On Sunday, July 9th I drove to the roadside picnic area in Ice Box Canyon in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. It was the last day of an eight day visit to Yellowstone that consisted of wildlife watching and numerous day hikes. I wanted to make one more drive through Lamar Valley and I wanted to go to this picnic area specifically because it was there in January on the last day of a three day visit that I had spotted the four members of Lamar River wolf pack in the snow. This first visit had whetted my appetite to return to Yellowstone.
During my most recent visit, I had the opportunity to view wolves on three separate occasions. One evening I watched in Hayden Valley as a mother wolf led her five pups (four gray and one black) out from their den in the tree line to explore for a few minutes much to the delight of the crowd of people gathered on Grizzly Overlook with their binoculars and scopes. Another time was at the same location just as the sun was going down when a gray yearling wolf came out of the same spot in the tree line to explore a bit before disappearing into the tall sage and darkness. The highlight of my visit was being able to follow the Junction Butte pack for four hours as they made their way along Lamar Valley.
Wolves (for which I have always had an interest in since I was a child) were my main interest in visiting Yellowstone but during these days I was also thrilled to view numerous black bears (a few with cubs), bison, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, an osprey nest inhabited by mother, father and two chicks, foxes, coyotes, badgers, a bald eagle flying and numerous smaller animals and birds.
All in all, I went on seven day hikes throughout the northern region of the park. These hikes allowed me grand vistas to stare out at as well as meadows of flowers to walk through. I sat before a towering waterfall as well as by a small quiet stream.
For a week, I was “unplugged” – to some degree. Other than sharing some pictures on Facebook and Instagram and talking with the people I met or was around during the day I had no idea what was going on in the world. I would rise early to get into the park before the heat of the day became too oppressive, return to Gardner for lunch and a short siesta and then return into the park not to leave until late in the evening.
I am not “Mr. Outdoors” – I don’t feel the need to hike cross country or scale cliffs with my bare hands. If I were ever on a survivor show I am sure that I would be among the first eliminated. I don’t own a tent and I don’t seek out camping because (some truth in jest) I like air-conditioning. But I am more me when I allow some room for nature.
Pope Francis is correct in “Laudato Si” as has been Pope Benedict XVI in his writings and St. John Paul II. We find and know ourselves within the context of creation and when we lose creation we lose ourselves. On my day hikes I found myself naturally drawn to sing hymns as I walked along – partly because I was walking through bear country and needed to make noise – but mostly because my heart wanted to. I wanted to (had to – really) give praise to the Creator for all that I was seeing and for being reminded of my place within it.
Although I have an interest in wolves and have now spotted three packs during my two visits to Yellowstone I do not think I have some “mystical” connection with them because the wolves are unconcerned about me and that is the way it should be. The wolves are just out there being wolves and if something were to happen and all of sudden humanity disappeared from the face of the earth the wolves, bears, bison, elk and all animals would just continue continuing on. But the wolves and other animals are of concern to me and that is what makes me human.
This concern, I believe, is part of our “Imago Dei” – our being made in the Image of God. Scriptures tells us that God looked upon his creation and said it was good. Jesus tells us that not one single bird falls to the ground without the Father being aware of it. Creation is of concern to God and for us to share in this concern is to live within a reflection of the Image of God in which we are all made and, conversely, to believe there is no connection, to live withdrawn and cut off from creation nor concerned when creation is wounded is to be reduced, to lose part of who we are and to forget in whose image we are ultimately made.
Even though I went to Ice Box Canyon and I drove through Lamar Valley I did not see any wolves on my last day in Yellowstone. I will be honest and say there was some disappointment in this but then the better angel in my nature said it was okay. The wolves are not beholding to me nor anyone else. It is enough to know that they are out there being wolves and that there is a place where these animals can just be and by that give glory to their Creator. And it is good that I have concern because that also gives glory to the Creator … and makes me more human.
(Pictures from top are view of Ice Box Canyon roadside picnic area in summer, two photos of wolves of the Lamar River pack at picnic area in winter and wolves of the Junction Butte pack in Lamar Valley.)