Our 5-day trip to Mission: Wolf with Cottonwood Institute proved to be an exceptional week to remember! Six students from Colorado Academy summer camp piled into the bus on Monday morning ready for a day of travel. We arrived at Mission: Wolf to cloudy skies, wind, and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range shining in the hazy afternoon sun. As we settled into camp, it was quickly established that the group was going to operate effectively and cooperatively. The students had bonded during the bus ride, and layers of judgments and impressions were already dissolving. The students were already taking the first awkward steps of initiative and assertiveness, and would continue to do so throughout the trip; camp set-up and meals went smoothly and were filled with joy, play, and jokes from this excited group of middle-schoolers.
Our second day of the trip was our first full day at the sanctuary. We met two long-term volunteers, Austin and Sophie, who facilitated discussions on wolf behavior and ecology, touching on topics such as conservation, the trophic cascade, and ecosystem balance. They gave an introductory talk to how humans should interact at the sanctuary, and then started us on a tour. Sophie was intentional during the tour to touch on the sustainable aspects of Mission: Wolf. The sanctuary tries to be as self-sufficient as possible in order to create a minimum footprint, and do so using solar technology, sustainable structures, vehicles run on vegetable oil, and geodesic greenhouses.
Towards the middle of the tour, as we stood on the wolf bridge, our group let out a huge howl. The response that we got from the wolves hushed voices, widened eyes, and left a lasting impact that would be carried by the students for the rest of the trip.
Every day we spent at Mission: Wolf seemed both incredibly full and deliciously slow. We hiked, maintained wolf enclosures, visited with the ambassador wolves, stargazed, volunteered, and still had time to play games and take our time at the end of the day.
The highlights of the trip were on Wednesday, Big Feed day, and Friday morning at the farm. All of the food given to the wolves at the sanctuary is donated by farmers, ranchers, and horse-owners. When their animals die, or are too injured or ill to continue living a life of good quality, these owners donate their livestock to the sanctuary, where the animal is then processed as food for the wolves. It is the best way to mimic the natural eating habits of wolves in the wild, and respect where their food is coming from. This all, of course, is a huge shock to a young mind. After many discussions and learning opportunities, our group decided we would help process a horse for the wolves.
On Wednesday, we cut horse meat and hide, and after cleaning went into the enclosure to meet the ambassador wolves. It was this visit that solidified the connection between our project and its meaning. As one student said, “that was something I will never do again in my life, but seeing this (watching the wolves ‘wolf down’ their food) makes it worth it.” Students stepped outside of their comfort zones in order to selflessly serve the wolves.
On Friday morning our bus bounced down the road to the farm, where the founders of Mission: Wolf, Kent Weber and Tracy Ane Brooks live. Tracy has worked with wolves and horses for over two decades and is a lifelong learner. She has 6 beautiful horses, and tailored a program for our group to work with them and learn about body language. Our group practiced pressure and release, mirroring, leading the horses, and ended the morning brushing and being with the animals she has tirelessly worked with and loved.
If the students could list out what they would remember the most, here is what it might include: seeing a bear, cutting up a horse, being licked by a wolf, working in wolf enclosures, hearing coyotes at night, working with Tracy’s horses, playing camouflage, the lightning storm, card games, laughing, oreos and marshmallows, being exhausted, being excited, making memories and friends. Needless to say, we all shared an exceptional week together.
Written by Field Instructor Micaela Petrini.
A huge thank you to Mission: Wolf for their continued support!
Check out all of the photos from the trip here!