"Only he isn't likely to be as receptive as me," Melton said.
Thiel didn't stop at the other farmhouse but drove on to Bear Lake Road to look for tracks. He was especially interested in locating a female that had been with 1187 the night he was shot. A week before, a couple living in a lakeside cottage had awakened to their dog's barking. As isolated people will do, the man went to the door with a rifle in his hands. He saw a doglike figure at the end of his dock and raised his rifle. Later he would say he thought he was shooting at a dog that had been running deer.
As the cottage door opened, 1187 left the dock and walked north a short distance along the lakeshore. When the door slammed, the wolf turned back to face the noise. The bullet entered its sternum and tore through its heart. A second wolf, which Thiel believes may have been 1187's potential mate, ran off across the lake. The man fired again but missed. When he saw the black radio collar and ear tag on 1187, he drove to the nearest phone, called the warden and said he'd mistakenly killed a wolf.
Despite setbacks like this and those years of doing unpaid, unofficial research, Thiel considers himself lucky, because Wisconsin is now studying wolves and he is in charge of the project. He goes about his work furiously, for fear that his luck will soon disappear, because federal wildlife research funds have been cut and state money is running out.
Before turning in on the last night of my visit, Thiel suggested that we do a little howling. Why not? We drove down a dark back road, close to a sighting Thiel had made from the air that morning.
In summer Thiel howls to locate a pack, knowing he's found it when the responding howls are accompanied by the higher-pitched yips of pups. One needn't sound like a wolf to elicit a response; some biologists make contact using a siren. But Thiel wants to sound like the real thing. He has practiced howling in his bedroom to a recording of wolf howls, as if it were one of those Berlitz discs that teach how to speak a foreign language.
Out on the road Thiel let out a low growl that quickly climbed several octaves into a long, long, hurtful wail that filled the woods and left me disquieted. There was no response. He supposed that the pack had moved on. But he tried three more times. The last howl struck me as particularly plaintive, laden with greetings and apologies across species lines, and all the more moving for the silence that followed.