In 2008 we had the snowiest winter ever recorded in this area. A record 142 inches fell. It was strange because for 2 months almost every Friday brought a blizzard that dumped double digit amounts of snow. The kids hated it because they never got a complete snow day and the plows would have it cleaned up by Monday. As the snow piled deeper I had to start plowing trails for the cows, horses, sheep, llamas and pigs to make their ways around the barnyard. We had to shovel the roofs of many of the older buildings like the corn crib, the woodshed and the chicken coops to keep them from collapsing. Just feeding the animals became a huge chore of first plowing and shoveling a place for the animals and then for the hay. If we just dropped the hay from the loft it would disappear into the deep drifts. My great Pyrenees sheep dogs looked like they were swimming as the walked the perimeter of their flock. It was a hard year.
Pogo in the snow
But as bad as it was for us, wildlife had it worse. The snow as too deep for the hawks and owls to hunt through it. Many had to migrate south to survive. We found grouse who sleep buried in the snow, covered too deep to get out. They smothered in the huge snow falls. And the whiletail deer, with their sharp, pointed hooves, broke through the snow and sunk to the ground. They couldn't run, instead floundering as they tried in vain to lift themselves out of the deep snow. One animal that did well that year? The gray wolf. With their huge feet that acts like snow shoes, they could run over the surface of the snow, it's deepness hardly even slowed them down. The deer were unable to run, the wolves could...it was a blood bath.
I found this out at the end of February when I strapped on my snowshoes and headed out to the sugar bush, or the sugar maple tree forest that I tap for making maple syrup. As I trudged up through the trees I could see the snow covered with blood. It looked like something out of a horror movie. And among the blood soaked snow...14 frozen bodies of whitetail deer, none of them eaten on. All of them appeared to be healthy animals, there were ever several pregnant doe in the group. The tracks and sign spoke for itself, the wolves had happened on a yard of deer (deer herds in the winter are called yards) and when the deer began to try to run, the wolves easily brought them down and killed them. They weren't hungry as they didn't eat the deer, but, like all predators, when the deer took off running they gave chase. It's called the predatory response, and all predators from the king of beast, the African lion, to your little house cat has it. Once it is triggered you can't just put it back into the box it came from. Try calling your cat off a mouse it is playing with and see what happens.
Now when I tell this story to some people they get angry with me. "No, wolves are a good part of the eco-system. They don't just kill willy-nilly like that. They only hunt the sick and injured. The wolf keeps the deer herd strong!" They act like I am spouting lies out of hatred of the wolf.
Wolf caught on trail camera
But I don't try to make them into something they are not. They are not human beings with their judgmental needs of being right or wrong. They don't care if the deer is healthy or if it is sick. They have never read a new age book that says what they should or shouldn't be. Will they take a sick deer before a well deer? Of course. Being wild animals means they have a limited amount of energy to work with, they have to fight for every calorie they take into their body. They certainly aren't going to waste those calories going after something they could never catch. But if they come across a perfectly healthy animal that may be trapped against a rock wall, it can't run and they will bring it down. They don't ask if it is healthy before they make the kill.
To try to make the wolf into only the "cleaning crew" of the forest is to not truly love the wolf. It is to love an idea of what you want the wolf to be. Nature doesn't work this way. She doesn't read the books we do and then try to make herself in those book's image. Believe me, if it were that easy I would write a book on exactly how I would like the nature in my backyard to be, and there would be no 100+ inches of snow falling in any given year.
No, nature is not this sweet lady running around in hippy clothes. To give some sobering statistics, every year 3 out of 4 bear cubs will die from parasites, predation, and starvation. Less than half the wolf pups born this year will live to see their first birthday. Only 1 in 8 deer fawns make through their first winter. I have heard numbers as low as only 1 in 30 baby bunnies live for six months. Nature does not look at these precious little ones and say "I must protect them." Every animal has a chance and if they are lucky, they make it, if not, they feed other animals.
To see nature as a sweet caretaker of us all is to really not see nature. And if that is the ideal that makes us love nature, then we really don't love her at all. No, loving nature means that you do not put judgments on her. We accept her the way she is, after all she's been doing this life thing for quite awhile. Nature is not good or bad, she just is and we need her, not to do our bidding, but to be as beautiful, awe inspiring, magnificent, tiny, insignificant, terrifying, deadly, and frightening as she is. When we can love every side of her, then we truly love HER, not what we want her to be.
Deer bed in last year's sugar bush
I did not like seeing all those frozen corpses scattered around my sugar bush. I am human and there seemed something wrong about the whole thing. But it did not even come close to making me hate the wolf. I was grateful for this small insight into their amazing world. I wish they would have done it somewhere besides where I had to work for the next two months, but they didn't call me for my opinion before they did the deed so I guess I had to live with it.
I love the wolf. I love the natural world around me. I try to work with nature the best I can but even I have had to do battle from time to time. So far those battles come out draws as she doesn't kill me and I work with what she has to offer. Every morning that I am allowed to wake up and be in her presence I am amazed at the world around me. There really aren't words in the human language that can communicate what she is, though I hear it in the bubbling of the creek, and the whoosh of the wind through the trees and yes, in the howl of the wolf.