Tuesday, December 5, 2006


“I have a story for you.”
“Hmmmm, that was nice”
They lay together on the large firm bed that filled most of her small room at the top of the house.
Isaac curled closer to her and pulled her warmth against him; soft and sticky, spent but not sad. He pulled a breath from the soft skin of her shoulders.
“I’m not ready .”
“No. Listen”
He let the quiet settle into the room until it was just the wind outside and the hum of the refrigerator below .
“Last week I took Lara for a walk down the old logging road to Coxey Pond. There was an inch or so of fresh snow and in the snow were prints of wolves and deer, many prints of wolves. On my way to the lake I saw a cluster of prints around a dark stain in the snow; and five minutes away another cluster; scent marks from the wolves to show who’d been where and who was in charge.
Isaac spoke in a low and quiet voice. It was warm, comfortable in the rich scent of the bed, his voice resonated through her back pressed to his chest. Sarah’s eyes were closed and her breathing deep and slow; she was not asleep.
“On my return I stopped and peed at each of the scent marks, my yellow stain dribbling on the mark left by the wolves; as a joke, a challenge, just pissing em off. I stopped at each mark on the way out, matched each stain with one of my own.”
Sarah squirmed closer, brought his arms about her chest and pushed her bottom to his loins.
“Not now, listen.
I’ve been working alone in the woods the last couple of weeks, hacking out an old line or searching for a lost benchmark. I wasn’t alone. I was watched, there was nothing but silence in the woods. Too much silence.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed listening to the cabin grumble and shift and trees snap as the temperature dropped, I thought I drifted off but can’t be sure. I got up to put wood on the fire and stepped out to look at the stars. It was sharply colder and still. The stars hung bright and steady in a dark sky.
I stepped off the deck and waded through the snow to a clearing behind the cabin, a marsh in summer but last night an open circle framed by black spruce and fir. I stopped at its edge and stared into the wide speckled dome of the sky until my feet spun beneath the snow. When I looked down there were three shapes at the edge of the marsh.
I walked to the center of the clearing and kneeled. The shapes detached themselves from the darkness and glided to the center. They stopped just in front of me and stared deep into my eyes for at least as long as I had stared into the sky.
Two of the wolves wore radio collars. I looked into their faces, leaned forward and detached the collars from their necks. The fur was deep and soft. They did not flinch at my touch. When this was done they bowed their heads and sat on their haunches around me.
One wolf seemed to speak, his speech was not with voice or even words.
“We watched you move through the land, despite having two legs you moved as a part of the land instead of merely over it. You tested the air, stopped when you sensed motion, moved with fluidity and awareness of life and space. We see too many men travel through these woods to not notice. We checked the scent you made beside our own we could not tell whether it was wolf or man. We had to come and see.
We show ourselves to you and you do not flee. You sit and look into our faces. It is meant for us to speak with you.”
All was quiet and still, as if the Earth paused. The radio collars gleamed faintly in the star light. I waited. The wolf spoke again.
“It is good that we talk. There are things that we do not understand and need clarified. There is an answer we must share.
We have questioned: is man animal or god? He seems god; he makes animals, machines, structures that change the very shape of the land. I think he is something in between; without the power of immortality or the wisdom necessary to bring real life to his creations. His animals, dogs, sheep, cattle, pale reflections of the animals they emulate.
What confuses us are horses since they seem both beautiful and capable.”
They wait patiently for me to speak and though uncertain of what to say I tell them we have changed horses little since taking them from the wild; playing only with the colors of their skins and the size to which they grow. They sigh with both understanding and relief, “it is so”, they nod.
We are quiet for a long time as the stars circle above our heads. When the Earth again stops to hold her breath the wolf speaks.
“You worry about the numbers of man. It is the same as with snowshoe hares or tent caterpillars that fill the forest every five or ten years. Man will be struck down by his numbers. Then the animals will return from the corners they’ve been pushed .
You feel the world is coming to an end. The Earth is but, but She will recover and heal this sickness before it destroys her. The mourning you feel is for your species not your planet.
You forget how old she is and how young you are. Your disturbance; it is nothing.”
We sit in silence for an hour beneath the still gleaming stars and the bright and shadowless night. Before they leave each wolf briefly holds my cheek between their fangs.

This morning I woke before dawn, hazy and thirsting for coffee to clear my head. I stepped outside to pee. The deck and yard was patterned with wolf prints a set went right to the door before returning to the woods, the only man-prints led to the slippers beneath me. I remembered the dream.
It didn’t come back clear until I returned home. Work was canceled and there was a Fish and Wildlife truck in my drive. A thin wiry guy and a big older dude waiting in the truck. They got out when I parked and walked over. The big dude introduced himself and said they were up here to follow a pack they’d collared a few months back.
“Wolves sure like your yard,” he says, “dog must be in heat, huh?”
I told him Lara was “fixed”, and that I didn’t let her out much for fear of the wolves. The young guy asked if I had heard howling last night.
I was still in a fog from the night before and without thinking I told them it was hard to tell as I dreamed of wolves all night. They looked at me strangely.
They said they had found two radio collars in the swamp over the ridge and followed the tracks to my house.
“Boot tracks,” I said.
“No, wolf tracks, four sets of them, though we thought the pack was three. Can you imagine; two perfectly good collars laying side by side in the swamp and not a man-track within four-hundred yards. Makes you wish those collars could do more than send a beep into the night.”
They piled into their truck. I let Lara out and stood on the deck trying to untangle the mess of prints of man and dog and wolf and the confusion of dream and day.
I got in the truck and raced the storm to you.

Isaac measured the length of her thigh with a stroke of his hand. Sarah’s breaths came slow and deep. Isaac sighed and rested his face in the space where Sarah’s neck and shoulder met. She did not move.
Isaac slept fitfully, waking often before rising at 4:30 to make coffee and prepare for the drive home. He walked through the dark and unfamiliar house to the kitchen, letting Lara outside while the water boiled. It was snowing steadily, a strong wind blowing the flakes about.
He took his coffee upstairs and sat beside her on the bed as he drank it. Sarah stirred, but did not speak. Lara was anxious to be off.
Isaac kissed Sarah quickly before going outside and starting his truck. He brushed the snow off while the engine warmed up, waved once back to the house and drove off into what was left of the storm. He turned north outside the city and slapped the flank of the dog on the seat beside him, perhaps a little too hard.
“What a waste of a story”.

Sarah stirs beneath the still warm shared-flesh scent of the blankets. She drifts to sleep and dreams four wolves running across a frozen lake beneath the moon. As they reach the dark border of forest and ice one of the wolves stops and turns to stare, its face rushing in to close-up before he disappears in darkness.

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