Isaac Babcock told me the story of the day in 1999 that he had crawled up to one of the original wolves that were reintroduced into Idaho.
Babcock,a biologist for the Nez Perce tribe for 13 years, had spent much of that time in Idaho’s wilderness as he monitored and collared wolves. He became as at home in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness as the aging wolf he had encountered several times in the course of its new life in Idaho.
Babcock described the care he took to prevent his discovery as he slowly inched through the underbrush toward the wolf, B7, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. He knew it was B7 by his distinctive silver streak, which had become more prominent as he had aged.
“They are jumping for his muzzle and he's looking down at them, then smelling me," Babcock said. "Right at that moment, lightning hit hard enough to shake the ground. It made my heart bounce."
The wolves fled, leaving Babcock in the afterglow of one of the best moments of his life.
So it comes a no surprise to learn that he decided to spend a year-long honeymoon in the Frank with his new wife, Bjornen that has been captured on PBS Nature’s River of No Return. The show, which allows us to follow them on their romantic adventure, premieres nationally Wednesday April 18 and runs on Idaho PTV in Boise at 7 p.m.
(Photos by Isaac Babcock THIRTEEN/Hobbit Hill Films courtey PBS Nature)
Marcia Franklin’s interview with the couple runs tonight on Dialogue at 8:30 p.m.
What begins as a romantic adventure becomes something of much greater consequence for both of them. The couple spend days waiting and watching for their chance to observe the nine packs of wolves and the rich populations of wildlife they shared the wilderness with.
They bring us to see the view of wolves that Isaac described to me. And they show how all of the species in the wilderness survive with cooperation and safety in numbers. A lost young buck or a solitary ram injured while fighting for a mate can become easy prey for the wolves. Any carcass abandoned by the wolves would feed the coyotes and other scavengers.
One injured and isolated elk defies the odds as Isaac and Bjornen look on. As a pack of wolves circle, another elk inexplicably arrives to defend her, and all the rules of survival of the fittest in the wild go out the window in a remarkable display of courage and compassion.
This selfless act inspires them as the face the elements on their own, taking care of one another in the face of hardship. Bjornen’s hardships in the wild are complicated by a recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
She is plagued by swelling and pain in her joints, causing difficulty walking and sleeping, all symptoms that would be hard enough to manage in a standard urban setting. Add heavy backpacks and strenuous hikes up the sides of mountains and through tangled forest undergrowth to the equation and the level of difficulty rises significantly.
"You make your choices and take your chances," She told Marcia Franklin. "Life comes with no guarantees. I choose an adventure with hardship over no adventure at all every time."
Their story of perseverance follows those of the creatures captured by the camera from wolves to otters to birds and salmon.