The man suddenly stopped in the middle of the woods. A wolf was standing right in front of him. He froze and didn’t know what to do.
He wanted to slowly back down, but he noticed that the wolf wasn’t moving. Something was wrong with the animal, which didn’t sit well with him. He knew in his heart that he had to act.
John Marlow had been hiking those woods since childhood. He used to go with his father and explore the wide forests quite often.
At times they would encounter incredible things and beautiful sights. But they never discovered anything compared to what John would see decades later in those same woods. John wished his father was still with him to see it.
One spring morning, John went hiking in Coho Creek on southeastern Alaska’s Cooper North Island. He emerged from a forest of spruce and hemlock when he encountered something he’d never seen before.
It wasn’t his first time on those tracks, but it was the first time he had seen something like that. It almost made him turn back, but he kept going.
What got him to that spot was a weird noise that he had heard a while back. Normally the man wouldn’t be bothered by such sounds, but this one was different. And it kept going as if trying to lure him.
When he finally reached the origin of the sound, he found a wounded wolf lying on the frozen ground. At that point, he realized he might have made a terrible mistake.
In front of the man, hidden inside a bog, was a huge Alaskan wolf caught in one of Trapper George’s traps, John’s neighbor.
Old George had passed away the previous week of a heart attack, so the wolf was lucky. But the animal was also confused and frightened. John needed to do something to help the poor creature.
At the man’s approach, the wolf backed away, straining at the trap chain. The animal was frightened and didn’t know the human’s intentions. John only wanted to help, but it was very difficult to approach the wolf.
Then he noticed something else about the animal as well. The man figured out a very important detail about the creature’s situation.
The man realized that the wolf was female and looked like she had puppies a while ago. Somewhere there was a den of hungry pups waiting for their mother.
From her appearance, it looked like she’d been trapped for only a few days. That meant her pups were probably still alive, surely no more than a few miles away. But John suspected that if he tried to release the she-wolf, she would turn aggressive and tear him to pieces. What could he do?
John decided to search for her pups and began to look for incoming tracks that might lead him to her den. The tracks led a half-mile through the forest. He finally spotted the den. There wasn’t a sound inside. He didn’t have much hope of luring them outside, but he had to try. So he began imitating the high-pitched squeak of a mother wolf, calling her young.
No response. A few moments later, the man tried another call, and four tiny pups appeared. They couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old. Then, one by one, John placed them in a burlap bag and headed back down the slope. When the mother wolf spotted him, she stood up. He released the pups, and they raced to her. Within seconds, she was feeding them. What next, he wondered. The she-wolf was clearly suffering.
Over the next few days, John divided his time between planning and trying to win the she-wolf’s trust. He talked gently, threw her some meat, and played with the pups.
Little by little, the man kept edging closer, though he was careful to remain beyond the length of the chain. The big animal never took her dark eyes off him. “Come on, girl,” he pleaded.
“Do you want to go back to your friends on the mountain?” The man asked and then gave her some more meat. “Here’s dinner,” he said softly as he approached. “Come on, girl.”
Suddenly the pups came and played with the man. At least he had their trust. But John was beginning to lose hope of ever winning over the mother. Then he thought he saw a slight wagging of her tail. This was it.
John moved within the length of her chain. She remained motionless. He sat down near her. The pups were nursing. Gently, he leaned over and petted them. Then he slowly placed his hand on the wolf’s injured leg. She flinched but made no threatening move. This can’t be happening, the man thought. He could see that the trap steel jaws had imprisoned only two toes.
They were swollen, but she wouldn’t lose the paw if he could free her. “Just a little longer, and we’ll have you out of there,” he said. He applied pressure, and the trap sprang open, and the wolf pulled her leg, whimpering.
John’s experience in the wild suggested that the she-wolf would then gather her pups and vanish into the woods. But cautiously, she crept toward the man. Slowly, she sniffed his hands and arms. Then the wolf began licking the man’s fingers.
John was astonished. This went against everything he’d ever heard about wolves. Yet, strangely, it all seemed so natural. After a while, with her pups scurrying around her, the mother was ready to leave and began to limp off toward the forest. Then she turned back to John. She wanted to be followed.
Curious, John packed his gear and set off. Following Coho Creek for a few miles, they ascended Coopernoff Mountain until they reached an Alpine Meadow. There, lurking in the forested perimeter, was a wolf pack. After a few minutes of greeting, the pack broke into howling.
By the light of his fire and a glistening moon, John could see wolf shapes dodging in and out of the shadows, eyes shining. He had no fear. They were merely curious about his presence.
It was time to leave the wolf to her pack. The mother wolf watched as John assembled his gear and walked across the meadow. Reaching the far side, he looked back. The mother and her pups were sitting where he had left them, watching him.
John waved, and at the same time, the mother wolf sent a long, mournful howl into the crisp air. It was a chilling experience.
Four years later, John returned to Coho Creek. Standing on a lofty edge, he gave out a long wolf call, something he’d done many times before. An echo came back across the distance. Then, far off, the man saw a dark shape moving slowly in his direction.
As John crossed the meadow, he could see it was a wolf. A chill spread throughout his whole body. He recognized that familiar shape even after four years. The wolf edged closer, ears erect, body tense, and stopped a few yards off. Her bushy tail wagged slightly. Moments later, the wolf was gone. John left the region shortly after that and never saw the animal again.