My Ghost Bear Photography co-founder, Jill Cooper, is one lucky individual. In fact, I believe she is made of horseshoes.
Since our very first foray into the wild together, Jill has made outlandish predictions about what we would see over the course of our summer in the field.
In our first year, she said that if we saw a tornado, we’d see a cougar. Of course, we almost had our car swept off the road by wind courtesy of a funnel cloud in Dubois, WY. And then we saw the vaunted cougar while photographing (a soon to be dead) bighorn sheep in Jasper.
I thought she got lucky.
Our second year, Jill asked for moose.
While moose aren’t uncommon, you don’t usually find them during the summer months. Until that second year in the field. They were everywhere.
Bull moose. Cow moose. And when we hadn’t seen a calf? She politely reminded the Gods and they delivered one.
By the third year, I started wondering if Jill has some kind of strange gift. Or is an animal rainmaker. Or a witch. Whatever she is, when she asked for coyotes and we saw almost 50 over the summer months.
Of course, I was a slightly bitter about her asking for coyotes when she could have asked for, who knows, maybe a pine marten. However, Jill insists that it isn’t up to her to decide what she asks to see; it comes to her. Gag me.
But I admit I was a bit trepidatious in asking Jill what animal was selected to be seen during the summer of 2014. I felt like I was cowering before a God, knowing my photographic luck was in her hands. For all I knew, she’d be asking to see something truly mundane, like a bison. (Jill loves her bison.)
When she declared wolves – specifically black wolves, up close and photographable – were on the docket for 2014, I couldn’t have been happier. And as she chose a fairly elusive creature, I also decided this was the summer that would prove once and for all if Jill’s successful declarations have been a fluke or something, um, truly weird.
The answer came loud and clear near the end of our second week in Yellowstone.
To see wolves in this national park, you must spend time in Lamar Valley or, to a lesser degree, Hayden Valley. And be lucky. We spent next to no time in those areas, however, as we focused on my grizzly bear obsession in and around Sedge Bay – an area where no wolves live and only occasionally pass through.
But one morning we notice a dog running along the road.
A black dog.
A black wolf.
What the bloody hell, Jill?! Seriously??!!
Here was a beautiful, old black wolf. Next to the road.
We pulled ahead of the animal and sat in our car as it made its way towards us. When it got close to our window, it stopped and gave us a long look before carrying on.
Talk about life changing.
Eventually, it took off into the woods and we moved on.
But Jill suddenly realized that she failed to get any good photos. So she turned around, determined that the transient wolf – likely of the Mollie’s Pack – didn’t continue into the trees back to its territory, but, for no reason at all, made a u-turn to return to the road and give her another shot.
And when we got back to the spot where we last saw it? You guessed it. There was the wolf.
For another half hour, we watched and photographed this amazing animal.
The wise old wolf appeared to have a bit of a limp, but never seemed to slow it down as it continued on its walkabout along the road and, eventually, through the forest of downed, burned trees.
For the last hurrah, it crossed the road in front of our car, paused to give us one last soulful look, before trotting into the forest below and out of sight for good.
What might be the most remarkable part of this sighting is that we didn’t have to share it.
One car came by, slowed down (but never fully stopped), smiled at the wolf, asked us if we had seen any moose lately (they didn’t get the memo that moose were 2013’s animal), and, after we answered in the negative, carried on.
You can’t make this stuff up.
As we came off our high, we went to report our sighting to the rangers.
When we told them where we saw the wolf, we were instantly met with skepticism.
A wolf? In Sedge Bay? No, you saw a coyote, we were told.
Nope. It was a wolf and we had the images to prove it. And when the rangers saw them, Jill became their new best friend.
It was just another day in the land of Jill Cooper, but there is more to this story, as you’ll soon discover.
To Be Continued…