For the last week, I had the chance to help out with a wolf tracking expedition in the Idaho backcountry. We took 20 kids, ages 14 to 18, out into the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness to track the Bear Valley pack. One of the main techniques used in tracking wolves is to track ravens. The wolves and ravens have an understanding, because both of them love to eat elk. However, a raven, even a whole bunch of them, can’t kill an elk. So the ravens will follow the elk herds, and holler to the wolves the location of the herd. Then when the wolves get an elk, the ravens get to have the leftovers. Humans used to have the same deal with the ravens. So if you want to find wolves, you find their food source (the elk), and to find the elk you listen to the ravens.
It was a really magical week, with some really awesome kids. The sort of teens that give you hope for the future of the world. They were kind to each other, inclusive, understood how to use consensus, pitched in to help with all the chores without question, never complained, and looked out for each other all the time.
We found the ravens and the elk, and lots of wolf sign. By the end of the week, we had a pretty good idea where the wolves were, although we didn’t see them (it’s fairly unusual to actually see them). We found fresh wolf tracks surrounding our camp, and even found some wolf pup tracks one day. We also tracked mink, weasel, otter, beaver, deer, sandhill cranes (they have incredible feet!), great blue herons, raccoons, coyotes, and a badger, which several of the the kids got to watch in action for 30 minutes or more.
I also learned about a new plant, which I need to find out if I can grow here in the humid PNW. It’s common name is mugwort, and it’s an artemisia, which seems like an appropriate plant to learn about on a wolf tracking expedition (see the goddess Artemis). It’s related to sagebrush, so I suspect that it might be a desert plant only.
The camp cook and I drove back together, and when we stopped in Boise for breakfast, my legs felt really weird at first. I thought maybe it was just because I had been sitting still in the van for so long and my calves were a little cramped or something. Just as I was thinking that, she turned to me and said, "Wow, it feels really weird to be walking on concrete." And she was totally right. We’d been in the back country long enough that walking on the sidewalk felt very foreign, as did being inside a building where I couldn’t tell which direction the wind was blowing by the feel on my skin. It felt like trying to eat with my nose plugged.
Anyway, I returned to my little spot in the woods yesterday. My tomatoes are still growing in their weedy little way, but I’ll be surprised if I get much in the way of fruit off them. There are a couple small green tomatoes on them. Of course, I lost my labelling system, so I don’t know if those are supposed to be the cherry tomato ones, in which case they are close to ready, or if they are full-sized, in which case they have a long ways to go. I’m debating about whether to plant a cold weather crop. The deer and rabbits are so pervasive that I have little hope of being able to grow lettuce or spinach. And let’s not even talk about the slugs.