Thursday, September 4, 2014

Living With Wolves

About two years ago, when Claude died, the wolves came out. They swarmed a hidden clearing deep in Del Monte Forest, a maw of gray – and white-furred family members. “Primal bedlam,” as one onlooker put it.

They were a dozen deep all told, all muscle and velocity and intelligence, playing and pawing and disappearing into the woods. I was there because I shared a house with two of them and their human. But I wasn’t exactly welcome. The wolves liked me fine. Some of the humans, not so much. “You won’t do any story,” a man named Jacob said aggressively. “Put your camera down. Now.”

I didn’t agree, but I understood. Part of the appeal of the wolves is the renegade streak they represent, at least according to my then-housemate Aaron Ely. “Most of us are off the grid,” he says. “In a way, the wolves symbolize that wild disrespect for authority.”

Keeping with that theme, his animals came with legends, not papers. Jade and Scout were part of a litter of 10 from a big 120-pound Arctic Wolf named White Boy. Claude was a homeless vet whose rickety truck was often spotted along Highway 1 heading to Big Sur; when the time came, Claude took White Boy’s mate, Gwenneth of Carmel Valley, a sizeable Arctic wolf-white shepherd mix herself, down to Jade Cove to wean the pups in a place where they’d be safe, and he could camp unseen.

He was thoroughly devoted to the animals. He refused to sell them. Instead he found them partners: When the litter came he carefully vetted would-be adopters, then took them on a long hike. “You had to go on a ‘get-to-know-them,’” says Ely, who met Claude at a used auto parts store in Seaside.
“You don’t pick the dog,” Claude would say. “The dog picks you.”

Scout picked Ely. And Jade and Scout were already tight. “He told me, ‘They’re really better together – pack dogs,’” Ely says. “It didn’t take much arm-twisting.”

Ely doesn’t know exactly how “wild” they are. But he and I both know Jade and Scout are amazing animals. They’ve leapt 8-foot fences and taken down 300-pound deer on the former Fort Ord. They plow through racks of raw ribs like Ely does tortilla chips.

I’ll never forget the scene in the forest after Claude died. Still more memorable is the time I saw him with the entire pack, which reunited regularly while he lived. They saw him enter the backyard and formed a leaping, loving hurricane of affection around him, some standing to hug him, all of them tails wagging, tongues out, wild with love and energy.