VISITING THE PACK---My experiences with the Seacrest Wolves
I sat on the ground with a friend who came with me, along with a group of forty men and women, five of them our volunteer guides, wearing yellow reflective road work vests and fanny packs full of raw ground beef for treats. A few minutes ago, we walked through a large gate that was locked behind us, like walking into prison, except now I felt free. As one of the guides talked, I saw the first one walking through the trees, watching us with childlike curiosity, a gray wolf, the first of the pack to visit us.
There were no fences between us and the wolf—we were now on their side of the fences, their ten acre area, a large, confined habitat designed to give the pack enough room to live a relatively normal life. This was the Seacrest Wolf Preserve, owned by Wayne and Cynthia Watkins on their ranch south of Chipley, Florida. The retired husband and wife started the preserve a dozen years ago for rescued wolves and wolves given up by their owners.
We sometimes think of wolves as dogs, but seeing that first wolf, I realized there was something more noble, intelligent and playful that one would see in a dog. Just watching, I felt my neck hairs rise, though the wolf was not threatening at all. He was curious and confident, and as other wolves came out of the trees and approached our group, I watched in awe. In our mythologies, these are the most threatening, evil, scary creatures on the planet, but face to face, they were a lot like us, or rather like the better side of us, friendly, kind, caring. Neither were they condescending, seeking attention and approval like dogs. We were visiting them, we were not their bosses, not their masters, but visiting them on their terms, their territory, and they knew it.
We eventually saw three groups of wolves in three separate habitats, the last a group of arctic wolves, the alpha, named Spirit, missing a foreleg but still managing to lift a leg to piss and scrape the ground as part of his scent marking behavior. Near the end of our tour, one of our guides called us together in the middle of a copse of trees. She persuaded us to howl as a group, and we all put our hands to our mouths, arched our backs, and did our best to howl like wolves. She let us go for one minute, and then signaled for us to stop. The ensuing silence was eerie, and for a moment I thought we did it wrong. Then we heard a distant lone howl, then another. In a few seconds we heard a full orchestration of different wolf voices from all directions, rising up in answer, or just adding to the cosmic melody. I gazed at the tops of trees, listening, trembling in awe, lost in the moment.
My friend and I headed home at the end of the tour, and though I could not speak for him, I knew I was changed. If young girls sometimes dreamed of riding unicorns, then young boys sometimes dreamed of running with wolves. For a few hours of one day, I was able to be a young boy again.
If you are interested in visiting the wolves, you can contact Wayne and Cynthia Watkins at:
Seacrest Wolf Preserve
The Oaks farm
Wayne and Cynthia Watkins
3449 Bonnet Pond Road
Chipley, FL 32428