When Willow was an adolescent wolf, she got free of her pen, and wound up penned in with the wrong pack. In the way of wolves, outsiders are not welcome in the pack. The other pack had beaten her up pretty badly by the time she could be gotten out of the pen. The preserve owner took her home and nursed her back to health.
Some time later, she was healthy again, and Willow was returned to her pack. But now, for reasons known only to wolves, her pack no longer wanted her. Willow was an outcast. The owners built her a smaller pen, at the back corner of the preserve. One of the worst things that could happen to a wolf is to be left alone, without a pack. As fate would have it, another pack had born a litter, and the cubs were ready to be weaned. Two tundra wolf cubs were put together with Willow, and a new pack was formed.
The regular tour had ended, and I had seen wolves, foxes and bobcats. They were all fascinating and lovely creatures. The group was meandering their way back to the buses that hauled us there. It was noon and the fire whistle in town blew. Though I couldn't hear the whistle, the wolves all began to howl. It was a beautiful sound, that brought a contented smile to my face. However, there was one howl that continued when all the other voices had silenced. A long and mournful sound, that seemed to flow through my entire body. Rich and deep, it carried from the back corner of the preserve. Like a sailor of ancient lore drawn to the Siren, I had to find that voice.
I followed the trail that led around the fencing and up the hill. At the top of the hill, I came to the pen that housed Willow. At first I saw only the tundra wolves, and they were quite disinterested. I was a bit disappointed at first, I knew from the owner's speech that Willow was a silver-frosted timber wolf, and the description he gave was enough to make me want to see her. I looked around the pen, then to a particular tree, opposite from where I stood.
Partially hidden by a combination of shadow and the back drop of a grey-barked tree, stood Willow. Willow was the most beautiful canid I'd ever seen. Her coat was a glistening black, with stripes of silver that sparkled like galaxies in the midnight sky. She turned her head toward me, and an ear flicked back. Dumbstruck by the sight of her, I slowly crouched at the outer fencing, murmuring complementary hellos. What happened next will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life.
As I crouched, Willow turned to me and strode across the distance to the inner fence, roughly 5 feet from me. She sat on her haunches in front of me, and her amber eyes blinked once in greeting. I smiled, showing no teeth and murmured another hello. Willow stood, and began pacing back and forth in front of me, rubbing her sides on the fence. A few moments of watching her, and I saw she had the flexibility and grace of her namesake. Out of curiosity, I cupped my hands before my mouth and howled as best I could. Willow answered. She threw her head back and howled. The sound coursed through my body, and I had to hold on to the fence to keep from toppling over. The beautiful voice belonged to Willow. Tears began to stream down my cheek as the rest of the wolves also took up the song. I felt as if my heart would fly from my body, and ride the waves of that sound.
"Thank you."I whispered to Willow.
Willow sat down in front of me again and her tail swished from one side to the other, then curled around her feet. I watched her a few minutes more, then told her I had to go. When I stood up, my knees were still somewhat weak, so I steadied myself on the fence. Willow began rubbing her sides on the fence once more. Smiling, I watched a few minutes more, then said goodbye. Willow blinked and turned away, then began walking back to the tree where I first spied her.
I turned to make my way back down the hill. About a quarter of the way down, I paused and took one more look toward the pen. Willow stood, front paw raised, and her head turned toward me. Her amber eyes watched me as I walked the down the winding path. I couldn't help but smile--a bit smugly--as I whispered.
"I'll see you again, my friend." I vowed, before continuing down the trail.
By the time I got back to the rally point, I was grinning from ear to ear. On the bus, I thanked the owner numerous times, and complimented him on how the animals looked very well cared for. I told him I'd be back too. Since then, Willow has been on my mind, and even in my dreams. I will find a way to one day see Willow without fencing between us.
--Paul A. Werner II