Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Desert Full of Fish: Wolf Bait

Here you go guys: Yet another from my ever growing reject pile I give you:
Wolf Bait
In the summer of 2007, there were 52 Mexican Gray wolves reported in the population in and around the White Mountains, according to the Blue Range Recovery Program. The clinical results of their destruction on livestock in the local area are staggering; investigated cases reported by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are in the hundreds per year. During this same summer, reported in the Pioneer Press (White Mountains Newspaper), fences had been constructed inside the Blue Range Recovery Area at local bus stops to keep children safe from wolf predation.

“I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice.” Tara snapped at me sarcastically, quoting back at me my personal hero, Albert Einstein.

She was right, and I was wrong. Trying to persuade my wife that my angling addiction was part of God’s will was another failed argument attempting to justify my need to go out yet again and fish. “It’s for an article, that should be enough justification for you,” is what I didn’t say. Choosing that particular quote was especially venomous, considering the implication that my catching fish was like rolling dice, something of chance. Ouch!

“Honey you’re most likely right, you always are, but I really need to get some shots for this piece.” I tried to not sound more pathetic than whiny, but my story was true. I needed to get a couple photos of people fishing or holding fish on this specific body of water for an upcoming piece in a regional rag.

She wasn’t done firing; her second barrel stung as much as the first. “Furthermore, a guy that hasn’t been to church other than funerals and weddings in over a decade doesn’t really get to use God’s Will in any argument.”

“So when did you become judge and jury of the worthy,” is what I thought. What I said was somewhat less argumentative: “Honey you’re right.” Sighing and pausing for effect I added, “Again. It was a poor attempt at humor to woo you into seeing that this trip was really important to me.” I slid closer to her and put my hand on her arm. Thirty minutes later of trading and bargaining, my penance had been set. One day at the spa, upon my return, and getting her car’s oil changed before I left would be the price of my last minute escape to the high country. I don’t know if it was Gods’ Will or my wife’s, but I never should have made this trip.

POP! Immediately followed by a long sickly-hiss. Swerving to avoid a yearling elk, the Rover fishtailed across an old fire road strewn with boulders and loose gravel. At a complete stop with my windows down, dust curled into the cabin of my truck, catching up with me from the aggressive swerve and grinding stop. The one year old Elk stood four feet off the road, more curious than fearful. I stepped out of the truck to inspect my driver’s side tire as the last fleeting pounds of pressure seeped out the hole made by a softball size stone I had hit in order to avoid said elk, still standing less than ten yards away.

Leaning over my seat I pulled my Garmin out of the harness on the dash. Close to fifty miles from paved road, and over thirteen from the closest intersection that got traffic, I was not in the kind of place a guy wants to get stuck. The clock in the corner of the screen on the GPS unit said 7:33a.m. Having changed a tire a few times before, I went around to the back of the Land Rover, to the cooler. One Silver Bullet later and the car had been raised as high as the jack would allow, but not high enough for the wheel to be rotated free. Lowering the jack and car back down, I searched for flat stones. Round two: with a one by one-and-a-half foot relatively flat rock placed under the jack I made my second attempt at removal of the damaged tire. Raising the Jack to its full extension, even with the rock underneath, left the tire about an inch or so buried in earth. Trying to decide what to do, I glanced down at my watch: 8:47a.m. For the sake of time, I used another rock to dig out around the wheel, scrapping away the half inch or so of dirt in order to give clearance to the wheel for removal. Forty-five minutes later, I was huffing hard while sitting atop the bad wheel and cracking my second Coors Light of the morning.

Crushing the second can and placing my two empties back into the cooler, I heard an odd sound: Not so much a POP as a BLURP coming from somewhere under the Rover. I stood at the back of the truck as my mind searched for recognition of the noise… What was that? A couple seconds ticked by, and my brain made the connection as the back of the truck slowly lowered. I bent over at the waste, placing my hands on the ground for balance, cranking my neck to see the jack reversing on its own. My stomach dropped like a rock, frozen and powerless to do anything other than watch the tiny O-Ring that was the seal hover around its neck piece mere inches out of place. The jack had imploded and now was descending back to a resting position in slow motion.

I had a decision to make. With a car full of gear and a cooler full of beer, I could stay the night and hope someone comes by or hike out to an intersection that is frequently traveled by Fish and Game, and anglers alike. The downside was, according to the map, that it was 15 miles from my current location. I choose the later, and after gearing up a daypack with everything I needed for a four hour hike I was off, GPS in hand, leaving a digital breadcrumb path back to my stranded vehicle in case anything happened. I hiked for a couple hours and no sign of life, outside of mine. A few birds chirped as the sun warmed the earth, and the wind blew loud through the tall pine forest walling up the dirt road.

Close to 2:15p.m. I saw the dust trail first. Eventually, down the long narrow forestry road, a Game and Fish Truck became visible. As it got closer to me I could make out this very strange, UHF - like antenna on its roof. Waving my hands back and forth frantically, the driver stopped.

“Howdy.” Through a rolled down window I explained to my new best friend my predicament. . John, the scientist driving the Game and Fish Dodge Pickup, agreed to help. I took note of the Hi-Lift bolted on to the back wall above the truck’s bed and thought that would work. At that moment, I marked a waypoint on the GPS, it said 11.6 miles.

“So, John, what brings you out to these parts?” Not concealing my excitement that I had been picked up.

“I’m on assignment for my thesis, tracking the two wolf packs in the area.” John motioned with a coffee cup in hand to the speaker attached to the dashboard, with long wires taped to the dash and leading up the inside windshield and out his window to the roof, presumably attached to the weird looking antennae I had seen on the roof.

Going on, John explained how he hadn’t seen them in a few days and was out combing the area trying to pick up a signal from the collared wolves in two packs.
“We released two packs in this area in 1998 and have had subsequent releases every year on the Apache reservation, attempting to bring back the population to a self-sustaining number. Each of the packs released and additional wolves released have been fitted with a radio transmitter collar. “

“So you drive around and listen for them, huh?” I asked out of kindness, sensing he was really into this, more than out of not knowing.

“Exactly! We had a spotting yesterday of a mule deer carcass, that usually means a successful kill of some sort for either a lion, black beer, or wolves. I’m on the ground today and was headed to that carcass when I came across you.” A smile came over his face for the first time.

“Well thank you my friend, I truly appreciate it.” Replying as warmly as I could.

Glancing down at my GPS.“ Right up here, it’s a left down the fire road about five hundred yards or so.” Pointing left out the windshield at the mouth of the turnoff.

The road was rough, and we made slow time. According to GARMIN, we had six miles of rock, gravel, and unkempt road before we reached my wounded vehicle. About half way there a very unusual but familiar “PING” sparked out of the speaker attached to the dash. Ironically, the sound was similar to old WWII movies where submarines would pick up enemy ships on their radar. A resonating noise that trailed off with every hit: Ping…Ping…. Ping…. The pings were getting closer together as we got closer to my truck…With a sneaky suspicion of what the pings meant, I finally asked him what they were: “So is that what I think it is?”

His words, not mine: “Don’t worry. The wolves are harmless.”

“So how far does that thing reach out…. I mean, what is the range of the transmitter?” Anxiety muddling up my words.

“Solid signals like these means they’re within 500 yards.” The little speaker kept sounding-off in the background, and John turned the volume down low.

“So they’re really close huh? Wait! Don’t answer that,” I replied. John went on trying to dissolve my obvious nervous reaction to the presence of wolves. We pulled up to the truck and all I could think is this guy is freaking nuts. Those Fuckers were hunting me. There is no reason for a pack of wolves to be all up and down the road I was stuck on and within five hundred yards of my truck. I don’t care what John was saying. I wanted out of this place and fast.

Anxiously, we jacked up the car, swapped in the spare and snapped a couple pictures for memory sake of John standing in front of his truck and my wounded truck wheel in the dirt. Then I must have pulled upon some unknown NASCAR roots because I had jacked up my truck, filled the gap with my spare, and tightened down the lug-nuts in under two minutes. Spent and sucking-wind, I looked over at John and said, “Thank you.”

Holding out my hand I shook his. I think he could sense my anxiety: “I will follow you out to the main road just to make sure you don’t go down on your spare.”

A nice offer, I thought, and I accepted. We shook hands one more time. John drove behind me to the turn-off. Sticking my arm out the window, I wove goodbye as he flipped a u-turn and headed back up the road I had just come down alone. When I got back to society a few days later, I wrote a very nice letter to Arizona Game and Fish expressing my gratitude for John and his actions. I never did see a wolf that day. However, I swear to you at the price of burning in Hell, the cover of the local paper a week later featured an article about high school kids getting chased by wolves in the town marking the turn off from the freeway to the dirt road that I was on. A younger child was mauled less than a week later, and the local pack John had been studying was euthanized a month later. Thinking back now upon my wife’s words, quoting Einstein before my trip, I find it terribly hard to accept that God plays dice, but even more disturbing is the thought that man thinks he can play God.

1 comment:

Rob said...

That is why I like to fish. You never know where the day will take you! Bears, snakes, moose, and cougars, I have ran into them all! Great story, bud! Thanks for sharing!