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Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 67

(This is the third in a series of posts that chronicle my year-long writing project. I'm writing fiction to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota. This post is the beginning of my first story in progress, an early draft. For more information about this project, please scroll down to Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 1, or click here.)

 Mortality Mode

The corpse had to be here. Marianne checked the UTM coordinates on her iPhone app. Her finger pinpointed the location on a laminated map of Superior National Forest. She tried to focus. Yes, focusing on numbers and maps helped her avoid the distraction of dwelling on her mother—and the letter she received yesterday, the one postmarked from Albuquerque. God knows what you did, it said. REPENT! It didn’t help matters that there was a second body somewhere out here, too.

Before the frost could gather on the inside of the truck’s windows, she put gloves on and exchanged the map for radio telemetry instruments nestled in the car seat beside her. She stepped from the cab out into the brittle blue sunshine. The wind snapped at her hood. She unfolded a six-pronged aluminum antenna and connected the cable from it to a small metal box housing a radio receiver. With the frequency set to 3–5–5.5 and a flip of a switch, static flooded the air. A rapid beep pierced through the haze.

“I can hear you,” she said, and turned the gain down to clear the static. Sensing no movement for four hours had triggered F7785's transmitter into mortality mode with a beacon pulsing twice as fast as her heartbeat. She rotated 360 degrees as she pointed the antenna at the surrounding red pines, firs and birches. She swept it over the blacktop like a magic wand searching for answers in the swirling snow.

Dr. Marianne Loup-Hirsch, Northern Forest Center research field biologist, stood at the intersection of Magimanido Road and County Road 23, seven miles south of Greenstone, Minnesota. This was the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This was also her home for the last six years and countless years to Canis lupus, the gray wolf. Her work involved a long-term predator-prey study with approximately 80 wolves in a dozen packs and 6,000 white-tailed deer spread over 1,200 square miles of wilderness. Before this, she worked in the Gulf of Alaska tracking the double migration of northern elephant seals, and before that in Yellowstone National Park studying bison mortality rates, and before that in Gila National Forest reintroducing Mexican wolves.

None of this was glamorous work, like today, wearing so many layers of goose down that she looked like a cop wearing one flak jacket on top of another. But she didn’t take this job to be a beauty queen. Marianne was a scientist. Search-and-recover field work was part of the job—an especially morbid one today...


Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.