That’s right, I was kissed by a pack of wolves! No, not the whistling kind. These were real wolves, wolves with raw chicken breath from their latest meal. How did it happen? Many years ago, in Sun Valley, Idaho, there was a man barbecuing on his condo deck. We were neighbors, he had two children and so did we. Our kids became friends and introduced us to their father, Jim Dutcher. Jim is a filmmaker and so is my husband. Zip, we instantly became great friends. Years later, and many films later, we are still dear friends. Jim Dutcher is a brilliant nature film documentarian and photographer. You can read about him and his wife Jamie at these sites: Boise State Radio and at The Daily Mail.
Through the years my husband would sit in the editing room and talk with Jim about shots, storyline, etc. for days. It always was a treat for both of them. Jim has very graciously acknowledged Bob's contributions. Early in his career, Jim received many awards for his films on sea life, cougars and beavers. He received three Emmys for his documentaries, Living With Wolves and Wolves At Our Door, including an Emmy for his wife, Jamie for her recordings of the wolves howls and sounds in the solitude of the Sawtooth mountains.
Jim surprised us one day by inviting us to visit Wolf Camp where he was beginning to make the first of his two films about the lives of wolves. It was a process that would take him over six years!
The compound was 130 miles north of Sun Valley near Stanley, Idaho. You haven’t heard of Stanley, Idaho? Population 79. The coldest place in the continental United States. Would you believe minus 52.6 degrees fahrenheit? The town is in the Rockies surrounded by the White Clouds, Boulders and Sawtooth Mountain ranges with peaks that reach over 10,000 feet; a magnificent setting.
This was to be a unique experience because previously, he had invited only a limited number of people to visit, among them John Kennedy, Jr. and his wife, Senator John Kerry and his wife, and now us!
He built his compound for the wolves in a very remote location five miles north of Stanley. It was isolated to mirror their natural habitat. He fenced in twenty five acres and built a yurt for his wife, Jamie and himself to live and work in. This was not your casual yurt. He included all of the amenities such as a fireplace, comfortable kitchen and dining room, all decorated in high mountain fashion. Really a home away from home except... you still had to go outside to the bathroom. Remember, Stanley is one of the coldest places in the US. Think of that the next time you need to go to the bathroom outside your yurt in the middle of a winter's night, or even a summer's night.
So, we drove up the winding road over Galena summit, elevation 8,900 feet, on our way to the town of Stanley, Idaho.
When we arrived in Stanley, Jim checked us out on how to drive a snowmobile. We zoomed along in pristine snow for about five miles to the secret entrance of Wolf Camp, and came face to face with real wolves.
Jamie instructed both of us on how to behave with the wolves. She told us to remove anything shiny from our clothes because wolves are attracted to anything that glitters. So, earrings off, rings off, bracelets off, and watches removed, we entered the compound.
Venturing into the wolf enclosure, we were told not to be afraid because the wolves had just been fed. Fed? Yes, raw chicken parts. Raw chicken parts? Today, they didn’t have road kill so they had to feed the wolves raw chicken. Usually the wolves were fed road kill (animals that were run over on the highway). The Idaho Highway Patrol would bring all the road kill to Jim's house in Ketchum, where he would freeze it until he brought it up to Wolf Camp. But, not today, just raw chicken breath and no Listerine.
A few things to know. There is always an Alpha wolf in the pack. He rules. You do not want to stand above him. He pushes you down so that he is above you. Don’t mess around, just bend your knees. The wolves were very curious about us. They sniffed, licked, pushed and stood up with their paws on our shoulders to position us lower than they were. "Get down," they were saying, "I rule!" Yes, sir!
This was an extraordinary experience. A once-in-a-life time adventure. What's surprising to me, as I look back, is why wasn't I more scared? I mean what would have happened IF......?