For nearly half a century, what appears to be a wolf has lingered in the shadows of my memory.

For nearly half a century, what appears to be a wolf has lingered in the shadows of my memory.

The image is fading a bit now, having been gathering dust in my cranial attic since the spring of 1965.

But it is still there in my mind, the wolf-like animal we saw in the mountains a few miles east of Kerby that day.

It had all the characteristics of wolves I've seen while living in Alaska and visiting Yellowstone. It was gray, about 3 feet at the shoulders, with a bushy tail that trails along behind. And the face was certainly wolfish.

What causes me to dust off the memory is the trot-by just over a week ago by the gray wolf known as OR-7 through the mountains just southwest of the Greensprings. Incidentally, a wolf homecoming celebration is being held in the mountain community from noon to 5 p.m. today.

But was the Kerby creature actually a canis lupus?

This would have been some 19 years after the last confirmed sighting of a wild wolf in western Oregon, that being in Douglas County in 1946. The last-known Oregon wolf was killed for its bounty.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife folks have been using satellite tracking technology to keep tabs on OR-7, who is wearing a GPS collar. Since first moving into Western Oregon last fall from the northeastern part of the state, the 2-year-old has meandered into the neighborhood of southwestern Oregon and far Northern California. He was the first confirmed wild wolf to visit the Golden State since 1924.

The department's wolf experts say other young wolves without tracking collars could have earlier moved into our region, following their natural dispersal behavior to establish territory and look for a mate. They naturally keep a low profile, biologists say.

Most of the wolves I saw in the wilds of Alaska were in the distance or quickly retreating into the woods.

They wisely sensed that getting close to humanoids was not a smart move.

But I do recall seeing a wolf up close near the village of Sleetmute about 200 miles northwest of Anchorage in December of 1987. The snow was belly deep. It was mid day. The sun hovered like a bright orange ball on the horizon.

The wolf was literally bounding through the deep snow, taking giant leaps. He seemed to be playing, finding sheer delight in lunging into the fluffy white stuff.

Thanks to the glancing sunlight, the wolf, which was likely a grayish brown, looked like he had a reddish coat. He must have weighed close to 150 pounds. This was a big boy.

But let's go back to the mountains east of Kerby in '65. I was hiking with a childhood chum named Cliff Phillips. We were both in the eighth grade.

Joining us was Cliff's dog, Trip, a large tan-and-white hound who lived for mountain romps. He was a tough pooch, a battle-tested warrior of the woods whose scars stood out like hash marks. He seldom shied away from a hostile encounter, be it bear or skunk.

Per usual, Trip trotted ahead of us, his nose close to the ground in hopes of picking up the scent of something feisty to chase. But he would periodically lope back to us to check on our progress.

On this day he disappeared for a few minutes, then came sprinting out of the brush with what appeared to be a large wolf hot on his heels. Trip whipped around and faced the big canine.

For a second, time seemed to freeze as the two dogs faced off about 10 feet apart. I don't recall either one growling. But I remember the furry stranger was about half a foot taller then Trip at the shoulders.

As soon as the gray one saw us approaching about 100 feet away, he leaped into the woods. He simply vanished like a wisp of smoke in the breeze.

And Trip, contrary to his usual eagerness to pursue prey, refused to budge. He stuck close to us.

I called Cliff the other evening to see whether his memory squared with mine. It does. Now a retired U.S. Forest Service employee well regarded by friends and peers alike, he is a veteran outdoorsman who has hunted big game from Oregon to Alaska.

In hindsight, we both agree that what we saw that day was likely a "domesticated" wolf someone had been trying to turn into a pet, or a wolf-dog hybrid from such a misguided venture. The creature had either been turned loose or escaped.

"I remember Trip didn't want any of that," Cliff recalls. "He had seen those teeth up close. That was all he wanted."

For the hound dog, memories were more than enough.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.