In this post, two longtime wolf advocates share an intimate look at their shared experience of visiting the den site of one of Yellowstone National Park’s most famous contemporary wolf packs, the Druid Peak pack. Released in 1996, as part of the second round of reintroduction, the Druids started out five strong, briefly growing to 37 members during their 14 year storied reign. Our colleague, Rick McIntyre, recently published an outstanding book about one of the most famous Druids, wolf 21M, a member of the Rose Creek pack who later joined the Druids. Today, many of the wolves in the Greater Yellowstone region share genes with members of this foundational pack.
Flowing from an exchange regarding a fascinating podcast about the consideration of plants as persons, the passages below were are between Tom Zieber, who volunteered on-and-off with the Yellowstone Wolf Project for years, and Anne Edward, a wildlife photographer and longtime supporter of the effort to restore wolves to Colorado. Although the exchange is brief, it is full of the genuinely emotional energy that they each experienced when visiting a massive Douglas Fir, whose roots wrapped around the Druids original den chambers.
Tom: Years ago, while working for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, a small crew of us went up to examine the Druid’s den site, long after they had abandoned it for rendezvous sites and beyond. The team appointed me to crawl in and make measurements. Dug under a large Douglas fir, the tunnel made a right-angle turn half way in before terminating at the den chamber.
Notably, I am subject to mild claustrophobia, and so was vociferous about my concern should I become wedged in the cramped chamber somehow. Yet, once I negotiated the corner and reached the chamber—which proved barely large enough to turn around in—I felt an incredible sense of calm. Surely, part of it owed to the awe and respect I felt for the resident wolves themselves, and finding myself in such an intimate locale, but I also believed then that a significant part of my calm came from the web of roots that helped to make up the walls of the den chamber. Somehow I felt that this old [Douglas Fir] exuded a protection of some sort, and that any she-wolf would have felt akin when whelping or tending pups. I honestly didn’t want to leave. Rather, I had a strong desire to curl up and take a nap, such was my unseemly comfort. Most tight places like that would cause me to exit with all due haste.
Of course, I left quickly so that the crew wouldn’t become concerned, nor would it be entirely appropriate to linger longer than necessary. Once I returned to the surface, speckled with sap to which clung numerous strands of wolf fur, I looked over that tree again. I had noticed it on our way in, being larger than other nearby trees. Following the den excursion, I concluded that this tree must be some sort of ancestor or grandparent tree. There didn’t appear to be any other tree with larger girth, and I remember the way the trunk listed slightly into the hillside—the tree wasn’t “perfect”, but stately and powerful. I feel that the wolf that dug the den must have perceived something special about that specific fir, and since then, whenever I am out in the forest I take special note of finding the individual trees who resonate with similar energy—longevity, protection and comfort.
Anne: In the late 1990s, I experienced the Druid den site and the den forest as well. In [these images of the tree], the den entrance is just to the right of the elk skull. I love the way the den goes under the hillside that wraps around the fabulous tree. I’ve never been in a spot that felt more sacred. I saw elk bone “toys” near the den opening, scored with little tooth marks from the pups. Being there struck me with a strong, vibrant energy and a life force undoubtedly rooted in the generations of Yellowstone’s first wolves who were born and reared here.