The ranch dog barked all day. ALL day, no stopping. Bark, bark, bark. Bark! Bark, bark. Bark. Bark, bark, bark, bark. Bark! Bark! Bark, bark, bark.

I thought Josie was barking because the fox came through again, but that is a near nightly occurrence, and so every morning Josie runs out, scents the wily little canine, and “defends” her territory. Bark, bark, bark for about an hour and then she quits, having made her point – although I’m fairly certain the fox thinks she is rather pointless. This day Josie’s voice echoed on and on. And on.

That same morning, the elk were not on the Side Hill where they have been all fall, warming themselves as the early sun reaches across the slope. A few great bulls hold reign over the herd, light colored, swinging their towering antlers back and forth as they pluck at the bits of grass still showing above the old snow that remains from the last storm. Josie’s bark does not even make the elk twitch, they’ve heard it so much. Her ruckus didn’t make them leave, but they were gone. And still, that black dog stood looking up the hill, barking.

Hunters? Did hunters come to this edge of the controversial Special Permit zone created a few years back specifically for trophy hunting, without any ecological/wildlife management rational, opening lands to hunting that had been closed for very good reasons for the last hundred years. Opening the zone meant that hunters can come to the edge of the ranch property, potentially shooting downhill right into dogs, horses, children, and other beings who inhabit this place. Killing – for trophies – the elk that I see daily, have watched as they go through their seasons, have listened to as the bulls bugle their prowess to the chill autumn air. Hunters? Looking for the majestic bulls who have graced the slope all year? The elk gone, the dog frantic. Hunters. So I went to look, wearing a bright yellow jacket, as I don’t own anything hunter-orange.

The first print was too blurred in the old, sugary snow to be definite. The second made me nod. Then a string of clear tracks, and I knew what had passed that way. Hunters, yes. But not the hunters I expected. The tracks were just smaller than my hand, four great toes, and a triangular pad. The wolves had come through. The snow revealed their passing, otherwise they would have slipped by unknown.

Hunters, yes. Almost, I forgave Josie. Almost. But she barked ALL day, while the wolves had silently padded their way off to other valleys long ago, leaving only their tracks behind.

Wolf track from a different time

Wolf track from a different time

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