The wolf stood as still as the morning at the far end of the lake. Having seen me before I'd seen it, it watched alertly as I walked along the shore.
I had risen early, stiff and tired, and decided to go for a walk to loosen up a bit before the girls got up. I left my camera behind on purpose, not wanting to be weighed down with it. Later I thought about my binoculars, but something was telling me to not to go back, not to dawdle, and I decided whatever there was to see I would see with my own eyes.
I scanned the trees for early rising birds, and watched the shore for fresh tracks or scat. As I approached the far end of the lake I looked across to where the creek runs out of Crescent Lake and into MacGregor. A solitary loon floated on the surface and I stopped to watch. That's when I noticed, nearly directly behind the loon on the far shore, an animal staring at me. My mind ran through the possibilities: Deer? no, too stocky. Moose calf? no, too light in color. Coyote? no, too damn big.
The sun was not yet risen, and the light was dim at the far end of the lake, but I could judge its size against the drift of sweet gale behind it. I was afraid to move, afraid to end the stand-off. I don't know how long we stared at each other, but eventually the wolf walked away towards the creek and I watched until it disappeared.
Back at camp I told the girls what I'd seen. We ate a hasty breakfast and jumped in our kayaks to go look for tracks.
We approached the area quietly, not really expecting at this point to see anything but being careful anyway. The water level on the lake was down from where it had been in June, and there was quite a bit more exposed land near the creek than there had been two months before. I beached my 'yak and got out to look for tracks while the girls patrolled along the shore.
There were tracks everywhere, moose especially, some old, some fairly fresh, sunk deep into the mud. (The lens cap is 2" across.)
There were some beautiful beaver tracks and scrapings, and we moaned about not having any casting material with us.
I moved across the mudflat, searching for evidence that I hadn't imagined the morning's encounter, stepping carefully to keep from sinking in the mud. After several minutes I finally found what I was looking for, very near the creek bank--the prints of a large canine, fresh in the black mud.
And here, a place where an animal had bedded down.
When I found the tracks the girls decided to come have a look too. I moved farther up the creek, and found more fresh tracks, moving farther into the valley.
To top it all off, that evening Lisa and I walked back down the shore towards the place I'd seen the wolf that morning. I still didn't take my camera, but we both had binoculars. As we rounded a bend along the shore I looked up and saw a shape, just on the other side of the creek from where I'd seen it that morning. We both stopped dead and looked through our binoculars. "Do you see what I see?" I asked Lisa. "Sure do" she replied.
We watched in utter amazement as the wolf stopped, looked at us, looked around, then lay down on the shore facing us, and stared. We stared right back. This went on for several minutes, until Lisa moved slowly down the shore, when the wolf eventually rose and headed back down the creek.
Over the next several days we went back to the place where we'd seen the wolf, but he had apparently had enough, and did not make another appearance. None the less, that morning alone on the beach being watched by a wolf is a moment I will never forget.
It's OK with me that I didn't get a picture--some things are meant to live only in your heart.