It takes a certain type of person to live out in the wilderness, especially in this day and age. Think about it; who would prefer scrounging for your next meal, enduring the elements, and hiking to and fro exhaustedly for days on end when they can just as easily go to McDonald’s, watch Netflix, and take a cab to work?
This is the story of one man whose decision to hike into the wilderness turned out to be the best decision of his life, and the encounters he made one summer that proved to him that this was true…
The Heart of the Wild
Those who know Donnie would describe him as many things. He’s passionate, respectful, resourceful, intelligent, and athletic, but perhaps more than all that, he’s driven: driven by nature. Ever since he’d been old enough to walk, he’s let his passion for adventure lead him to place where civilized folk rarely dare to traverse.
Who is Donnie?
Donnie is what most would consider the premier example of an explorer, biologist, hunter, conservationist, and sportsman: all wrapped up into one. He’s a man who is inspired by nature and inspires others to be the same. Sometimes though, as he makes his way through the wild world, Donnie has encountered things most could only dream about…
Research in Alaska
Donnie had been in Alaska from May through September of that year. He was doing what he always did, living off the land whilst also completing some valuable research on Alaskan wildlife. He was there to see the salmon spawn and understand the ecological significance of the monumental event.
Fishing at Night
There were several men and women who were with him at the campsite, which was essentially a bunch of loose wooden planks set atop a patch of mud in order to minimize human interaction. Donnie himself stayed in a two-person pup tent for the better part of five months. It was an uneventful experience for the most part, though thrilling and invigorating. Until the evening he decided to do some night fishing by himself…
Donnie Vincent had been fly fishing for grayling one night when he got an eerie feeling. The hairs on the back of his head stood up on end, and he didn’t know why. It felt almost as if someone was watching him from the bushes. For a moment, he worried. He was in bear country after all, and those animals are not easy to dissuade from attacking if they’re in a killing mood.
His eyes were only just adjusting to the dim light of the evening, but he continued to look intently at the bushes, trying to discern a shape amidst the shadows. Suddenly, a long, lupine face came into focus. A she wolf, a big one, was staring back at him from the alder bushes. Not wanting he turned and tried to go back to fishing…
The wolf emerged from the bushes and loped over to the sandbar where Don was standing. She sat down about 3 feet behind him and looked over at the water. If at any point he turned to look at her, her eyes would narrow and she’d growl. He tried talking calmly to her, saying things like, “Hey Mama, just doing some fishing…nothing to worry about.” But of course, wolves are not known for their skillful small talk.
Nevertheless, if he wasn’t looking at her though, he noticed she’d be checking him out. The she-wolf sniffed at the air and examined him carefully. Donnie continued fishing as if nothing was wrong and she soon walked off, leaving him alone once more. He thought this was the last he’d seen of the she wolf, but he was very wrong…
Howls in the Distance
The next day, as he began his evening clean-up at the tent, he heard a low howl in the distance. Despite his reservations about doing so, he howled back. Before he knew it, the wolf was back in the camp, standing down by the river and looking up at his tent. She stared at him, so he growled sweetly back at her and the two made eye contact.
The Night Visitor
Donnie was certain that she might attack, but instead, she settled down on all fours and just stared right back at him, before getting up and padding away. That night, he awoke to the sound of heavy breathing right outside his tent. A deep howl echoed from the shadow and he grabbed up his shotgun. He peeked out the side of the tent flap to see the alpha male wolf sitting there…
The wolf left without incident that night but as the days wore on, the alpha and the female began following him to the cook tent or down to the genetics research tent. They would parallel Don through the camp, following him, but he wasn’t sure if they were eyeing him up to ambush him when he emerged again, or if they were just curious.
That being said, they still behaved in the same way that wolves did, especially when it came to hunting. One day, as Donnie was tracking a rather large bull moose, the wolves began to follow him. They would come around him and his hunting partner, standing about 10 yards away from them and communicating with one another in small growls and yips. But what were they hunting, the moose or the men?
At his Heels
Eventually, Donnie realized that these wolves weren’t the type to just hunt him and his colleagues. They were wary of course and curious, and part of them surely thought of the researchers as food, but they ignored that. Instead, they decided to follow Donnie around and do as he did. They would even hike after him, following him 50-60 miles until he made his way back to camp. The wolves followed him everywhere, just like domesticated dogs.
The reason the wolves had been there, also turned out to be part of why Donnie was there as well. They too wanted to be there when the salmon spawned. Only, their part was to collect all the dead fish that happened to lose their way and end up stranded on the shore. They were all in the right place at the right time, but they were still wolves after all…
Donnie continued his work, taking data and samples from the spawning salmon. Every so often, when he’d find a fresh dead one, he would toss the dead fish over to his newfound canine companions. It became something of a symbiotic relationship and the wolves seemed more interested in being his companion for that summer, rather than hunt him.
This sort of symbiotic relationship may well have been the way that ancient wolves and prehistoric man developed the relationship we have with man’s best friend today. It was an amazing experience for Donnie Vincent, who had spent his adult life communing with nature. Unfortunately, not all his fellow researchers felt that way…
Many of the other researchers were not as happy about the wolves’ perpetual presence at their campsite. They viewed the animals as a constant threat and were all too willing to shoot them if the opportunity presented itself. Donnie wasn’t about to let that happen, and he already had a way to convince them to hold back.
Some of those men also happened to be Native Americans, whose cultural history speaks of the spirits of their ancestors being reincarnated into animals. He explained to them that since the wolves’ behavior was unlike that of any other wolves they’d ever encountered, it may well be that these wolves held the souls of their ancestors…
The men, fearing the religious implications, decided to stay their hand. Superstitious as this tactic may have been, it worked and the men soon came to accept the presence of the wolves in their camp, just as the wolves had accepted the presence of the men in their territory.
The Summer of Wolves
Donnie Vincent ended up spending a whole summer with the pack and though it wasn’t his only remarkable experience in the field, it most definitely made the top three. For a man whose been to track Bengal Tigers and hunting elk in the Canadian wilds, that is definitely saying something.