Life

David Ausband with one of his 'collared' wolves in Idaho on a research trip.

The circle of life continues to turn. My brother.  A grown man with a family. I think of him at different times of the day. Sometimes a funny thing will occur to me and I’ll want to tell him.  He likes to laugh. We are both pretty silly… especially when we get together. He was once a little guy. My memories of him bleed from that time to this time. My minds eye. The mental picture I hold is usually one of Dave somewhere in between it all. We don’t see each other as often as we should. Separate lives. My California. His Montana. Skateboarding. Wolves. Diametrically opposed. He studies wolves. He is a wildlife Biologist working on his Ph.D. at the University of Montana in Missoula. Whether he likes it or not, he has become respectable. I’m pretty sure the idea of being respectable would make him scoff and gag, but there we are. He did it to himself. In his passion for wildlife and animal research, Dave has fashioned himself into quite a knowledgeable man in regard to wolves, foxes and grizzly bears. He tracks animals and collects data. He studies them. Intimately. Habits. Ranges. He lays in the long grass and watches wolves at their dens. The sky passes by above, the sun drops and still he stays in solitude. Watching.

Dave collars wolves with a GPS tracking device and follows their movements. I would think this a dangerous thing. “What do I know?”  He just smirks at me. Dave takes on a tone of seriousness. “People make wolves out to be these dangerous, human-hunting killing machines. Hollywood and the media portray them in an unfair fashion. Wolves are cowardly in a way. They slink off. They run. I’ve been close to them… walked right up on them and they did nothing.” Dave is quick to add that they are unpredictable. All wild animals are difficult to read and this fact is what makes them dangerous. When an animal feels threatened, it lashes out with violence and hard-wired survival biology. Something on the receiving end of such a response may have an unfortunate ending.

The wolf pack descending on the elk kill. Yellowstone -January 2012

Back in January, Dave was with his son in Yellowstone Park. His good friend Matt was along for the trip.  It was brutally cold. Snow and ice covered the entire space of things. The air bit at their lungs. They drove slowly back through the park. At one place, a silvery ribbon of river meandered out of the forest, cut across an open field and twisted on itself to disappear back into the dark pines. A few people were pulled off to the side, braving the cold and watching for animals. Grizzlies. Wolves. Bison and elk. Dave and his passengers slowly drove past, leaving them to their frosty vigil. About two miles down the road, they were shocked when an elk ran directly in front of their vehicle. A wolf was running closely behind it and one wolf had sunk its strong jaws into the elks flanks. Matt had his video camera on at the time and –amazingly–  caught a quick film as the animals disappeared over the fields edge in a flurry of snow and frenzied movement. Life and death. The great end. Dave stopped the vehicle. They saw movement as the rest of the wolf pack descended on the area. Forest feast. Survival.

I’ve recently come to Montana to visit with my brother and his family. My nephew Sam is a super cool little dude and I can see my brother’s sense of humor already apparent in him. My sister-in-law is awesome. Liz puts up with quite a bit of buffoonery from those two and she has a rapier wit as well!  Dave, Sam and I drove up to Yellowstone. We were driving and I was astounded at the beauty around me. Granite peaks. Snow. Towering trees marching into the distance and shouldering the sky. Primitive.

spotting for animals - Yellowstone

wolf track

We drove through the park. We spotted animals. Wolves chased each other on a nearby hillside. A lone wolf called to its brothers from a brooding thicket. It was a haunting sound. As we drove, Dave told me about the January visit and seeing the elk being taken down by the wolves. Some die so others may live. It goes on and on ad infinitum. He pulled the car to the side. Gravel crunched underfoot. Wind cut at our clothing. He pointed silently and stepped over a grassy bank. We walked without speaking. Periodically, Dave would raise the binoculars and scan the hillsides for grizzlies or wolves. Finally, as we stepped over a rivulet of muddy water, Sam cried out pointing. “Look!” He had found huge clumps of tan fur and a few splintered, well-chewed bones. We started peering about in the long brown grass and weeds. I stepped over to a small bank that dropped about four feet to the water below. Looking down, I spotted the grisly remains of the wolves winter feast. The bones were torn and chewed. Fur was everywhere, attesting to the violence. The end. The beginning. All life.

Sam and I on the river bed with the remains of the forest feast.

It was a great example of how the circle of life turns. It may seem cruel but I find it quite natural. In our smugness and our cities, I think we forget that a life and death struggle is going on all around us. Things are born to those that came before, the old grow weak and the strong prevail in the end. Life comes and goes. We may scratch and claw to avoid the inevitable… but the ultimate result is our return to the deep earth. I suppose that our best path may be one of self-sacrifice, helping those in need, striving to make the world a better place and passing these things on to our children. The circle…

Sam, Dave and I - Yellowstone

Thank you Dave and Liz. Thank you Sam. Love you all- Ozzie

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One thought on “Life

  1. Awesome story Ozzie. I can’t believe how grown up “little Dave” is. He’s a family man… Damn! I remember this little kid hanging around us and running around the house getting on our nerves :-)! I’m so stoked he’s doing his thing out in Montana. I’m happy you got to spend some time with him and his family and recharge your spirt and soul. It sounds like it was a really fun trip.

    See my friend, you’re not alone. You have me and you have your brother. Even though both of us live far away from you… We’re still close to your heart and soul!

    Peace, Jimbo

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