It was the middle of July, and it was snowing.
To my younger sister and I, this was a miracle in itself; back home in Texas, we got a few inches of snow once or twice a year if we were lucky, and white Christmases were entirely out of the question. However, the snow was only one of many things that made our summer trip to Yellowstone feel like a dream come true.
My extended family was spending a week in West Yellowstone, a tiny town in Montana located next to Yellowstone National Park. We were free to explore the natural wonders of the park by day, driving to sites such as Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s hot springs, and wildlife-watching spots, returning at night to our comfortable rented cabin (and gawking at the buffalo leisurely crossing the roads along the way). The park seemed endless, and although we only spotted a fraction of its elusive wildlife, (such as the fox we saw trotting between hot springs with a squirrel in its mouth,) when compared to the familiar suburbs, the rugged beauty of the wilderness took my breath away. All things considered, it is interesting that what I remember the most about our trip did not occur in the park at all; it took place in the town of West Yellowstone itself, at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
The Discovery Center provides habitats for three wolf packs; the one that I observed was the Granite Pack, headed by Adara and Summit, their alpha pair. The moment that I peered through the glass observation window at the four wolves playing in their enclosure, I was mesmerized by their beauty. I had been fascinated by wolves ever since I was a little girl, but I had never before seen them outside of a book or magazine. Barely listening to the employee explaining facts that I already knew to an attentive crowd, I stared at the pack, watching as they lapped water from an artificial stream, tussled over a stolen bone, nuzzled each other, and basked in the sunlight.
As my family headed out of the observation room, I followed slowly, reluctant to leave my wolves. When my mother made a beeline for the bears’ observation window, I wandered off towards the fence that lined the wolves’ enclosure. As I walked along slowly, gazing down at the habitat, a grey and white wolf appeared from around the corner. Staring in wonder, I watched as it approached and stood just below me, observing me with a calm and curious expression on its face.
Just then, my mother called me. Holding my breath, I took a few steps to the right. The wolf followed. A few more steps. The wolf, trotting along quite deliberately, stayed by my side. A man standing nearby, who seemed to be watching my wolf as well, gave me a smile. “Looks like you’ve found a friend.” Too happy to reply, I smiled back before returning my attention to the wolf. I was in love.
Although I eventually had to leave my wolf, and the town of West Yellowstone as well, the love and wonder that I felt on that day have stayed with me ever since. Nearly five years later, I am planning my future with the goal of helping conserve wolves and their habitats. My fateful encounter at the Discovery Center has inspired me to work towards a future in which wolves will be able to run wild and free, with the hope that their beauty will live to inspire generations to come.
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