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Night Screams in Silver Gate

Another journal entry from Yellowstone. Save for Alaska, there is no place we love more than the area around the Lamar Valley, the valley of the wolves. If you have never been there, you owe it to yourself to see this place.

Silver Gate, Montana
Fall 2004

It’s past dark, and I am lost in Life of Pi, Yann Martel’s ravishing novel about a spiritually overactive Indian boy, the son of a zookeeper, who is left in a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger as companion. It is equal parts Robinson Crusoe and The Revelation of St. John.

The novel’s narrative gets stranger and more trancelike as their ordeal continues. Near the end, the narrator, delirious, mad with thirst and hunger and close to death, includes a chapter about coming upon a strange, algae island that, without giving much away, is kind of a dream-state Meerkat Manor in the middle of the ocean. The chapter is delicious, an absolute hoot to read, very eerie and strange.

So I am tangled in the vines of this hallucinogenic chapter, with a little high-end bud and a gin & tonic going, when both our ears perk up. At first we write off the noise as a couple of college kids hollering at the moon before turning into their tents. Like what we might hear in Martin Acres from Roddy and the Boys behind us on 43rd Street on Saturday night.

But it’s not the weekend, and there aren’t any hard-partying kids up here in Silver Gate.

As soon as we get the cabin door open, it’s apparent immediately that the sound is not human. We can’t tell where it’s coming from, mostly because the cruel screams are bouncing around in the valley.

It sounded to me like more than one animal, some almost hyena-like screaming and a chorus of snarling victory and terrifying defeat. Billie heard it as screechy yipping, and she heard pain and howling, too.

This went on for almost ten minutes. A few minutes after it starts, another voice, this one a woman, from somewhere in town behind us, calls for her dog to come inside.

The sound of the animals, the woman’s increasingly nervous, plaintive calls and my absorption in the algae island tale convinced me that the poor dog being sought by its master was being torn apart by hyenas, or maybe a Bengal tiger.

Then, in a moment, silence again.

Coyotes? Wolves? Raccoons? Mountain lions?

I finished the chapter in Life of Pi before falling into restless sleep. I would hear the screams again sometime before dawn, and when I got up one time to pee, I looked out the window, imagining long-legged canine shapes moving in the shadows of the Whispering Pines motel, red stains on their coats, meerkats in their mouths, eyes blazing, on their way to Cooke City.


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