I just read Bad Luck Way; A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West by Bryce Andrews.
The book is about a ranch hand on the Madison River’s Sun Ranch. It is about ranching and wolves and the many interactions of cattle, wolves and people and repercussions of those interactions.
The book also brings back many memories for me. Sun Ranch is a place I got to see a little bit of. I got to spend a week there each summer from 2005 to 2007. It is a magical place. It is massive and beautiful and as full of Montana as anything could be.
I actually saw three wolves with Roger, the former owner who is written about in the book, as we hiked up to Finger Lake to fish for very dumb Yellowstone Cutts. These wolves were members of the Wedge Pack and were almost certainly casualties of the clash between the world of the wolves and the world of men and cattle.
What I remember of the wolves was first their sound. They clattered and banged as they tore down the mountain. I had expected stealth, but this was anything but. The other thing I remember was the size of the wolves. They were massive, no mere “large dog,” as I had probably thought of them before actually seeing them. They were so large and powerful. One ran probably 40 feet from me. It was so fast as to not be scary and I was left stunned and impressed.
I may have met Bryce or Jeremy or James. I certainly met some of them, but it was in passing. I was one of those passers through. I came for a week, spent most of my time on the rivers, in Yellowstone or Ennis, and I didn’t get a sense of the battles that were being waged on a daily basis by the guys like Bryce.
I did get to talk to Roger (and still consider him a friend) about his hopes and dreams for the place. He put 97% of the ranch into conservation easements before he was forced by circumstance and the markets to sell the ranch. I know how much he loved the place, how much he cared for the wilderness and the wildlife and how sincere he was about his desire to find a way to co-exist.
In the end, the Sun Ranch has some claim to a small bit of my soul. Other parts are owned by other places, places with fish for the most part… the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, the Keys, the rivers and streams of Northern California. I think about Sun Ranch often and the Madison and the Ruby and the Lamar and the memories I have from those times.
I know wolves are not loved by all. They are hated by a great number who have no experience with them at all, like the folks in Siskiyou County who lost what little sanity they possessed when a lone wolf crossed from Oregon into CA a couple years ago. Wolves are also loved by people who don’t understand the places they live and the people who live there and are forced to co-exist with them. Both those extremes seem to drip with a sort of ignorance, and I’m not exactly dry when it comes to all of that myself. Living in the SF Bay Area I don’t confront those issues and don’t live with the consequences. No wolf has taken food off my plate.
Like Bryce, I hope there is a place for wolves in the West. Get the book and read it. It is a quick read and well written and you may just emerge from its pages a little less wet.