IT FEELS ODD to have a relationship with an animal I have never heard, or seen. But so it is with the wolf.

Since 2008, when wolves first walked back into Washington state on their own, I’ve written about the recovery of this species many times. But the stories always seemed to be much more actually about us than the wolf. How angry some people were. How frustrated. How upset. How burdened, how elated, how invested. On and on. Us, us, us.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Ben Maletzke keeps the skull of wolf 32M on a shelf in his office, a reminder of a remarkable wolf who lived to old age in the wild in a territory full of people and cattle. The patriarch 32M managed to mostly stay out of trouble and sired many young that today are furthering the goal of wolf recovery in Washington in new territory of their own.  (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

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But what about the wolf? It seemed impossible to get to the animal, to stories beyond the pitfalls, downfalls and difficulties of wolf recovery.

The cover story this week is intended to fix that. I set out deliberately to write about the wolf this time. Its incredible physical abilities, and its family dynamics. To tell the story of an animal coming back to a landscape vastly transformed since most wolves were nearly hunted, trapped and poisoned to extinction in the 1930s.

It turned out, I was in luck. Ben Maletzke, statewide wolf specialist with the wildlife program for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, had chronicled the life of one wolf in particular: 32M, the patriarch of the Teanaway pack. Here was the look I was hoping for into the life of one animal, to tell the story of this remarkable species and its return to Washington. It seemed to me a story very worth telling.

For here we are, aggravated by traffic and technology and so much else, yet living in a state that still has the room, both physically and politically, to enable one of nature’s most powerful predators to survive.

That says something not only about the wolf, but about us. That even in 2021, with all we are facing, some things are actually going pretty much as planned. Not perfectly, but better than in a lot of other places. And even amid a climate and extinction crisis, the circle of life here is becoming a bit more whole.

The wolf, one of the state’s top predators, is back.