The dog lay his head back down on the floor and closed his eyes again. What was that that had awakened him? Oh yes, it was a word he had dreamed. What was it? That was it “serendipitous”! Wasn’t that a wonderful thought! Why was it that sometimes the things that have the most effect on your life come when come when your belief in them is nearly gone?
In this case it had happened that he was the leader of a pack of wolves in the north woods of Canada. He wasn’t really a wolf, but he was the biggest and strongest, and fastest of this group.
When he was very young he had been continually awakened by their song, and for some reason simply had to follow. As it turned out, his obvious place was as leader. It wasn’t the most gentle of processes, but it was logical. It wasn’t even that he was trying to be a wolf, he didn’t even fully understand them, but there he was, and he could sing that song.
He had loved that song! It had breathed and whispered and shouted things about life he had only thought or hoped, or dreamed existed. It had shouted on the wind, those things that seemed to be in his bones, running through his veins, pumped through all of the tissues of his body, inscribed deep into each cell.
A message of freedom!
That same body that now lay here almost asleep in front of a fire.
Serendipitous! That word that could have many contexts! Wonderful word!
In his life, lessons had been learned hard. There was little forgiveness for mistakes, or hesitations, decisions counted, and when you made one, there you were.
And there he had been. The winter had been long and hard, and still had a while to last. It was his job to see that they ate. And they were barely getting by. Hanging on by a tooth you might say, although the joke was uncomfortably close to the truth.
They had come across the carcass of a rabbit in the woods. Normally he would have been cautious and sniffed around, but it had been so long. He was the leader and it was his right to eat first, and so he dove in.
But something was different. Before he actually reached the rabbit a thin piece of wire closed around his neck. He didn’t think too much about it and tried to pull back, but it wouldn’t let him; in fact it had gotten tighter. He rolled on the ground, and bit at that thin piece of entrapment, but all it did was continue to get tighter. As fast or strong as he was, the wire pulled tighter around his throat. And it was making him weak.
He remembers watching the pack, how they were watching him. It was so oddly detached, they were looking at him as they had viewed that old bear they had killed last fall. They would dart in and cut him, and cut him, from all sides. They were so many, and so fast the bear hadn’t been able to hold them off. Finally they sat back and watched him bleed and get weak and die. The dog himself had darted in to finish him off. The look in the pack’s eyes was the same.
The look in the bear’s eyes had been an odd combination of sadness, resignation, tremendous pride. Of a tiredness that permeated his great heart, and profound relief. He had dreamed about that bear’s eyes for months.
After a while of his struggling against the unyielding wire the big almost black young one he had been having so much trouble with had gotten up and dove for him. There was just enough slack in the wire that he could whirl and tear a long gash in that troublemaker’s ear, but it was just the start. The whole pack was on him, they were everywhere, biting and tearing. He saw his mate diving for his side, and her teeth were already red. She made a great tear in his side; he felt her teeth sliding over his ribs. They grated and sort of bounced. But really he felt no pain, just very tired.
He wasn’t really a wolf, but he was living with them. He knew what they thought of weakness, and how they dealt with it. But he had thought himself somewhat immune to their natures, and, well, he just somehow thought it wouldn’t apply to him, or it would never come to this, or something else not very important. And he was so tired. The wire, and the teeth of his friends, had taken their toll.
So this is how it is, he thought, this is how that wonder filled song ends. Damn that was a beautiful song. Still is, really. Maybe a little bit edgy. Maybe that is part of what makes it so beautiful.
That is about all he was thinking when he lay down. He thought he heard a shout from a human, the sound of a gun. He even thought he felt himself being carried, and warmth, a soft comfortable warmth. Like his mother’s stomach where he would lay and sleep after nursing. He wasn’t thinking about much, but he was warm.
When he opened his eyes, what he saw, were those eyes. They were deep, with tremendous compassion, like the bear’s, but it wasn’t the bear. They
were curious, and very, very interested, like he had never seen before. Way in the back there was the hint of laughter and a shadow of relief like he had seen in the eyes of a rabbit he had chased. When it was certain it had gotten away the rabbit had looked back one last time over his shoulder with that victorious laughing look in its eyes. He hadn’t laughed at the time, he was hungry and there went dinner. Laughing! Thinking about it now, it had been funny!
But he had seen these eyes before. Where? He closed his own eyes and went back to sleep. It was so comfortable, and he was so weary. Way down deep, he just needed to sleep.
Somewhere in the background there was a low pulsing droning sound. Thinking it now, it had sounded like a didgeridoo, he didn’t know that then. He just marveled at the low undulating sound that sounded like rocks rolling on a river bottom, or tree limbs groaning in the wind, like ice just before breaking up in the spring, or the ground as it thawed.
He dreamed, and in his dreams he remembered his dreams.
There had been the wire, and the pack, and his mate, and then too he had been so tired, and as he lay down, there were those sounds, and the music of the wind high in the trees, it had seemed to be going away.
And then there was nothing. For a while there were just fragments of memories. Terrible heat, and sometimes shivering uncontrollably. A burning pain that seemed to be trying to consume him.
It seemed one time he had woken up and seen a great hairy monster reaching toward him with its claws. He had used all of his strength in trying to bite it once, and it seemed his teeth had grasped something. But that was all the strength he had had. As his head sank back down he remembered the claws touching him, but instead of tearing at him, they calmed him, and he had gone back to sleep.
That was it! Those eyes! They were the eyes of the monster. In his dream when he had bitten the claw, he had looked into the eyes, and what he had seen was that compassion and interest. There was pain and surprise, but no anger. Just care. It hadn’t been what he had expected.
When next he opened his eyes he felt better, more rested. And there were those eyes. And there was the monster! Only it wasn’t a monster, it was a woman. He remembered from when he was young. She was making sounds. He remembered them too! “There you are” she said.
“Well of course,” he thought “Where else would I be if you were looking at me?”
“There were times I’d thought you had gone. But you just kept coming back! Are you hungry?” Those noises again.
“I can’t even stand up, let alone run off, how am I going to be ‘gone’ anywhere! When is she going to make some noise that means anything?” he thought. And then: “Hungry? Now, that makes sense!” He didn’t notice but his tail had made a weak flopping motion.
“That’s kind of pretty” he thought.
He noticed a bandage on her hand and remembered the dream. “Oh!”
He tried to move his head to lick the wound but couldn’t.
She brought a bowl of some warm liquid. He was so thirsty, and it warmed him. She reached toward him and he growled. He didn’t really mean to, but it just sort of came out. Only friends could touch each other. And he knew about friends.
She pulled her hand back, and simply said “Okay”.
He went back to sleep.
For the longest time it went on like this. He would wake up; she would be there with something to eat and drink and he would sleep. Gradually he was awake for longer periods of time, and he seemed to be getting stronger. And then he could even stand up and walk a bit.
After that he would go outside and lay in the sun. It had been a while and spring had come. The sun was warm.
He started to watch her. What was a woman doing in the north woods alone?
She would talk to him and he was beginning to learn what the sounds meant.
She was a human and of course, had a gun. But then she had a small box with a round thing sticking out of it. Sometimes she would point it at something and look through the other side and move her finger. Sometimes she would frown, and sometimes she would smile. Sometimes she would point it at him. He wasn’t sure about that, but nothing happened. What good was it? She would point it at the sky or a tree or a bunch of birds far away. She would point it at a marmot, or elk grazing in the yard, and they would just walk away. One night she spent the whole night pointing it at the moon. Mostly it was coming or going from behind clouds! She should have pointed the gun at the elk, they could eat that. What good was that little box?
She would laugh and smile, sometimes she tried to make him look at some pieces of paper. She was so gently…curious. She would try to look at what he was looking at. She would try to show him what she was looking at. It was just so…nice.
Once when he had eaten something off the table, she threw a towel at him and chased him all around the outside of the cabin. It was funny; he was a lot faster than she was, but he stayed just out of her reach. She had slipped in the mud and fallen down, and he went back to see that she wasn’t hurt. She was just pretending and had almost caught him by his ears! Tricky woman!
Sometimes she would try to touch him, and he wouldn’t growl anymore, just move away. At first he moved all the way across the room and, then, just his head.
Have you ever listened to spring? It sounds like light green and kind of whispers and giggles. It has this little skip to it. And somewhere in the bottom is that didgeridoo!
It seemed like forever, but probably wasn’t very long, when he felt strong again. It was spring, and he had been being a wolf. So, what was he doing lying around a cabin with a woman and a silly box? He should be off chasing caribou. Ever since he had first come to the woods it is what he had done.
So one fine morning he just trotted off. He looked back once and she was in the door, just looking at him. She wasn’t smiling, just looking with this resigned curiosity, like she wanted to say something. Actually, so did he.
He hadn’t gone more than a mile or two, and the silence of the woods closed around him. He could hear his breathing and the soft pad of his feet on the forest floor. He could hear squirrels in the trees above his head; he could hear the birds, and their young hungry ones. He could hear the wind, and the branches and the leaves. He could even hear his heart.
It was saying “What do you want?” It was saying “You’ve pretended to be a wolf before. Is that what you want? Or just what you know?”
He didn’t remember ever having so much trouble with his heart before.
He didn’t know what he wanted; he only knew what he knew. He needed to know how to combine what he knew with what he wanted. Whatever that was! It did seem to be more back with that woman with her boxes and cabin, than it did down the trail he was on.
He was learning!
So he turned around and went back. At the edge of the clearing he lay down to think for a while. She came to the door and sat on the sill, and watched him. All of that night she sat there and watched him, and he lay there and watched her. Once she did get up and get herself some dinner. Damn! He thought to himself. She seemed to enjoy it.
When the dawn came he got up and walked into the cabin. She simply stood aside and let him go and lie down. She didn’t say a word.
Isn’t that a song! It rang free with promise in the dawn, raged full and strong at mid day, and grew quiet, sometimes rich, sometimes reflective, and sometimes almost mournful in the twilight.
At night it seemed almost a different song entirely.
It would prowl through your heart.
It could stir like goblins on tiptoes, sneaking up to a child’s bed.
It could be restless like teenagers with new driver’s licenses, a tank full of gas, and their whole their whole lives ahead of them. On a Saturday night.
It could scream at the moon as only a first heartbreak could, or sigh at the relief that allowed you to love that much in the first place.
When you were older it took more than that song to love that much, but it had to be part of it. And you knew when it was being sung, and you knew when you were singing it.
It could moan like a stallion being castrated.
Or have the bubbly laugh of a four year child.
It definitely could keep him awake.
Its resonances made his toes twitch in his dreams, and he would pace. Some nights he would go out of the cabin and back in. And out of the cabin and back in. She would yawn, leave the door open and go to bed. He had learned to let her scratch his ears, and she would do that, and say “It’s Okay”. He would think “Yeah, right! You just go to sleep, and I’ll just make sure no elephants come and steal the house!”
It was almost like he itched, everywhere, with nowhere to scratch.
The thing was that he was older now, and this part of it took a different voice than he had sung wild in the hills. He was every bit as free, but he was free to stay, and he wasn’t sure how.
In the dawn they would wake up. She would drink coffee and sit on the sill, and watch as the world got light and listening to the birds singing with that boundless enthusiasm for the new day! It always amazed him that they would sing that way for every dawn. Even if it were cold and rainy. Bird brains they may have, but they were right!
She would sit for a while and watch and listen and drink coffee. So would he. He didn’t like coffee though, it was bitter. She had given him some to try once when he kept pushing his nose into her cup. Bitter stuff!
Her name was Susan. He learned that one day when she kept pointing at herself and saying “Susan”, and she would point at herself again and say “Susan”. He got it the first time, and felt like saying “Look lady, I live here; you can’t be dumb and survive”! But really looking at her, she was so sincere, and her eyes were so clear, and she really wanted him to know what her name was. He jumped up and down like a puppy, and barked. He knew
what her name was and just wanted to thank her for caring and for being who she was.
Then she pointed at him and said “Hum…what is your name?” He tried to tell her, it would have been hard for her to pronounce, but she thought he was still excited about her name.
She said “Phoenix?” which sounded to him like a sound you would make when you had a cold. Not anything he wanted to answer to.
She said “Lazarus?” He just walked away from that one. It was like a bunch of feathers in your mouth.
For being such a smart lady, she was sounding pretty dumb!
“Prince?” Next she was going to tie a pink ribbon and bow around his neck. He kept on walking. Maybe there was a porcupine, or a couple of bobcats that wanted to fight.
“Sam?” Well, that was better than a mouth full of quills. Let’s end this pantomime of fun. He could live with that. Actually he kind of liked it. It was strong, had some dignity, and didn’t take too long to say.
The mud of spring had dried, and every day she would go out wandering. This he could understand.
She would take her gun and that funny little box.
Mostly she used the box. She would point it at something and move her finger. She was always looking at things, and he began to see what she was looking for. She would see birds feeding their young and point the box. She would see bear cubs playing and point the box. She would see a sunset behind two elk fighting over a doe, and she would point the box.
One time a mother bear didn’t understand the box and thought her cubs were in danger. She stood tall against the late afternoon sky, and he had gone in to tell her that Susan was not a threat. Susan kept backing away and pointing the box as the bear and he carried on their discussion.
Later that night as she was caring for a couple of scratches he had picked up during that talk, she had buried her face in the fur around his neck and cried for a long time.
He tried to tell her that it really was nothing, just the way things were done where he was from. You know? The truth. But while he could understand her sounds, he couldn’t make her understand his. He had to show her.
Finally he had started to look at the pieces of paper she would show him, and what do you know! There were sunsets, and elk, and there he was chasing a fish! And the talk with the bear! All on a piece of paper. Wasn’t that something!
Sometimes it wasn’t very pretty. She would see a snare, like he had been caught in, and she would point the box. Sometimes there were animals that hadn’t been as lucky as he, dead on the ground. Strangled by their struggles for freedom. Sometimes there would be only the leg or foot of some animal who had chewed it off to gain release. Sometimes the body would be there, it had only been caught by a leg, and had starved to death. And the carrion eaters had feasted.
She would get very serious and point the box a lot.
She would also hunt for food, and he could help her do that. He could range wide and herd the animal she wanted toward her, and she could shoot it.
Really, she tried very hard to be quiet in the woods, and was pretty good.
But as good as she was, it was a lot like stalking a squirrel by cutting the tree down.
And he liked helping her; they were like a small pack should be. A team.
Once he returned to the cabin after one of the walks he would take, and there was a strange man at the door. He was dirty, and they were yelling at each other.
It turns out he was the trapper who had been placing the snare traps. He was the one whose trap had caught him. It also turned out that the “pictures” she
had been taking had been in some “magazines”, and that a lot of people were mad at him because of it.
As the man was just yelling and getting more agitated, Sam kind of moved up behind him, just at the back edge of where the man could see, and growled quietly. Actually he wanted to tear the tendon from the back of that fat leg, but didn’t.
Susan said she understood about his “making a living”, but that those traps were cruel and illegal, and he shouldn’t be doing it. She was going to keep on taking her “pictures”. If he didn’t change, he would have to go.
She was standing up there just like that mother bear! Wasn’t that something to see!
Sam moved just a little bit closer, and the man glanced at him, said something low, and left.
Susan let out a deep sigh, took the rifle from beside the door jam where it had been leaning, and sat down on the sill.
“Well!” she had said.
He was still thinking it would have been kind of satisfying to tear the tendon out.
Yes, “serendipitous”; that certainly was a word!
If he hadn’t recognized that song, he wouldn’t have run with the wolves.
If Susan hadn’t felt like a walk, he would have died.
If he hadn’t chased that fish, his “picture” wouldn’t have been in a “magazine”.
If he hadn’t come back from his walk when he did, there is no telling what would have happened.
He had no idea where that song would go from here. It still blew strong through his veins, and echoed in the wind. It still held him enthralled with
its great rolling almost awkward rhythms, hints of promises shouted in the moonlight, and its stark, amazing beauty.
“Serendipitous”. What a wonderful word he thought as he drifted off to sleep.