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It was a bad Saturday night.  My candidate was soundly defeated in the Nevada Caucuses, and I was smarting badly from loss.

Even as the night was drawing in, I knew the only way I was ever going to start feeling better was to go out into the woods for a twilight perambulation.

The Saturday before was a subzero night. Snow was on the ground and each step was hard and sharp and crunchy. This night was much warmer. It was well above freezing, and the sky was without any clouds. The stars were shining. The moon was almost full.

The squabbles out in Nevada now seemed pointless by comparison, and as I walked into the darkness of a stark February wood, I began to revel in the majesty and forget machinations of humanity. This is what I wanted anyway. Peace and quiet and a realization that this is all insignificant by comparison.

My reverie was then interrupted. In the hollow below the the logging road where I was walking came the churs and snorts of warring demons. There were screeches and squalls mixed into all the din. There was a great battle gong on below me, and I knew instantly what was happening.

February brings the raccoon mating season, and two of the local boars were sorting it out over a female in estrus. I guessed the one of them was the resident ridge-running raccoon who found him a sow to follow on this moonlit night, but the warmer weather and the intoxicating odors had brought up a challenger from the creek bed.

For five minutes, I listened to the boars fight. I debated as to whether I should wander down and see if I could get a better look.  But I was certain they would run if they heard my approach down into the hollow.

So I stayed put and listened to the war.

And as soon as the cacophony rose, the air fell silent again. The boars were not fighting now. Perhaps one had beaten the other, and now he had the sow to himself.  Or maybe they were off licking wounds and getting ready for another donnybrook.

I didn’t stay long to find out. My mind was tuned to something else besides politics, of the narcissism that is inherent in being human..

Raccoons have fought these wars long before there was a United States, long before there were Democratic Caucuses and primaries. Their wars were about passing on genes. Nothing more. Nothing less.

As I watch now, in this general election from Hell, I think back to that night in February. I think of the moonlight and the stars and the primitive war of ‘coons in a deep hollow.

The sun will rise tomorrow. The seasons will change. My life will one day end.

All around us are these parallel dramas, ones we don’t often take a time to consider.

We all live in alienation from this world to some degree.

But it’s important to break away from our world and see it in proper perspective.

In proper perspective, we can be fully humbled before the mystery.






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I didn’t think I’d do another one of these, but my conscience has been dragged back into it.

Jemima Harrison posted this morning (my time) about a friend’s flat-coated retriever who died at the age of 7. Both the dog’s parents were dead before they were 8 years old.

I used to follow this dog’s owner’s blog, way back when there was a more active dog blogosphere. I remember when she was born, and I remember when her mother died.

I’ve always admired this breed. It was once the most common retriever in Britain, and I love all those old paintings and photographs of the dogs at pheasant and partridge shoots.

At one point in my life, I thought I wanted one of these dogs. They were sleeker and more agile than golden retrievers, and I’d always preferred golden retrievers that came in that body type, even if the show ring never did.

But then I looked at the health of the dogs, and I decided that I would pass.

A golden retriever is already a notorious tumor factor. That there could be a retriever in worse shape with regard to cancer was something that really did bother me.

I used to wonder if this breed could be made more viable if they did some crossbreeding, but virtually every breeder in the breed is so opposed to it that having rational discussions with them is like talking to a creationist or someone who believes that Bush did 9/11. Their job, regardless of the facts, is to come up with ways to justify keeping the gene pool walled off.

And at that point, I knew the problem would never be solved.

It’s taken me a while to realize that no amount of explanation will change anything.

It’s that way with just about every breed of dog. If it’s not flat-coats and cancer, then it’s bulldogs and everything that’s wrong with them. Or pugs.

After doing this for years and years, I’ve stopped having any confidence that any of these problems will be solved, and I’m not wasting my time.

So we’ll hold onto closed studbooks, “linebreeding for health” or some other delusion, until we hit the eventually genetic dead-ends of several breeds.

The population of canids known as “domestic dogs” will continue on, because the vast majority of North Americans will choose things other than registered dogs. And the village, street, and pariah dog populations will still be there in other parts of the world.

But as for the Western “purebred” dog, its future is quite tenuous indeed.

And when you’re powerless to stop something, you’re better off giving yourself some distance.

That’s what I have done.





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I really haven’t felt myself in maybe a decade. I felt myself here in the taiga.











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Any time someone from the Lower 48 goes to Alaska, the instant question that comes up on return is the traveler encountered a wolf.

The answer for me is simply no, and I knew fully well there were very low odds of me seeing a wolf. I live where there are tons of coyotes, and I see one about every six months. They are very good at keeping themselves hidden from people, and from what I’ve read about wild wolves, it is even more true about wolves.

Some members of my family went to the Kroschel Wildlife Center and saw a tame wolf named Isis. (I was told that she would not stop howling during their entire visit!).

My best chance at seeing a wild wolf was at Denali, but there is a catch to that story.

Denali National Park is roughly the size of Massachusetts. It’s full of moose, Dall sheep, caribou, beaver, and porcupines.

You’d think that place would be full of wolves, but it’s not.

In fact, a place that size really can’t hold as many wolves as it does wolf prey. Because wolves are top predators, they just can’t exist in such large numbers, and that fact is true regardless if you’re talking about wolves in Denali, cheetahs in Namibia, or lions in the Gir Forest.

So even in the best of times, there would always be just a few wolves roaming the park. They would be laid on pretty thinly on the land.

But these are not the best of times for wolves in Denali.

The traditional “buffers” that have been set up near the park that prevented legal wolf hunting and trapping near the park were lifted in 2010, and the wolf population went from 147 wolves in 2007 to 49 wolves in 2015.

49 wolves over a land the size of Massachusetts.

49 is still more than the number of wolves living in actual Massachusetts, which may be 0 wolves. It may not be, though. One was killed in Massachusetts in 2008, and one or two  could be lurking somewhere in the Berkshires, where they may mistaken for big coyotes.

But 49 is roughly a third of what the population was nearly a decade ago. My chances of seeing a wolf in Denali were 45 percent in 2010. They were 5 percent in 2015.

One of the best things I did at the park was take a hiking nature tour. My tour guide was very well-informed about wolf issues, and she told us about a wolf following one of her tour groups. There was no fear involved, but when someone in the party pointed out that a wolf was following them, she was certain it was a dog. She was very surprised to see that it was a wolf, and it was close.

The wolf ran off, of course.

But she also told the story of what happened to the East Fork wolf pack. This is the famous wolf pack that Adolph Murie studied. They were the wolves that were featured prominently in The Wolves of Mt. McKinley. This was the pack to which Wags, Murie’s tame wolf belonged.

Right now, the pack exists as only a single female. Her mate was killed on state land near the park entrance. She also had a litter, but I’ve not been able to find out what exactly happened to them. (I was there just a few days after this story came out on Alaska NPR).

I understand that Alaska has to balance interests between outfitters, who want predator control and liberal predator hunting allowances, and the desire of the American people to have relatively intact ecosystems in our national parks.

I get it.

I get that Canis lupus isn’t an endangered species worldwide, and it certainly isn’t an endangered species in Alaska, where the species is still going strong.

But it seems just a little perverse that we cannot maintain those buffers once again. I came thousands of miles to see wilderness where wolves might be.

I am okay with knowing they might be. I don’t have to see them. I just need to know they are there.

We had a small enough tour group that the guide and I got to talk about wolves a bit. She talked about her cocker spaniel and how that dog was far more rugged than she looked. The dog had been on many back country trips, and she wondered how closely related her spaniel was to those wolves.

Pretty close.

But still far enough away.




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I saw several sea otters on my cruise, but I saw them from the ship while it was in motion.

So this is my best photo:


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Steller sea lions on a buoy just off from the Point Retreat Lighthouse. This body of water is called the “Lynn Canal,” which is actually fjord. It was named by George Vancouver, and it was supposed to be called “Lynn Channel,” but transcription error led to it being called a canal. But glaciers made it, not canal diggers.




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