinking about the trip home, which way I would go, what all I needed to pack and there was something else that I needed to think about. I could feel it there kind of trying to push its way to the front of my mind but I just couldn’t bring it into focus. It came into focus with a flash and I sat straight up in the sleeping bag! The wolf! I couldn’t believe I had been able to sleep and really couldn’t believe that I had slept as long as I had. Where was he? I jerked my head around to look out over my mostly burnt out fire and there he was. Here was something else I couldn’t believe, he was laying in what looked like the same spot he’d been in when I laid down.
   What kind of wolf was this? I had never heard of any wolf sharing a campfire or even one that would hang around a people camp. At least I could get a good look at him this morning. Even with the snow coming down slow and steady it amassed me at how well he blended into the back ground. The easiest thing to see about him was his black eyes staring back at me. It took another minute for that fact to sink in. I had jerked upright and whipped my head around to look for him but there he lay, chin resting on his paws looking at me. The night before every time I had moved even a tiny bit he would jump up and act like he was ready to bolt. I decided to test his patience and reached over for a piece of fire wood. He never moved an inch. Next I tossed the wood into the fire. The only response that got was him raising his head up to watch the wood. As soon as it settled on the fire he dropped his head back to his paws. Next I dug out a piece of jerky and tossed it to him. He didn’t grab it out of the air like a dog would but he didn’t jump up either. He had to inch forward just a bit to smell of it then he took it, scooted back, dropped his head back on his paws and started chewing it. With as little as he was moving this morning I began to wonder if he might be sick. There was nothing to indicate it other that the lack of movement. I decided to do one more test, I stood up. Nope, he wasn’t sick or at least he didn’t have any trouble moving fast! As soon as I stood up he jumped up and ran a few steps into the trees. He didn’t go very far just what I guess he thought was enough distance between us.
   The snow looked like it might be slacking off just a little and since I was really short of food I decided to go ahead and make an attempt at heading for home. He didn’t come back up to the fire while I was packing up but he did run away either. When I had everything packed he was still sitting back in the trees watching me. I hadn’t put my fire out yet and I wondered what he was going to do when I did. I had let the fire burn down enough that I figured I could put out the rest with just one full cup of water. I started to pour the water on it when I had another thought. Things were so weird already I wondered if he would even let me leave my shelter. I checked and as far as I could tell he had made no effort to get either across the fire or to get into the shelter during the night but I had to wonder what he would do once the fire was out and I stepped out of the shelter. Would he just sit there and watch me leave, would he follow or would he attack? There was only one way to find out. I took the fence of branches away from the end and stepped out. He had stood up when I started removing the branches and when I stepped out he had backed up another few feet but he was still there. I would need to walk right in front of him in order to get down to the creek. I could have gone the other way but I would have needed to climb the hill again and anyway going down the creek was the shortest way home. I tried my best to walk and act normal as I stepped around the fire. So far, so good. He was just standing there in the trees, watching. I managed to walk by him without my knees shaking to bad. He was panting a little and I noticed that wolf teeth look a lot bigger when their in the mouth of a live one. A few more steps and he was behind me. I’ll tell ya, the hardest thing I’d ever done was to turn my back to him but as I looked back he was still in the same place. I was beginning to think he was going to hang out around the camp by the time I made it to the creek. Maybe he just wanted to feel the warmth of the fire but after I had gone a couple of hundred feet down the creek I looked back and there he was. He was about a hundred feet back sniffing at everything that caught his attention and just trotting along following me.
   I set myself a pretty hard pace that day. I could make good time by staying in the creek and I figured I had about thirty miles to go to get back to the cabin. He followed me all that day. Every once in a while I’d look back and he’d be gone. Every time he wasn’t there I wondered if he’d went his own way but each time he would come back. Most of the time he would be behind me but every so often I’d see him ahead of me sitting off to one side of the creek. He’d wait until I had passed then fall in behind me again.
   The snow had finally stopped late that afternoon which made traveling a lot easier. It was getting on toward dark and I was thinking about finding a place to spend the night when I saw him up ahead again. There was something a little different about him this time but it wasn’t until I got even with him that I realized what it was. His muzzle was bloody this time. I had wondered about that. The only thing I had seen him eat was a couple of pieces of jerky and I didn’t see how that was going to last him. Whatever he had caught it wasn’t anywhere that I could see from the creek but I was happy that “my” wolf had found something to eat. I spotted a couple of fallen trees up on the creek bank so I went up to see if they would work for shelter for the night. Not too bad. One of the tress had fallen over the other one and there was a nice size area back under them with no snow. There was plenty of wood around and as long as I kept the fire low I could even have under cover and out of the snow. It was starting to snow again but at least it wasn’t coming down as hard as it had been and thankfully there was still no wind. I didn’t see the wolf around anywhere as I was making camp and I was kind of wondering if he was going to stick around for another night. It’s hard to believe that I could go from scaring myself over the “something” that I thought was in the woods. To becoming totally paranoid when I found out it was a wolf to accepting having a wolf around all the way to making a camp and not even thinking about him all in the space of a couple of days.
   I figured I’d splurge that night so I dug my cook pot out of the pack and made myself meatloaf and a hot cup of coffee for supper. OK, so it was freeze dried meat loaf and you needed to be really hungry to think you were splurging by having it but after a few days of nothing but moose broth and jerky it tasted really good. I had finished my meal and was leaning back taking it easy and sipping on the coffee when I noticed him on the other side of the fire. I might have been able to mostly ignore him that day but it still made my heart jump a little and cause me to spill my coffee by the way he could just appear like that. It seemed like you could be looking directly at the woods and there would be nothing there and when you glanced away and back for just a second there would be his eyes looking at you. He was lying close to the fire but still out from under the cover of the trees and it looked like he was eating snow. It took a minute for me to realize that what he was doing was wiping his muzzle in the snow to clean the blood off. I figured that whatever he had killed during the day must not be too far away and it must be big enough for him to have seconds. Just one more strange thing about him. Most wolfs don’t go after large game when their by themselves. The only time I had ever seen or heard of wolfs going for big animals was as a pack, I have seen lone wolfs hunting small game, rabbits or lemmings, by themselves. Apparently “my” wolf could fend for himself.
   I knew that logically I was making a big mistake thinking of him as anything other than a large and dangerous predator but it was really hard not to. I even flirted with the idea of being able to tame him for a pet. Just as I was daydreaming about that he yawned and I got a good look at those teeth. That took care of that daydream! I didn’t do anything special to protect the camp that night. As dumb as it might have been I felt safe with him sharing the fire and I figured with him being there I would be safe from anything else, again I had let myself lapse into the fantasy of him being a guard dog. Well, maybe not totally, I did keep my rifle lying under my hand and didn’t zip up the sleeping bag. God most definitely looks after fools because I woke the following morning with all my parts still attached. I had a quick breakfast, packed up and headed out. He hadn’t been anywhere around the camp when woke up and I still hadn’t seen any sign of him as I started out. Every time he took off I kept thinking it would be the last time I saw him but like the proverbial penny after a couple of hours on the trail I happened to glance back and there he was following along.
   I pushed myself as hard as I could that day and just before dark I was on the last hill before the cabin. The snow had stopped again during the day and the clouds were gone. There would be a three quarter moon that night and with no cloud cover and everything covered with snow it would be easy to travel after dark. He had been mostly following me all day. Sometimes he’d take off through the woods checking on whatever wolfs check on but he always came back. I was seriously beginning to think that if he followed me all the way to the cabin there just might be a chance I could tame him. After living alone out there for several months having company would really be nice. When I came to the spot on the hill where I could look down and see the cabin I checked to see if he was still behind me. He had stopped when I did and was sitting in the snow fifty or sixty feet back. I thought it was a good sign that he seemed to be following closer than he had the day before. Maybe this was going to work. I headed on down the hill fully expecting him to follow right along. I had to watch my footing on the trail down the hill and didn’t bother looking back until I was a little over half way down. He wasn’t behind me. I searched both sides of the trail thinking he might be off looking at something but there was no sign of him. I finally took my binoculars out and looked back up the trail. It took a few minutes but I finally spotted him lying down at the edge of the hill looking down the trail. I waited on the trail until almost dark to see if he was going to come on down but he never moved and I had to get on down to the cabin. It surprised me at the feeling of loose I felt as I started on down the trail. By the time I got to the cabin I had convinced myself that he would find his way and be sitting on the porch the next morning.
   He never came down to the cabin. In fact I never saw him again that I could be sure of. Every time I left the cabin to hunt or to run my traps I’d always watch for any movement and there were a couple of time that I could almost convince myself that I had seen him moving through the woods. I don’t have any idea why a wild wolf would act the way he did but I know I felt very privileged that he did.