At the station Jacob pours me a cup of hot tea. We’ve been back for a few hours now, but no one has said a word about the wolves. McMahon and Alonso simply parked their ATVs and hauled the dryshipper and carry cooler off to the lab for processing. Jacob and I briefed Cardinal on the assessment, about the marker reading, the missing collars, the doe carcass, but not the wolves. It’s as if we are all in disbelief.
“I’m going to catch up on some stuff TB.”
I watch Jacob leave the mess haul and head towards the communications room. He looks so tired. The light in the mess hall is not a warm glow, more like a cold flicker. One of the fluorescents is dying and the light pulses, burning my silhouette into the wall in front of me, a grotesque swollen mutation of my head.
Wolves. For two years now we’ve monitored the forest, capturing, collaring, and sampling any wildlife that remained, collecting plant specimens and analyzing isotopes. No one expected this place to rebound so quickly. Last September, Jacob completed a data characterization analysis, including some meta-genomics. His preliminary results were impressive, we couldn’t believe the bacterial mutation rates. But no one expected such rapid changes in mammals.
My hand shakes as it grasps the tea cup. Wolves. I close my eyes and see the tree line in the fading grey light of dusk. It is standing up, drinking in our scent. I have to mentally restrain myself from running off to check the camera trap footage. There is still a report to write, field notes to compile, samples to process, the cages to visit. I must look ridiculous sitting here under a flickering light grinning from ear to ear at my own shadow.
The cages. I put down the tea and walk out to the holding pens. Acorn greets me with his blue ring, while his little hands grab the chain link. I stroke his face through the fence before entering the pen to fill his tiny food bowl. He jumps into my lap as I sit on the edge of his tree system to look over his chart.
“We’re not alone out here anymore little guy.” I look out over the fence line towards the trees. For the first time in the cages, I realize I’m afraid.
*Day 16 of Where Stories Begin