"People say the way things happen in the movies is unreal,
actually it’s the way things happen in life that’s unreal.." *
The wolf, what other animal conjures up more gut feelings than that of the wolf? I was one of those people who was always interested in the wolf, even at an early age I was interested in wolves. I grew up in the the 60`s and 70`s, a time where everything got saved, sometimes whether it needed it or not. There were huge movements; save the redwoods, save the elephant, save the porpoise, save the whales, save the gorillas, save the wilderness, etc. etc. etc. All were noble undertakings and not an easy job to undertake. People took these issues seriously and so did many leaders, and things got changed for the good. It took a lot of time and hard work and getting people involved, but it happened. Today things are a little different; leaders aren’t as good, people seem more apathetic and less interested. On television many of the shows that use to be about conserving wildlife and wilderness areas, have turned into TV shows that are now hunting the animals we spent all that time saving, and cutting down many of the tree`s we spent all that time planting. Sometimes we don’t learn do we..
I`m an unconventional person.. I`m not the guy at the cocktail party with the kerchief in his sport coat pocket, and I`m not walking around in a daze starring into my ipod and texting until my fingers bleed. What I am is a guy who captures images, a photographer. Although years ago I was a filmmaker who went out and produced a film about wolves..
I had a good start, I already was spending time in an area where wolves were present. Northeastern Minnesota has one of the last viable populations of wild wolves in the lower 48. There are other areas now in the lower 48 that have wolves too, thanks to good wildlife management and reintroduction of wolves to areas they were exterminated from in years past. Although Minnesota has always had wolves, they never were able to kill them all. Before the conservation movements of the 60`s and 70`s the wolf was primarily seen as a villain, the bad guy for many years by most Americans. Little Red Riding Hood, the big bad wolf, you`ve heard it all before, this was the norm not the exception. I would camp as a teenager and into my early 20`s in Superior National forest with high school friends. After I graduated college I remember saying to myself, "The first time I`m able to earn enough money, I`m going to buy some property up there where the wolves are.." I did.
|Chance and Chikona|
In my 20`s I bought 50 acres on a wilderness lake about 10 miles as the crow flies south of the Canadian border in far northeastern Minnesota for 20 thousand dollars. Everyone including my folks thought I was crazy! A few decades later people don`t seem to think I`m so crazy anymore. I`m one of the only people in America that hasn’t seen a psychologist, or will ever have to, because I can go up to the wilderness. Nature`s the best doctor in the world..
Ok, so now the wolf film! I had met a trapper that worked for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that knew I had begun producing a film on wolves. He introduced me to some people that changed my life forever.. He took me out to a place called Wolfwood Ranch Educational Center north of Minneapolis and introduced me to OJ and Jan Volkman. OJ and Jan took care of around 15 wolves. They had socialized these wolves and ran an educational center there for the public to learn more about wolves. I became friends quickly with OJ and Jan and them with me. I began spending a lot of time there. They introduced me to many of the wolves, and allowed me to be with them often. This was special because they did not let too many people around the wolves, just a very few selected people of which I was very lucky to be one. They had a large fenced in forested area they called the compound, where the wolves formed their own pack and could live in a miniature wolf sanctuary. It was an enclosure about 2 or 3 acres in size. I could go in whenever I liked, they gave me a key so I could go in when they were not home, OJ and Jan trusted me..
OJ and Jan gave me permission for an interview and to film the wolves as much as I wanted at
Wolfwood. From OJ and Jan I met and interviewed Dave Mech, the top wolf biologist in the United States, then I met Nancy Gibson, one of the founders of the International Wolf Center. Nancy agreed to an interview as well and invited me to film at the International Wolf Center too! They all gave their time and made the production very special. The film and DVD became a great success and it still sells briskly today. It was an experience I will never forget, ever..
Today I have much to be thankful for regarding my wolf adventure and all the unbelievable experiences that unfolded from it. Time marches on though, Jan Volkman has passed away as well as all the wolves at Wolfwood. Wolves live a violent life. In the wild wolves live 5 to 6 years if they’re lucky. Wild wolves have to kill not only to eat, but to survive. Wolves that trespass into another wolf pack’s territory are killed by the residing pack if caught. Pack members may be killed as well by other pack members in the same pack. The pack is always changing, members are in a never ending jockeying for position struggle, a hierarchy judged from the most powerful to the least. Before Jan passed away she and OJ received 2 arctic wolf pups, Chance and Chikona. They grew fast, real fast. They became adult size quickly. They were different than the rest of the grey wolves there, I noticed it right away. They were tougher. It made sense, after all the arctic is in complete darkness 6 months a year and bitterly cold, and just a tougher place to evolve from and succeed in making a living amidst such a hostile environment.
One night I wasn`t feeling all that well, sometimes when I was feeling this way I would drive out to be with the wolves. So I drove out but OJ and Jan were not there, they had left me a key to get in the gate if they were not home, so I could then go into the compound and hang out with the wolves for a while. I entered the wolf compound that evening and there was a bad vibe right away, I could feel it.
I remember the first time OJ and Jan allowed me to meet their wolves a couple years earlier, I remember that first time to always give off a vibe of not being afraid when I was around them. If you don`t do that you can be in trouble, real trouble. Even though these animals are socialized, they`re still wolves, and wolves have succeeded for millions of years because they have learned to sense weakness. Weakness in each other, and weakness in the prey species they hunt and kill to eat and survive, sensing weakness is a valuable survival instinct. It`s a highly developed instinct that`s been developed and refined for thousands of years.
I`m in the compound now and it`s nighttime and I can`t see all that well, the wolves can though, and they’re pushing me around, I can feel it, you can feel a wolf when it pushes you, it`s not like a big dog pushing on you.. It`s pushing me around, or better said, trying to push me around along with a couple other wolves, the two arctic wolves, now all at the same time pushing on me. I`m not in the center of the compound, if I was it would be more serious because I`d be farther away from the gate that you enter and leave the compound from. I was not far from the gate, so that was in my favor. I could tell what was happening, man has survived for millions of years, we can sense things too. Right at that split second I realized I was being sized up, and it was time to exit the compound quickly but methodically, holding my own and not to panic as to set off other instincts in the wolves by the way I was acting. I kept strong mentally and firmly walked backwards towards the gate, slowly pushing them as they were pushing at me, so I was moving backwards but not antagonizing the wolves to elevate this situation from where we were at present. I got to the gate, opened it enough for me to slowly squeeze through, and keep them from squeezing through too. It was a situation that any second could of possibly gotten out of control, but thankfully did not.
That night was the last time I went out to see the wolves. I remember talking to my Mom when I got back home that night and telling her what happened. It had all gone full circle. I`ll always remember that time of my life, because life’s not a do over, I was there and experienced it, and probably won`t ever again..
*Quote Andy Warhol
4304 Upton Ave. So.