The wolf pair cautiously moved into the meadow, listening carefully, searching the air and obvious landmarks for scent markers. They had been searching for their own territory for some time. She was heavy with her first litter, and they needed to find a denning spot as well as a place of their own to hunt. This tree-lined valley with its open meadow and quick-running stream would be perfect, but not if it was already taken. Two days and nights of listening and scenting assured them that they were safe from competition. They found an old badger den beneath the twisted roots of an ancient oak and enlarged it for their first den. Other sheltered locations were available for future use, too.
The four pups were born without incident. The male and female took turns hunting when the pups were close to weaning. As the young ones grew, they learned quickly and became valuable members of the small pack. A couple of males and a female that had been forced out of other packs somewhere found their way to the valley. Other litters came to the alpha pair. Some individuals and a pair or two left in the ensuing years to keep the size of the pack fit to the hunting territory.
One of the males broke a leg in a winter struggle with a young mule deer. The bones didn’t realign and left the wolf too crippled to be of much use in the hunt. He became the official babysitter and comedian to the pack, fed from every kill and helped to water when necessary.
The alpha male grew too old and blind. His mate died with a stillborn pup. A new alpha pair—a great-grandson and a wandering female—took charge of the pack, cared for the new pups and the aging grandsire as long as he lasted. When he became too weak to even chew his food, one of his pack-mates did it for him, regurgitating naturally pureed meals that kept him alive into the winter.
For several years this pack lived in harmony with the natural order in their valley. Then one morning as the latest year-old pups chased one another in the meadow, one of them suddenly leaped into the air and fell heavily and unmoving. The smell of blood and death rising to accost his fellows. No sooner had the dead wolf hit the ground than they heard to far-off boom of the gunshot that had killed him. Almost immediately another wolf was knocked rolling and bleeding to the turf. Another hollow explosion was followed by the dirt whining up beneath a nearby adult. The pack rushed for the trees, but one more of the pack was felled by the unseen hunter.
In the shelter of the forest the pack gathered around the alpha pair and strained to hear and smell this new danger. Soon they detected the approaching men, and the depleted pack turned and went deeper into the woods, staying hidden, but keeping track of the humans. The smell of wolf blood grew strong.
When the pack could no longer hear or smell the men, they cautiously turned back to the meadow, circling around the spot where their fellows had died. In the light of a full moon they gave voice to their mourning, and before the sun rose began their search for another territory, hoping the winter would hold off long enough that they could discover a safe haven.