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What is Wild?

I believe in magic. Not the song. The magic of Nature–a serendipity that suddenly transcends all time. Anyone who has spent time outside knows this. You step down to a quiet stream when out of nowhere you see a wolf just a few dozen steps away. Your eyes meet each other for a brief moment and then the wolf vanishes into the forest. Yet the magic of that encounter is embedded in your brain forever. Or a rare sighting of a marten descending from a tree. He studies you while you have lunch. Those were just two of my own magical nature moments on a trail. Or the time I watched a badger and her three kits wander from hole to hole.



These sightings weren’t in Yellowstone, but in what is called The Greater Yellowstone where I live. My little cabin sits adjacent to the eastern national forest that abuts Yellowstone which many consider “backcountry”.



Call it dumb luck that I moved here 14 years ago, coinciding with a wildlife sweet spot taking place in the ecosystem. Thirty-three wolves had been reintroduced into Yellowstone 10 years previously. By the time I bought my cabin, my valley had its own wolf pack. Even though Wildlife Services was constantly pounding them in summer when cows arrived on the forest allotments, they still weren’t hunted and their natural curiosity wasn’t yet stomped out. That meant lots of encounters, on the trails and the dirt roads.


Alpha male whose mate was killed in the first hunt in 2012 in my valley

With few ATVs in the area in the early 2000s, (they were still a new amusement), grizzly bears, who especially loathe vehicular interference, easily lived alongside our few residents. They mostly came through at night, avoiding homes and locals who camped in the forest on weekends.

Grizzly cub

Grizzly walks next to my house in summer 2011

I frequently saw wildlife and came to know their corridors which is where I’d place my trail cameras. Like humans, animals have routines. Living close to wildlife one gets to know some of them.

Yet slowly, or quite fast, things have changed. My “backcountry” has become “front country”.  And I blame a perfect storm of human interference–a disturbance in the force, a blitzkrieg of meddling that quenches magic. Maybe if it had only been one thing, for instance, more seasonal ATV use. But that has not been the case. To name just a few new items accelerating rapidly since 2012:

  1. Antler shed hunting Jan.-May. Dog chews and Chinese aphrodisiac claims bring hunters big bucks.
  2. Forest Service summer thinning projects and winter logging projects.
  3. Internet access has advertised the area with increased weekend use.
  4. Wolf hunts have a new extended season that now includes September. Then January wolf collaring. Weekly spring flyovers to den sites
  5. Grizzly bear collaring and drop-offs of problem bears
  6. Increased cougar hunting and increased quotas
  7. Trapping has skyrocketed due to worldwide increase in pelt prices
  8. A major stream restoration project using heavy equipment
  9. Wildlife Services baiting coyotes, using helicopters to shoot them, and going into their dens on foot.

So what happens when humans meddle too much? Wildlife retreat. There just is less wildlife on the landscape. This is obvious to anyone who lives here. An intrinsic “magic” occurs when nature can be allowed to take its course. Nature, the interconnected web of animal and plant life, is its own time zone. Too much human interference suppresses it. And the magic disappears, replaced by the familiar, the pedestrian, the irreverent, the unholy.


There is a reason we have a designated “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem”. That is because these large animals cannot survive just inside Yellowstone Park. Elk and deer have enormous migration routes that wolves and cougars follow. Grizzlies need large tracts of land to find sufficient food. Isn’t it about time that we start treating not just the Park, but our larger landscape with the respect it deserves? That means less human interference in big and small ways. My lament is what has changed here for our wildlife. My hope is that we humans will change our ways.

cougar male resident

5 Responses

  1. A beautiful tale, a sad tale, both told with vivid descriptions. There is still a chance for humans, but it seems like that chance is progressively getting dimmer.


  2. I just finished reading your book, The Wild Excellence, which happened to be left behind at a cabin I rented in Victor, Idaho for a recent vacation to the Grand Tetons with my love and partner. It is rare that I feel moved to let an author know how deeply what they have written has affected me. Your thoughts on the sacredness of the land, how interconnected we are with all life — including wildlife — and how we need to preserve as much open space and live as members of a whole community and not just as the kings of the castle — mimic my own and my partner’s thoughts and feelings. The things we experienced hiking the backcountry of Wyoming this year, and the backcountry of the Beartooth Wilderness in Montana during our trip to Yellowstone last year (where we had a terrifying, amazing, exhilarating and wonderful accidental encounter with a male black bear who happened along the trail we were hiking — ultimately, he looked at us for a few minutes while we stood stock still with bear spray at the ready, and ended up moseying down the path in the other direction, thankfully), can be explained with words, but must be felt with the heart — experienced with the heart — in order to truly understand the significance. When you go to these remote places, where you are not the master of the domain, but a guest in the domain of the wild animals that call those places home, and you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things, it changes you. Please keep on doing what you are doing and writing what you are writing! Each of us plays a part in the effort to save our world from becoming one giant strip mall. Thank you for doing yours!


    • Thank you Paula. Writing can be a lonely vocation so it’s always nice to hear responses from readers. I really appreciate your comment. If you have the inclination, you can post it as a Amazon comment, even if you never bought it there.I think it helps people find the book. And really cool that you found it at a rental cabin.


  3. Leslie, I’d be happy to do that. Do I just look up the book on Amazon and post it there?


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