Isaac Babcock is as at home in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness as the wolves he has monitored and collared for 13 years as a biologist for the Nez Perce Tribe.
So it wasn't a surprise for his new wife, Bjornen, when he revealed his dream honeymoon: Spending a year together in the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states.
The couple had met on a beach in Mexico and fell in love. Bjornen eventually left her native Delaware to join Isaac in Idaho.
The wilderness was not foreign to Bjornen. She had worked as a fire lookout and volunteered for the tribe's wolf-monitoring program.
Their story has been captured as a documentary for PBS Nature. "River of No Return" allows us to follow the couple's uniquely Idaho quest.
What began as a romantic adventure grew into a bigger challenge than either of them expected. They started out hoping to highlight the place and the creatures they love. In the end, they became as much of the story as the nine packs of wolves, the herds of elk, deer and bighorn, and the chinook salmon that begin and end their own journeys in the Idaho wilderness.
Part of the drama comes from Bjornen's hardships in the wild, which are complicated by a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
Getting around in "the Frank" is hard enough, with tens of thousands of acres of downed trees from fires in the past two decades and deep snows that can bury humans who don't have snowshoes.
Bjornen had to suffer through swelling and pain in her joints, making walking and sleeping difficult. She had to hike up steep mountains carrying a heavy pack even when in pain.
"You make your choices and take your chances," she told Marcia Franklin on Idaho Public Television's Dialogue program. "Life comes with no guarantees."
Some of the hardship came before they even stepped into the wilderness. The Forest Service strictly regulates commercial filming, and documentaries are not clearly exempted.
The Babcocks took two years and traveled to Washington, D.C., to get approval to shoot video within the nationally designated wilderness. It didn't delay their marriage, but it delayed the honeymoon.
"A lot of it was frustrating," Isaac said. "On the other hand, I'm glad that wilderness has that many people looking out for it."
PUTTING VIEWERSIN THE WILD
Isaac had become adept at getting close to wolves during his years working for the tribe. In an earlier Statesman interview, he recalled slowly inching through the underbrush in 1999 toward a well-known male wolf, B7, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. As he crawled through the underbrush, the forest opened up into a clearing and the alpha male stood 15 feet away.
The wolf caught Babcock's scent and stepped forward. Three pups appeared, protected by the alpha male.
"They are jumping for his muzzle and he's looking down at them, then smelling me," Babcock said. "Right at that moment, lightning hit hard enough to shake the ground. It made my heart bounce."
But getting that kind of moment on camera is not easy. The couple spent scores of hours setting up blinds and sitting in camouflage clothes, waiting for wolves to come close.
Their patience paid off, for them and the viewers. In one clip, a young wolf and a yearling came across a meadow to see who was visiting them.
"That was amazing," Babcock said. "They came over because they were curious, not aggressive."
One wolf overcame his fear to walk right up to their blind.
"It was coming to check us out, like we were there to check them out," he said.
A RARE PERSPECTIVE IN THE WILD
Spending all four seasons in the Frank allowed the couple to learn how species in the wilderness survive by cooperation and safety in numbers.
A lost young buck or a solitary ram injured while fighting for a mate can become easy prey for the wolves.
Any carcass abandoned by wolves would feed the coyotes and other scavengers.
But they also filmed an injured elk that survived when the odds were against her. The film shows a pack of wolves circling, preparing for the kill. Suddenly, another elk comes to her defense.
Babcock said the story line was the idea of the Nature producers, who, the couple eventually realized, knew how to reach their audience.
Babcock said he is a little disappointed that the documentary doesn't take a stand in the polarizing debate over wolf recovery and wilderness. But he also said he's willing to accept that PBS Nature producers know their business better than do the two young videographers.
"At the end of the day, there are stories and times and places to take stands," he said, "and there are other times, too."
Adjustment after life in the wilderness has been surprisingly easy for the Babcocks. They live in a yurt outside McCall where Bjornen raises organic vegetables.
"My dream was spending a year in the wilderness," Isaac said. "She was a trouper who helped make that happen.
"Her dream was to start an organic farm and grow food for the community."