The next morning, we returned to the Lamar Valley well before sunrise, and this time the pack was in the valley itself, playing and resting, only a few hundred yards away. The wolf watchers saw my husband’s serious caring, and they began to feed him tidbits of information about this particular pack and especially about the alpha female. Eventually the pack headed at a trot over the ridge to the west, and in under 10 seconds, the watchers had loaded their scopes into the backs of their vehicles and taken off down the road. Jim and I looked at each other in dismay, confused for a moment, but he caught right on.
“They’re going to the next pullout where they hope to see the pack come over the ridge toward them.” He was at the wheel of the Ford Fiesta before I’d even lowered my binoculars. I swear he might have driven off without me if I hadn’t hopped to, so eager he was to see the pack crest the ridge with the rest of the watchers.
Thankfully our short holiday ended. We were both expected back at work on Monday. I chose to think of the whole experience as a positive infusion of joy and adventure, especially for Jim. He told everyone about the wolves. He also told everyone to please call him Anatoly.
I snapped after about two weeks of this. “Tell me,” I begged, “what’s wrong with the name Jim? It’s been good enough for 52 years.”
My question brought on what I soon learned to call The Look. His gaze slid past me, way past me, over the buildings of town, beyond the fields of the regional park, far beyond. Is it possible to look farther away than a horizon? Jim did. Anatoly did.
We returned to Yellowstone a month later. In the meantime, he read every book there was to read and followed the 10 park packs—and the two loners—on the websites of the wolf watchers. He knew how to identify the alpha males and females, the names and ranges of the packs. The Mollies, he told me, lived just north of the lake, while the Canyon, Blacktail, and Agate packs had territories to the west of the Lamar Canyon Pack.
“Eleven packs,” I told him as we approached the park. He glanced at me, knowing I was including the odd group of people who organized their entire lives around viewing the wolves in Yellowstone, but he was immune to criticism on this front. He merely nodded at my comment. It was like he was a lone wolf on the periphery, looking for a way to be admitted to the pack. Knowledge was always valuable, and he’d armed himself with lots. So was acquiescent behavior, and he greeted the group quietly our first morning of this second trip, nodding like they did, setting up his scope, scanning the ridgetops with his binoculars. He pretended he’d already been accepted.
I’m surprised he brought me along. Couldn’t I be considered a liability? Sure, one astute male who was apparently willing to buy into every single rule had a chance, but I was a dubious female, suspicious, circling on the outside, quite ready to attack from a psychological point of view. I granted these people what I thought was a generous assessment: They were passionate. But where is the line between passion and obsession?
Take Michelle, maybe 45 years old, evidently unemployed, she rose before the sun each and every morning and drove into the park to view wolves. At least Louise and Gregory were retired, or so I assumed by their ages, and they shared the fixation with one another. Ashley and Neil, another couple, were not old enough to be retired, nor did they exhibit a shared delight in the wolf pursuit. In fact, their quiet and infrequent, but forceful nonetheless, banter revealed a deep competitiveness.
“Got her,” Neil said on our first morning back in the park.
“Oh, you mean 54?” Ashley responded with strained cheeriness. “I’ve been watching her for five minutes.”
After an irritated pause, Neil said, “That would be impossible, dear. She came over the ridge 17 seconds ago.”
“Hon?” Syrupy. “You’re talking about 31. He”—the pronoun emphasis pointing out that Neil had gotten even the sex of the animal wrong—“is right there next to the closest tree. You’re right about that.”