When the wind nudges the sugar maples, branches rub together and creak, your head snaps to the right, scanning the downed log, the hillside, the horizon line, hovering at the edges of fear and excitement and hope. Relief for a moment, then another creak-snap-scan.
A scat or a print on the trail is a drop in the drama of their lives. Your mind jumps quickly to scenes rich in risk: persistently, attentively patrolling the border of their territory; the chase of an ungulate, ending in a meal or more often a draw.
Quiet and quick inhaled “auhhh”s are deeper, linger longer, in your throat. The tingle of anticipation you sometimes get in your shoulders and arms now appears in your lower legs, even in the soft balls of your booted feet.
This is a forest with wolves. A place where wild things are left to be, a place where hubris, at least for a moment, at least here in this place, is held at bay, replaced by coexistence. To know a place where humility dances with restraint is to know a deep peace.
Beyond your own life lies not only the lives of others but the life of the land yet to be imagined into existence. That future will arrive, one way or another, kicking and screaming and thrashing, or steadily and deliberately. In this forest with wolves you will experience the birth of a new world.
Environmental philosopher Michael Nelson is lead principal investigator for the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and a historian for the long-term research project Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale in Lake Superior.