You go to wilderness for the landscapes and the animals, where trails aren’t signed by people but tracked by wolves. There you route-find over wild-land, thinking like an inhuman creature, moving efficiently, smoothly, comfortably, rewarded by good walking and long views.
Splayed in the black sand of the river’s edge you’ll see the spread toes of a wolf track, wide as your outstretched hand. You imagine what it must be like to be their size, down low, where tunnels through willows -- too awkward for you and your clumsy backpack -- open up for them.
Soon after, you hear a raven bark and you look up at the nearby bluff and there, midway up, behind a tall, bare willow between snowbanks sits a tawny, white wolf staring motionless.
You tell your friends, “Look. A wolf,” because they, too, walk to see animals and wildness, and then you howl, not sure why but because you feel moved to do it.
The wolf peers at you from behind the bush. You howl again and for this the wolf stands. Emboldened you howl, long and drawn out like you have heard from wolf packs in the Brooks Range and sled dogs in Talkeetna. This lures the wolf out from behind the shrub where she stares directly at you.
You can see by her ratty tail and saggy belly that she’s a nursing mother, caught outside her den while her pack hunts caribou that pass through the valley, migrating from their wintering lowlands to their calving uplands, far north of the mountain range.
The wolf moves purposefully above a snowbank, where you yourself know there would be good walking, where you yourself would walk if you were ever up on that bluff, a good route leading up. There at the top the tawny, nursing mother wolf with the ratty tail sits down, throws her head back and howls back at you.
Your friends look at you and grin, then throw back their heads and cut loose, and for this you would walk 600 miles across Alaska’s arctic, but it hasn’t even been four days, or fifty miles. What possibly could come in the next 550 miles? There will be only one way to know. You will walk.