Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wild Spirits

We got turned back at the gate of the new (to us) prison, where SC is now living.  Actually, we were beckoned into the gate so we could break the posted rule which barely registered as we looked at the bar blocking our path.  No firearms, etc  or ALCOHOL permitted beyond this point, said the sign to the left of the gateway.  The bar in front of us lifted after several moments, and we rolled through, coming to a stop as the guard stepped out of the warmth of her little office.  She was short and round, hatted, gloved, and coated against the below-freezing temps.  Standing by the passenger side, she asked who we were visiting, and then said, "Level 4s aren't allowed visitors." She started talking on the walkie talkie, and then asked us for SC's offender number.  I had the number in my online address book, so I got out to fish my phone out of the trunk.  We'd already prepped ourselves for the usual: no phones, no jewelry, nothing but a roll of quarters for the vending machines and your license and keys, to be surrendered at the checkin metal detector.  We were old hands at this, and even though this was the state run facility instead of the overcrowded private facility (CCA), we assumed it would be the same.

It wasn't.

As I looked through my phone for SC's offender number, the guard looked in the trunk and pulled out the bottle of wine I'd brought along as a gift for that evening's hostess in Santa Fe.  The guard said, "you can't bring that in," and I said, "even though it's staying in the car?" and she said nope, and I said, then what do I do with it?, and she said, she was calling her lieutenant.  We were still trying to convince her that SC was NOT Level 4 and that she was eligible for visitors, we were not worrying about the wine, when two men came up and gestured us to drive further in, and park off to the side.  It was like a traffic stop:  Stay.In.The.Car, Wait.Here.  They talked to the guard and then came back and gestured at me to roll down my window.  "You're on a 24-hour suspension, because you tried to bring alcohol in."  No arguments, no letting us bring the wine back to the hotel for them to hold, no leaving it by the side of the road ("kids will find it"), no recourse.  They wouldn't even call SC to let her know we couldn't come in.  Jerks.  "This isn't the old place.  We put one of our guards on suspension for bringing in an empty can of beer."  Oh KAY.

Tails between our legs, metaphorically speaking, we turned around, drove past the very clear sign (I'll give them that), re-booked our room for the night, called our Santa Fe hostess to cancel the evening plans, and drove southward.  I'd wanted MS to see El Morro for some time, and it looked like this was the best option for our day.

It was.

The weather was crisp, the skies were clear, and although the switchback trail was closed, we could still hike up to Atsinna for the splendid view.   The striped walls of the mesa were lined with ice.  Through the winter light, we sought the inscriptions from Ancestral Puebloans,  conquistadores, army units, and pioneers.  We looked at the blown cattails in the perpetual pool, the "reason we are here."

SC called a few times, but the signal kept getting lost.  Finally she got through as we stood in the freezing wind, looking into the canyon and across the sea of sage and badlands towards other headlands.  It was after noon, and she'd been frantic about our non-appearance.  Not for the first time, I cursed the system.

After a few hours of walking and looking at the sites, we went further south to see the  Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. Because the snow and freezing temperatures were followed by some melt, the gravel road to the sanctuary was pea soup slush.  Despite the new tires, the car was slewing, not dangerously, but disconcertingly.  And at one point I hit a puddle of slush and mud that went up over the windscreen and along the sides of the car.  At the end of the road I told M that he got to drive back.

The sanctuary is a compound of fenced enclosures and yurts.  You walk in the gate and turn left, duck under the short lintel, and enter a dark round room, filled with wolf-themed tchotchkes and apparel.  I almost bought stuffed wolf cubs for my grandnieces, just to be helpful to the sanctuary.  They were so darned cute.  But I resisted.  The long-haired granola type girl sold us tickets to the tour, which was due to start in half an hour.  We walked over to the  Candy Kitchen general store across the road for some hot coffee.  It appears that the store is a combination meeting place, laundromat, and deli, as well.  (I found out later it was a place to buy moonshine, and they sold pinon candy as a front.  The name stuck.)  A long porch with wooden benches and chairs and rickety tables ran the length of the building, facing into the muddy parking area.  We were greeted by an aged Rottweiler mix, and his bearded owner remained seated at the far end of the porch, not paying much attention to us.  A dreadlocked couple in their 20's sat at one of the formica tables by the deli case/kitchen area.  It appeared they were doing their laundry and watching the TV.  There was no one behind the counter or by the cash register, and no one in the store.  We wandered about a bit, looking at the display of old VHS and DVDs for sale, checking out the shelves of snacks and canned foods and cleaning supplies.  There was no coffee that we could see, and no one to sell it it us in any case.  We got ready to leave, when one of the couple went to the door and told the Rottweiler's owner that he had customers.  Hmmm.

So, he made us some coffee, and we sat outside to drink it.  Then, back to the Sanctuary for our tour.  The 20-something guide was a New Zealander with an accent that came and went:  she'd moved to New Zealand when she was 8 and had recently been getting her degree in biology in the States.  She was bundled up, with her long dark braid hanging down her front, and carrying a baggie of jerky treats for the wolf dogs.  She was very engaging, and we tipped her generously at the end of the tour.  It was her last week of the 3-month stint, and while she clearly loved the work, she also clearly was happy to get out of the yurt home and back to New Zealand.

We met wolf-dogs from all across the United States:  some came from hoarders who had been busted.  The shelters don't know how to handle or interpret wolf-dogs and are afraid of them, so the animals had been housed in poor conditions after their "release."  In one case, the dogs had been born at the sanctuary, and were living out their lives there.  The shy ones actually came to the fence, and our guide told us how lucky we were.  She sounded sincere, but I think we may have been played.  That's okay, though.

I learned that wolves do not have blue eyes:  that's a myth from the fact that true wolves cannot be trained to "act," so all the wolves depicted in films are actually malamutes or huskies.  I also learned that wolf behavior is the opposite of dog behavior:  a tail held high in dogs is happy, while in wolves it's aggressive.  Wolf-dogs are a man-made construct of the exotic pet industry:  unlike coyotes, wolves won't willingly breed with dogs in the wild.

The shelter has ambassador wolf-dogs, who visit schools and libraries and other institutions to share the word:  wolves should not be bred with dogs, wolves cannot be pets.  The wolf-dogs who live at the shelter are there for life:  they cannot be safely returned to the wild because they do not have the skills to survive there.

My favorite myth-buster was the concept of the alpha:  it turns out the alpha of the pack is female.  So there!

We wandered up the hill past the fenced enclosures, meeting various animals and hearing their stories.  We stood behind a low wooden barrier log, a few feet from the fence, while our guide stood next to the fence with the treats.  There was a different ritual at each enclosure:  some of the inmates came to the fence, some just watched us from a rock or straw-filled hut at the far end of the enclosure.  Some were white arctic wolves, some grey timber wolves.  We saw and heard Himalayan singing dogs and we saw a dingo pack that had been bred in Florida and advertised for sale via Facebook.  (The breeder was betrayed and retreated back to Australia, leaving the dingoes behind.)  We even saw a fox:  beautiful.  For the most part, the sanctuary focuses on wolf-dogs, but there are a few other escapees from the exotic pet industry.  The sanctuary receives several hundred calls a week, but most of the dogs in question are huskies or shepherds whose owners cannot handle them.  The sanctuary uses behavioral and visual cues to determine the breeding of the dog as DNA testing would be expensive and not conclusive.  Apparently the wolf DNA is not that different from dog.

There was a lot of information to absorb and we also talked with our guide about her background and plans.  So, the tour was fun and too short.  As the sun westered, we hoped to hear some wolf music, but it was not to be.  We walked back through the lengthening shadows, said our goodbyes, and drove back down the slushy road.

My car needed a bath.

I thought about the various images of the day.  SC, fenced in behind barbed wire.  Wolf-dogs, ditto.  Snow, ice.  Signs and inscriptions.  Mud.  Tumbling walls at Atsinna, strong walls at the prison.  But mainly I thought about the golden light, about wildness penned up, about the ways people hurt the world and each other, leave their marks and disappear.  About sanctuary.

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