Abruzzo, Italy: Waiting for the Wolves
By Adam Eagle
It is September 15th 2013. The moon is but a few nights from becoming full, the air is still warm and the crickets are very much singing as Hettie (our dear 4 x 4) pulls over on an apparently random and particularly nondescript country road in Abruzzo, Italy.
As we gently push the doors open, trying to let as little noise escape as is possible, a small mammal scuttles in panic from the bushes beyond. But he is not our quarry this evening. In front of us is a road, winding carelessly into the distance, eventually crossing the boundary into the Grand Sasso National Park.
Behind us it leads to one of Abruzzo’s many picturesque towns, Arsita. To our right is a field running downwards into a dark valley. To our left, we already know, is the field on which we intend to spend our night.
As we begin to potter around the car, collecting camera gear, water, snacks – the necessities— a bright light illuminates us. Then, from the gloom of tree cover, a Land Rover Discovery begins to trundle towards us, quite purposefully. Once it negotiates the earth bank leading into the field it pulls up directly beside us. Interesting, yet slightly scary.
From the car emerges a man, armed with a handgun and a questioning look. He is a Forestale, a policeman of the forest. Along with the driver, another armed gentleman, he inspects our vehicle, equipment and intentions. They realize quite quickly that we are not, in fact, the sheep rustlers they are looking for that evening (one of whom sits in the back of their vehicle).
Indeed we are not poachers either, another major concern of theirs. So they leave us in peace. Only the grasshoppers and the distant barks of canines accompany us as we trudge into the dimly lit field and set up our gear.
Now we wait.
Why do we find ourselves here, sitting in the dark; Lawrence beginning to doze off on the hard earth of Italian agriculture, myself musing in my small travel book?
Three days ago we arrived at Casa del Falco – the House Of The Falcon – the part time home of our old friends Peter and Diana Clegg. It was time for a break from Hettie and Hostels, it was time for some home comforts. It was time to take a rest.
That first night we sat, drinks in hand, telling them of our adventures so far — a doomed search for wolves, drunken idiocy in Krakow, the people we had met. The next day we took the time to do nothing. Quite the peculiarity when you are travelling for so long. I think this is an important point, you can never truly switch off in a foreign place.
By foreign I do not mean a different country, what I mean is a place that is new to you, where you are not used to being. But in Casa del Falco we were not in a foreign place, we were in a home of sorts. We were with old friends in a safe place, and we made the most of it.
To Nino’s Pizzeria
On the evening of that day a visit to Nino’s Pizzeria was in order. A place I strongly recommend, just drive to Bissenti and ask the locals — his pizzas are delightful, nothing like our English imitations.
What made the evening even more interesting was the ‘night cap’ with Nino, more specifically the conversation over said night cap. Di went about explaining what Lawrence and I were doing, gallivanting off around Europe without a care in the world.
Except, of course, our care for wildlife — wolves in particular. From this came something of great interest. The Shepherds were talking about them right now, wolves that is. Outside Arsita, just half an hour west of here.
So a trip was arranged. The four of us would drive to Arsita and find our wolves. Simple, except that our previous experiences had told us that knowing wolves have been, should be, or could be somewhere does not guarantee that they are – nor that they will give away their presence even if they happen to be.
For three days we pottered around the Abruzzo region, visiting perfectly sculpted towns perched on cliffs, the great Campo Imperatorium of Grand Sasso, eating at an exquisite restaurant towards Pescara, cooking our own pizzas.
Then the fateful night arrived. We awoke at 3:30 am. We drove to the very field I described earlier.
There we waited in the early morning darkness. Dogs barked, grasshoppers sang, the trees rustled in the wind. No wolves howled.
After more than an hour Lawrence’s hand came to rest on my shoulder – “maybe it is time”. I had been waiting for this sign. My heart stopped, just for a moment. When it came back to life it was at twice the rate, I was nervous. Now it was down to me. I took a deep breath but let it go again, I had to get it right.
Howling at the Wolves
Another, no noise yet. On my third breath I held it, then I let it out along with a long, deep, almost mournful, cry.
I don’t know how long my howl lasted, but I know how long the silence that followed it did. It was too long. There was no reply.
I went again, this time I forced the howl out harder, it was louder, longer. Once I was finished we waited again. Nothing.
I had never had much hope anyway, not that I would admit it to Pete and Di at the time. Not since our past experiences in Europe’s wild places.
But then I heard a faint noise, a whisper of a sound. I looked at Lawrence, he was looking at me too. Had he heard the same thing?
We both stared searchingly out in front of us, to the ravine lit by half of the moons light. To the forest beyond it.
Then it came. From its depths erupted a chorus of noise. A pack of wolves was replying to us, to me. For a minute we were spoken to by wolves – their long soulful howls, their playful barks and whimpers, telling us the very story of their existence, just in the wrong language. Then all was silent.
Again I howled, they replied, but they were moving away now – that was clear. I attempted one final time, encouraging them to come to us, to reveal themselves. But nothing. They had melted back into the forest and were gone.
So now you must know why we sit in this field.
Me alert and listening intently, Lawrence taking his turn to nap. Quite literally as I wrote this piece the same wolves – our wolves – spoke to us again.
This is what we heard:
LISTEN TO THE WOLVES
Castel Del Monte is one of those perfect towns I spoke of, on the other side of Campo Imperatorium from Casa Del Falco, but worth the drive.
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Adam Eagle is a graduate of Law from the University of Oxford, currently travelling, writing, photographing and experiencing what Europe has to offer. Wildlife is a passion, photography is a happy necessity, writing is a pleasure.
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