At first, the howling didn't strike me as anything special.
After all, I hear sled dogs howling around my house all the time. I live in Two Rivers, which is home to dozens of mushers and hundreds, if not thousands, of sled dogs. Howling is nothing new in my neighborhood. In fact, I've got four old sled dogs that can howl with the best - or worst - of them.
But I wasn't at my house in Two Rivers. We were spending the night at a friend's cabin on the Richardson Highway near Summit Lake, 150 miles south of Fairbanks, following our annual foray up on the Gulkana Glacier the week after the Arctic Man Ski & Sno-Go Classic.
Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, I didn't put two and two together until I walked back to the cabin and met our host, Torre, returning from the outhouse.
"You hear those wolves howling?" he asked me.
That's when the light bulb went on in my head. There weren't any sled dogs around for miles. It was wolves, not sled dogs, that were howling.
We stood there listening to their mournful howls for a few minutes as a full moon rose over Rainbow Ridge behind us. To say that it was a surreal moment would be an understatement.
I have lived in Alaska almost 22 years and have spent quite a bit of time in the woods, both in the summer and winter, but I had never heard wolves howling before. In fact, in all my years in the country I have only ever seen one wolf - a black wolf getting a drink from a river we were floating during a moose hunt several years ago. That wolf disappeared into the woods in the blink of an eye when it spotted us. I barely had a chance to get a glimpse at it before the wolf was gone, in part because I was trying to grab a rifle to get a shot at it.
But this was different. Even though I couldn't see them and they were probably miles away, there was something about hearing the wolves that made them feel closer than the one I actually saw.
And even though I can't tell the difference between the howling of a sled dog and the howling of a wolf, it was a very cool experience. There is a chance, too, that it was coyotes that were howling, but I prefer to think it was wolves. Besides, they weren't yipping and Torre, who knows such things, was confident we were listening to wolves, not coyotes.
Had the situation been different, I'm sure the scene wouldn't have been so romantic. For example, had I been watching a pack of wolves surround a moose and take turns snapping at its hamstrings, nose, neck and haunches, I'm sure my feelings toward wolves would have been different, even though they were doing what wolves do best - killing to survive.
In this instance, though, I didn't have to worry about any emotional conflicts. The wolves may have been howling over a fresh caribou or moose kill, for all I knew, but I couldn't see them, only hear them.
As I laid out my sleeping bag on a sleeping pad on the snow outside the cabin and crawled in, I envisioned them sitting on a frozen valley floor with their noses pointed to the moonlit sky as they howled into the night.
It was one of those special Alaska moments that you cherish, almost enough to make you forget about the fact that your snowmachine broke down on the way up to the glacier and had to be towed back to the truck.
I crawled into my sleeping bag, my sunburnt face tingling from a glorious day on the glacier, and watched the full moon rise higher in the sky as the howling of the wolves faded into the night.