The ecstatic solitude and final, magnificent days of OR-93
On a desolate, unknown and wild stretch of borderland between California and Oregon, in early spring, when the first whispers of running water begins to melt from languid, weary snow, and where the forest lands eventually meet the foothills of Mount Shasta, a silhouette paced out from the horizon, a sleek, young gray wolf quietly crossed the border to the untrodden golden state where he lived the final, awe inspiring year of his life, here in the land of Condors, Gold and Giant Sequoias.
We attribute the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…” to Lao Tzu. And these first steps out of Oregon were the beginning of the ultimate journey for OR-93. It was approximately a year later he found his final resting place in Kern County. On November 10, 2021 the California Department of Wildlife and Game found him lying peaceful and lifeless, having transitioned to the great beyond.
An investigation determined cause of death: blunt force trauma consistent with a vehicle strike. He was but 3 years old and lived that last year in solitude while searching for a mate. The fearless journey he had embarked on took him much further south that any wolf had dared in a century. He dared, he bore us magic.
Way back in Oregon OR-93 was outfitted with a tracking collar. Shortly thereafter he left his pack, taking up a sacred charge, a station in life, to form a new family. It is a path few wolves find success in, and yet a necessary act for the whole of the species. It was at the border crossing between states that the tracking device failed. At that point, there was no way to know were he was, much to the disappointment of scientists.
OR-93 in his final days photographed near Kern County - courtesy of wildlife.ca.gov
OR-93 hailed from the “White River Pack” a small grouping wolves formed by the same methods OR-93 sought to replicate. When the pack got too large, he needed to head out on his own. OR-93 was unique, with a greater vision than any wolf in recent history. Strong and still growing, by the time OR-93 trotted across the border to California, he had already traversed nearly 400 miles, hunted alone for countless meals and rifled through his ancestral memories to find long forgotten wolf trails.
He found nooks to curl up for cold nights without companionship. I like to think of him, in his first California eve’s, sleeping under a canopy of pine trees, flipping through old copies of the great California writers… Henry Miller or maybe Anais Nin, all to the tune of Ryuchi Sakamoto’s Amore. Alas, this was just the beginning of his journey…
Spring is the season of love, a frenzied chaos of new leaves on trees, symphonies of polychromatic flowers and bird nests fetched and fashioned from the inexhaustible shedding of mammal summer coats. This is the time when wood becomes the dominant element, shaping existence out of the winter’s dormant potential, each new acorn, each new shrub and grass representing the sharply focused, leading edge of time itself.
After much radio silence, it was quite a surprise when, in the spring of 2020, a trail camera spotted our gray wolf in the Central Valley having crossed multiple dangerous freeways and highways. By this time he had traveled close to 900 miles. His tracks were lost again and then towards summer, then he was spotted again in the area of Fresno.
White River Pack Territory (https://pacificwolffamily.org/thewhiteriverpack/)
“The creature we are watching will struggle on and on until it drops.
Not because it is heroic. It can imagine no alternative.”
- Christopher Isherwood A Single Man
I picked up the story one morning while checking the weather. I became obsessed with OR-93’s travels. I sought new information everyday, each new spotting eliciting an audible sigh of relief. I folded the story into almost every conversation I had and even wrote a large portion of a speech I had to give around the theme of the search for love and OR-93’s confounding reach for his own ecstatic truth, his Tao.
Wolves live for about 5 years. Why would OR-93 use one of those years to travel a so many miles south? During one of the worst droughts, increasing heat, and wildfires? He was likely blazing a trail alongside the devastating Dixie fire. He weathered lava beds, and snowy passes alike.
As far as I can tell wolves sometime leave a pack to find a mate …when there’s too dense a gene pool and the population needs diversification. One will leave and travel into the unknown, just like his parents did to form their pack…
…all for what we might call love. He answered the call of spring.
And the path to love can be challenging and full of danger…
…trappers trying to shoot you, scarcity of water, mini mansions, speeding driverless Tesla’s and parched highways to cross. These are things dogs and people sometimes have to face on the road to partnership. Wolves have long represented evil and power, but also our displaced self hatred many try to ignore, they become an easy target for the projected shadow of our own psyches. Many people still carry undeveloped and regressive notions that we can’t coexist with these creatures, and long to exact violence upon them.
This outward drive to violence is the guilt, regret and trauma we hope to escape in ourselves, the refusal to take responsibility for our own roles in the eco system and the ill effects we have had on the earth and land. The attempt to demonize wolves is a lack of courage to self reflect on psyche and actions. This leads to a cowardly aggression that perpetuates a denser and denser self hatred over generations. To be unable to imagine a coexistence with wolves reveals a simple deficit of the imagination and denialism masquerading as power, domination and force. Wolves are much better at managing land, and letting it thrive than any human machination. The reintroduction and study of the wolves of Yellowstone highlights this.
A different study dispels our self projections and uncovers the misguided ideas dominator culture holds in regards to “leaders” and “masculinity”. The alpha male wolf and its pop culture influence is a distorted fantasy, couched in capitalism, greed and inauthenticity. The “Alpha males” are gentle protectors and nurse the sick, they are beings that know how to collaborate, play and know when to defer to the ladies (The females tell a pack when and were to go to hunt).
Take Action to Protect Wolves https://www.relistwolves.org/
Photo by @iantmcallister
Back to our little California influencer… some people think OR-93 is the insane one, a confused and wayward beast who lost its way…
… I mean, who would move from Oregon to Cali right now anyway?!
Recall that in those years there are other conditions which made his timing favorable. It was these years that us humans were in various stages of lockdown, businesses and schools closed and people working from home. Our goodest boy was not only searching for a mate, but likely hiking solo in Muir woods. He perhaps had Yosemite all to himself for months at a time. Not once did he poach anyone’s cattle when hungry. Instead was hunting and camping in the majestic sierras unencumbered, free…
“I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom, for me and you, and I woof to myself, what a woofy woof world.”
In this sense the journey is bold and worthy of the highest honors, it is a display that demonstrates we should trust the world and trust that we might find home, a partnership and create a new kinships. OR-93’s solo walkabout should inspire us to get right with ourselves as well, to learn to be confident and peaceful in solitude when big Tao is expressing itself in our lives.
So I see him as an intrepid traveler, enduring unimaginable odds to keep the chain of love unbroken, link by link in precious, consecutive sequence. The story of love is the story of life. It begets itself.
You already learned regrettable the fate of OR-93, but his message will not be forgotten, we can be better than that, we must be more loving. As spring continues to explode around us and we reflect on the glorious quest of OR-93. Let us dedicate, to him a sacred honorific death poem, by the Tanka master Saigyo…
I wish to die,
in spring, beneath
the cherry blossoms,
while the springtime moon
Excerpt from Japanese Death Poems, Compiled by Yoel Hoffman