A Majestic Stand-off by Barry Harper

Whilst visiting Canada in the winter of 2003, we were taken by friends for a drive along the ice roads, north of Yellowknife (they later featured in British television programme, ‘Ice Road Truckers.’) Our hosts were hoping to show us a herd of migrating caribou or moose. It was quite an experience to drive along the ice road. The surface continually bowed under the weight of the big four wheel drive vehicles and it all felt very unsafe.


The vehicles were parked by the side of the road and we split up to continue our journey on skidoos (snow scooters). Unfortunately we didn’t see any sign of the caribou or moose, but as we travelled deep into the forest along frozen paths, I was surprised to see what looked like a fox standing in an icy clearing. We both pointed in that direction and rode towards it. As we got closer the animal appeared to grow larger in size until the fire officer I was riding with, suddenly made an emergency stop. He did this without warning, and we skidded to a sudden halt in a flurry of snow. Unprepared for this, I banged my face on the back of his left shoulder cutting my lip.


I looked up to see what had startled my companion, and to my great surprise I saw that the animal wasn’t a fox; it was a very large, silver and grey timber wolf which was standing proudly in the middle of the snowy track that divided two parts of the forest. It was about fifty yards away from where we stopped and was certainly close enough for me to see its powerful shoulder muscles twitching, and I knew this was not a good sign. The wolf weighed about one hundred and eighty pounds, most of it rippling muscle. It stood about three feet high at the shoulders, and was about five feet long, with its bushy tail held high, arrogantly over its back. The under parts of the body was tan, but its shoulders and neck were cobalt grey. It had a large head with pointed ears and large paws at the end of its long legs.


We found ourselves in a nervous stand-off . We stared at the magnificent creature and it stared confidently back at us with its expressive amber eyes, sniffing the air as it did so. I could feel the tension in the cold still breeze. It didn’t seem to be in any way intimidated by us and this made me anxious. There was no one else around and it was very quiet. We didn’t say a word; we just watched one of Mother Nature’s secrets unfold. The local Slavee first nation people believed that wolves and men were closely related spiritually, and I could feel a strong connection with this animal. I heard it growl as it narrowed its piercing eyes; it appeared menacing and aggressive and was obviously not going to stand down. I had previously trained police dogs and recognised these canine traits, every sinew appeared poised as though waiting for the instruction to attack. I felt vulnerable because we weren’t carrying any weapons with which to defend ourselves.


I felt powerless in this tense situation because I was on the back of the skidoo and could not reach any of the controls. I could have got off the skidoo but that would have been reckless, and exceptionally dangerous. We didn’t speak so I didn’t know what was going through my companion’s mind. We certainly couldn’t try to turn around because that would have left our backs exposed which could have triggered a violent chase.


After what seemed like minutes, although it was more likely to have been seconds, the fire officer made a move. He suddenly revved up the engine of the skidoo and rode it straight at the wolf. It happened so quickly that I nearly fell off backwards. As he did this the wolf looked startled, but did not move, he still held his ground. My immediate concern changed. Now it was not for the safety of me or my colleague, it was for the safety of this magnificent animal. My thoughts were, ‘Please, please run off into the woods,’ . As we got within twenty five yards, I could see the wolf’s muscles tense and twitch, its expression changed and it turned and slipped away into the undergrowth of the thick pine forest. I was glad that it did, but I will never forget my confrontation with 'a kindred spirit'.