Yesterday I was talking about wolves with some fellow photographers in an online forum, when I realised I've never written about one of the most incredible experiences of my life: being kissed by a wolf.
In May 2015, Steve and I returned to the USA to catch up with family and friends. While we were in Colorado, we visited Mission: Wolf near Westcliffe and fulfilled one of my childhood dreams - from when I was eight years old, reading the likes of My Side of the Mountain and My Wolf, My Friend. It was a far cry from two years prior when I saw my first real-life in-the-wild wolf while in Alaska.
If you have any curiosity about wolves, Mission: Wolf is a must-see. And if you can't make it to Colorado, their website is packed full of information about these beautiful creatures. Who knew that by looking directly at the wolf I saw in Alaska, I was inviting him to come and say hello? And that they get frustrated if you don't let them lick your teeth? That's how they greet each other, so really it's like not accepting a handshake.
This rather blurry image is not titled 'Photographer's Last Photo': it's what happens when a wolf suddenly hot-foots it towards you so quickly you can't get focus on her face. And then you realise the only way to have proof that you were kissed by a wolf is to hand over your camera to a total stranger which, as it turns out, is far more terrifying than the wolf.
But as they say; fortune favours the bold and I was rewarded with experiences that can only be conveyed by the sheer joy and happiness on my face in the banner photo of this post.
Possibly the biggest surprise is that a wolf's breath is not smelly at all. My dog Rocky has rather whiffy breath (I'm being kind here), as do a lot of dogs. But wolves? Nada. They pad up to you, gently lick your teeth, then leave you with the quickly fading sensation of hot puffs of breath and you're sitting there thinking "holy cow, did that just happen?" And you know there's now a corner of your heart set aside just for wolves.
We were lucky enough to be there when they feed the wolves, which only happens every three or four days. Once we were all out of the enclosures, they gave us bucket-loads of meat to lob over the high fences.
As we were leaving, a lone wolf started to howl, quickly joined by the others and we stopped in our tracks to soak it in. There are simply no words to properly describe the beautiful and haunting, incredible song of the wolf.