The Silent Dance: A Wolf Painting Inspired by the Northern Lights

"The Silent Dance" is a painting inspired by my experiences with the aurora and encounters with wolves. This piece combines the beauty of the northern lights and the presence of wolves, capturing a story from my time in the wild. Here is the story that inspired this painting.

Wolf painting under the northern lights

Experiencing The Aurora

When composing this piece, I drew from several experiences. Beginning with the sky, this story starts many years ago. The aurora was something I first witnessed when I was a student in North Dakota. These few experiences were a bit underwhelming, but seeing the subtle hints of color in the night skies inspired many ideas.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself living in central Montana. While exploring the northern part of the state, I had my first true experience. At the time, my best means of camping was to sleep in the bed of my pickup truck. I found an old worn-out road which ended on a piece of public ground, miles from any artificial light and overlooking the vast, broken prairie. This was at a time when smartphones were a fairly new concept, and service where I lived was highly limited. So, predicting when something like the aurora was going to occur was not easy. Because of this, when it happened and you were able to witness them, it was a very pure and special kind of experience. In a way, it felt almost spiritual.

I climbed into my sleeping bag that night and drifted off to the sounds of the crickets. At around 3 AM, after tossing and turning a bit, I awoke and decided to step outside for a bathroom break. I'll never forget standing there, still heavy-eyed and in a daze, realizing what was happening off to my side. I thought something seemed weird or different, and upon turning my head, I froze in amazement. Greens, yellows, pinks, and blues danced vigorously along the northern horizon. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The lights began to intensify, and soon they started to shoot up, almost directly above me. I had so many feelings going through my mind and body to the point that all things in life seemed suddenly small in that moment. This was one of those times that grounded me and my perspective of our existence.

When it came time to put together this scene, I wanted to draw from those emotions and that experience. I found commonalities between this and my relationship with wolves and thought this was a great starting point for this story.

Listen and watch this story unfold on YouTube:

Connection with Wolves

Wolves are interesting to me and continue to fascinate my imagination. I've attempted to capture this in past paintings, but I don't think I had hit on exactly what I was trying to convey. I grew up hearing the distant howls in northern Minnesota but not experiencing much beyond that. In recent years, as I've spent more time in the western backcountry, my encounters with them began to grow.

The first time I ever saw a wolf out here was in broad daylight. Hiking out from an overnight trip, we cut down through a large, expansive meadow. In the middle was a small draw that dipped down along some springs. We walked up the low area, being able to see everything around us, and decided to drop in and follow it down. Upon reaching the bottom, I turned to take a look behind, and to my surprise, a large wolf, at maybe 100 yards, was trotting away from us, looking back as well. Was it watching us from above as we walked by? We just came into the draw, and I could see all around us just minutes before. Was it laying down in the tall grass the whole time? I was left clueless.

A couple of years later, in late winter, I found myself skiing up to the top of a lone, forest-covered mountain. The plan was to set up the composition for a painting, camp overnight, and finish the piece in the early hours of morning. I got to my spot several hours before sunset. There was a small flat at the top where it was half open and half tall dark timber. The landscape was buried in 3 feet of hard snow, and spring was knocking at the door. A day prior, there was a light dusting of snow, so it was easy to identify fresh tracks. The ground was covered in wolf prints, which was not uncommon, but I suppose looking back, there were certainly more than I had seen before. At one point during my ski in, I crossed what looked like two sets of tracks all traveling together. What I didn't piece together was these were likely from the same wolves who left the tracks around where I was planning to camp.

Wolf tracks in snow

An Unexpected Encounter

I spent a couple of hours making a ton of noise gathering firewood and preparing for the night. It was April 10th, and because bears were also out by this time, I made it a point to make my presence very aware to my surroundings. I set up my composition on my panel, ready for morning, when the sun began to set. The light faded, and it was now 30 minutes to dark when a long, deep howl rang out. I was confused at first because it was coming from maybe no more than 100 yards away from within the timber, in the exact direction from where I was gathering wood. Then it howled again, and I realized this was a wolf and very close one. I didn't understand, as nothing could be mistaken on whether I was there; I made sure of that with the amount of noise I made. Sounds travel much less in thick timber, and when something is close, you can feel the deepness in the sounds. As the wolf then began to bark, I could feel how close it was, and I realized it was projecting its barking at me. My wind was blowing right at it, so I knew it fully understood what I was. Do I stay? I didn't know.

Wolf running in snow oil paintingShop "The Silent Dance" Canvas Prints

The barking continued. After about 10 minutes had passed, it kept barking at me periodically. As I stood there in ski boots looking at wolf tracks all over the ground, I thought to myself, "This animal is telling me to leave." You could almost sense the frustrations in the barks, moaning and growling in between. I've never abandoned camp before like this, but I had no tent, and was I really going to insist on staying at this point? I packed my bag and jumped on my skis with minutes of daylight left. I rode off the top, and after I got to the edge before dropping down the steep hillside, which was just out of view from my campfire, I came across seven sets of tracks. I follow my ski tracks when I head out of places like this, and these tracks were not there on my way in. As I investigated, you could see they came from the direction of the wolf who was barking, sniffed my track up and down, and then circled around me. I never saw a single one, but the tracks were just 150 yards from my campsite.

In this region, wolves drop their pups by about mid-April, and I wondered, still to this day, had I found a den by accident and tried to camp next to it? I'm still not sure if there are any other explanations. These are just a couple of what has become a number of encounters now. They continue to confuse me, but I'm sure that from their end, there is no confusion.

Wolf oil painting - Framed wildlife art by Chuck Black

Final Thoughts

Like the auroras in the sky, my relationship with these animals has become like a silent dance, the feeling I get during encounters like this makes me feel the same way as I did on that night beneath the northern lights. And I think if I were to sum up this painting, I'd liken it to those emotions I felt running through my body. This is why I'm titling this piece, "The Silent Dance."

View my original paintings

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