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The saloon doors swing open, and a tall, rangy blonde in mud-caked jeans walks up to the bar and orders a piece of strawberry pie. Her honey-colored hair frames a pugnacious, ruddy face. She has a spirited self-confidence, and her stride is nearly a swagger. When she finally turns my way, a plate of pie in her big-boned hand, I call out her name. Contact.
Boyd sits with me long enough to gulp down her pie. She tells me she's running traplines all month and that I can't go along. "That's not negotiable," she says. I'll have to come back to talk to her.
One month later I'm at Boyd's new cabin, which stands in a meadow of blue lupine and Indian paintbrush near the lip of a cliff that plunges 100 feet into a broad, rushing creek. She has been building the cabin, with logs salvaged from a pioneer homestead, since 1987. Compared with her primitive digs at Moose City, it is luxurious, featuring a propane refrigerator, a pine-paneled bathtub and skylights. From her bed upstairs she can see the Milky Way through double-paned windows. Condo camping, Boyd calls it.
Boyd's only contact with the outside world is through a two-way radio wired to a car battery and hooked to a big antenna perched atop the cabin roof like a church steeple. It's a fitting symbol for the almost religious passion Boyd brings to her work, a passion that has earned her the reputation of sometimes being difficult.
"Instead of Attila the Hun, it's Diane the Incorrigible," she says with a laugh as she fixes breakfast. "I'm not that bad—it's just that I care a lot about wolves, and that can be surprisingly at odds with the agenda of federal agencies, or even standard scientific practice. It's considered very unprofessional and unscientific to admit you like wolves. Thank god I decided that's bull."
Boyd says she loves the elusiveness of wolves, their canniness and intelligence, and their skill as hunters. In the winter, her busiest time, she may follow wolf tracks for up to 15 miles on skis, backtracking to the wolves' kill sites and analyzing, from only a few hairs and spots of blood on the snow, what they ate and how they killed their prey.
Boyd's only physical contact with wolves comes in summer and early fall, a couple of months after they've whelped their pups. That's when she lays out her traplines (with modified leghold traps that do not pierce an animal's skin) baited with foul-smelling lures. When Boyd and another researcher or volunteer find a trapped wolf, they sedate it, fit it with a radio collar, tag its ears, weigh it and take a blood sample, all the while monitoring its vital signs. The procedure takes about half an hour. Then they back off to watch the wolf through field glasses until it has shaken itself awake and walked away. The project has collared 34 wolves in the last five years.
Trapping is a big responsibility and can be emotionally exhausting, says Boyd. Her greatest worry is that a tourist, or worse, a bear, will find a trapped wolf before she does. One year Boyd chased off a grizzly that was preparing to make a meal of a female wolf still under anesthesia. Boyd says it never occurred to her that the bear might make a meal of her instead: "All I could think of was that it was my fault that the wolf was in this predicament, and I had to save her." Boyd, who grew up in Richfield, Minn., shared a passion for the outdoors with her father, Harold, a chemical engineer for General Mills, who died five years ago. As a child Boyd played in a marsh behind her family's home. When she was 10, a developer filled in the swampy area and began building houses on Boyd's former playground. She recalls confronting carpenters who were at work on one of the houses and demanding that they give her back her marsh.
Boyd's fierceness grew, she suspects, because she felt she had to prove herself as a woman in a male-dominated profession. As a federal trapper in Minnesota in 1979, catching wolves that killed sheep or cattle, she says she dealt often with irate dairy farmers. "The game warden would call me in, and the farmer would say, 'Well, where's the trapper?' Because all he saw was this blonde babe," she says. "They always went slack-jawed. It pissed me off."
But, she says, she has mellowed. While she jealously guards her privacy—her driveway is an unmarked dirt track—she is also passionate about the people she cares for. She's the organizer of hiking trips and berry-picking parties with her boyfriend, Lee Secrest, a carpenter and artisan, and his three children. She's the hostess of lavish annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. "All the strays in the North Fork come and bring their instruments, and we have music and a big feed," she says. One of her regular guests was her only Moose City neighbor, Tom Reynolds, an elderly recluse who was Boyd's date for the Pole-bridge Prom, held every September at the Northern Lights Saloon. As she talks of Reynolds her eyes become wet, and she runs upstairs to retrieve a photo album. She points to a picture of Reynolds in an immaculate tuxedo, looking like a European duke and dancing with Boyd, who is dressed in pink satin. Tears run down her face as she recalls the peaceful death of her friend last year at the age of 96.