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Wolves & Sled Dogs in the Barrenlands

It was May 5th at the sixty-fourth parallel, about two hundred miles south of Bathhurst Inlet. We were four days above the tree line, six days north of the homestead. These were the barrenlands of Canada's Northwest Territories, in true arctic conditions, and we were traveling north.

We camped out in the open that night. The wind was light and we tethered our thirty dogs between two boulders on a bed of lush lichen. We fed the dogs, ate our supper and prepared for bed. Nights are short in the arctic spring; near midnight, the sun shone pink all around and purple in the shadows. By 2:00 a.m., the light had returned.

Wolf

Then we heard them! To our east, about a mile away across the bay a pack of wolves howled. Our dogs howled back. The wolves howled again, this time in response. The dogs howled; the wolves answered once more. It was eerie. We were out in the open and exposed but I knew these wolves couldn't enter our camp without plenty of warning from our dogs. I put out the candle and was still fumbling with the zipper on my sleeping bag when the dogs began their ruckus. Closest to the door, Chris unzipped the tent flap for a look outside. "Six, seven, eight...." he counted. "They're all around us and coming right in."

Wolf Into a southerly wind, they were coming straight out of the north at a full lope, in single file. When they saw Chris, the wolves fanned out into a line about seventy yards across and faced us. Ninety feet away in the center of this line-up stood a tall, handsome black wolf. Four pure white wolves flanked him on either side, nine altogether. For a significant period of time, probably thirty seconds, this black wolf and I stared into each other's eyes. My presence had stopped him; now I wished he would come closer. I felt privileged to be in his presence. The hair was up on the necks of every one of our dogs; they were scared. The flanking wolves became increasingly nervous, their ears flattened and their tails tucked more tightly beneath them. The lead wolf stood his ground. In the pink light of the arctic early dawn, the scene was surreal, other worldly. Intelligence, perception and courage were clearly evident in an animal that belonged here. This was not human habitat- we were guests here in the land of this large black wolf. While he had probably never seen a human before, this intelligent animal was learning fast. Strong, confident and aggressive he did not leave in fear, he just decided to go.

The next morning he led his pack by us for one more look. He stayed out on the lake, heading toward Musk Ox Island.

Arleigh Jorgenson

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