September 19, 2020

The Wolf At The Door

wolfWe little pigs build – Walls

 of straw or sticks,

or of sheetrock and two-by-fours,

block us in and the wolf out.

The door is so frail

A barrier between us and it.

The wolf blows and

straw scatters, sticks split.

Even the brick house crumbles,

brought down, if not by wind,

then by earthquake

or tender vines.

A disaster, but

we will build ourselves

another house.

How many of us pause, though,

as we scamper through the woods

toward our new subdivision,

to glimpse the beauty of the wolf

loping toward us through the mysterious trees?

How many of us perceive,

for a moment,

the golden eyes of otherness, wild

and fierce and lovely? –

before we slam our doors,

flop down in front of screens tuned

to the Discovery Channel,

and congratulate ourselves on

our safe return to real life.

Comments

  1. Adam Tauno Williams says

    Nicely done. And doubly so as the three little pigs so matches this theme. Nearly every mythology and story from our past has the wolf as guide and friend – even from the founding of Rome. So sensible, since he has been along side us as a peer since our ancestors trudged across the frozen wastes of the Pleistocene. But modernity [*1], for all its new knowledge, changes our once companion into an other, a creature of the night to be feared. With all our accumulated knowledge and constructed power, why are we so afraid? [and why do we so love to frighten ourselves with nameless distant fears]

    [*1] The three little pigs dates from the mid 1800s.

    • Modernity, and post-modernity, is unfamiliar with the wild, and so finds much to fear in it (I think of some of the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne in which the forest is a dark, sinister place, even a place of the devil) ; of course, our deepest wildness is within us, and we can deny but never escape that.

      But remember, it was the habit of ancient cultures to befriend what they feared in their mythology as a way of integrating the other and reducing the threat; that this never neutralized their attempts to escape that perceived threat is betrayed by the fact that they continued to physically develop the wildernesses that they found.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > Modernity, and post-modernity, is unfamiliar with the wild, and so finds much to fear

        True. But a bear would be a better metaphor than a wolf. Bears are scary, I image cave bears were even scarier; really, what could guys with sticks due against a the monsters of that age? The Dirk Cats, Saber Cats, and Dire Wolves have faded from our memory, so we cannot write poetry about them. The wolf has to bear the weight of our nightmares.

        > of course, our deepest wildness is within us,

        Even the terms wildness and wilderness is telling. For the wilderness is actually a quite orderly place; violent perhaps, but no more so than much of human urbanity [maybe less so]. It is not wildness, like a primal Bacchus, that is humanities real darkness – humans have a special darkness which the wilderness with all its utilitarian savagery cannot approach. The wilderness does not build death and rape camps. The wilderness does not chain captives in the dark and torment them for what is in truth nothing more than sport. And the wilderness does not proudly fly flags over the shattered corpses of its slain.

        I’ve had the experience to look out a window as there stood my 120lb black labrador retriever in a barking frenzy. Out of the tree line stalked three grey wolves. I thought my labrador was a big dog. My labrador is a very tiny dog. These ‘beasts’ towered over him. The grey wolf may be the closest living relative of the dog – but much like the chimpanzee is the closest living relative to Mozart and Einstein, except in reverse. Standing face to face one is quite clearly not like the other. And there they stood, within feet of each other. My labrador was now silent [at least to my ears], but did not seen to cower. They stood there, face to face, as I waited for the brief explosion of violence that would clearly have a singular outcome – a black labrador in crimson shreds. Then the wolf turned and along with his two companions crossed the lawn into the opposite tree line. My labrador laid down and resumed chewing his stick. In retrospect it seemed quite civil, and very reasonable. Very wild.

        > it was the habit of ancient cultures to befriend what they feared in their mythology

        And it is the habit of modern man to believe his forebears where stupid and foolish.

        > this never neutralized their attempts to escape that perceived threat is betrayed by the fact

        Do we perceive what they feared correctly? Did they fear the wilderness and the wolf? Are those the things that haunted their dreams? Or was it hunger. Or the other men. Men kill what they fear – if they can. There is no shortage of archeological evidence of human on human violence. In the excavated cave dwellings of eastern and western Europe, which contain heaps of the bones from human endeavor [*1], a singular canid skull has been found. Scat and other evidence indicates that wolf packs and human [or proto-human] groups lived in almost constant near proximity to each other [Sensible, it was probably a beneficent relationship – likely the human groups followed the wolves who knew and could track the path of the migrating herds. Fools did not come out of this end of the ice ages].

        [*1] Humans or our kin seemed to have developed division of labor and divided our homes into sleeping, kitchen, bathroom very quickly.

        • I’m sure you’re correct; the wolf is not an apt symbol to for humanity to fill with it’s fear. Neither, as you say, is the ambivalence of nature.

          There is “heart of darkness,” as Conrad called it, in humanity that is not shared anywhere else in nature; it is negative testimony to the fact that humanity is not just a product of nature, but is rooted in a transcendence that enables the angelic, and the demonic.

          As Kurtz said with his final breath: “The horror. The horror.”

          • Of course, the entire non-human universe is not just a product of nature either: everything that exist, besides God, is creation.

            Perhaps the extreme evil and good capacities of the human heart reflect an implicit potentiality in all of creation; it may be unwarranted and reflect a distorted view to posit too great a bifurcation between the human and the non-human.

            I seem to remember reading some things recently that surprised me, about how higher primates and other mammals wage wars against groups of other very similar primates, wars involving somewhat horrific brutalities; I’ve even read about chimps that “murdered” other chimps within their own group and then ate (even though chimps are vegetarian, I believe) the victim.

            When I periodically read these things it surprise me because I’ve subconsciously bought into the idea that non-human creation is somehow innocent and purer than humanity; but whatever the fall was and however it happened, it affects the entire creation.

  2. “Tyger tyger, burning bright…..” William Blake

    Early I learned
    to admire the wolf
    the Destroyer

    To linger a little too long
    at the door
    gathering in his wildness

    feeling my heart beat out
    its answering wild rhythm
    hearing my heart let loose
    its answering howls

    Until one day
    I waited too long
    and he came in

    Over the threshold
    and into the integuments
    of my ravenous heart

    And now he lingers there
    watching waiting stalking
    picking his times

    to destroy and lay waste
    as his wildness wants
    unimpeded invisible
    predator within
    as his wildness wants

  3. The Consistory men came at dawn
    to strip the churches bare
    to gather all the idols
    they said were lurking there

    Took they first the Mother
    With her beloved Child
    And chopped her into kindling wood.
    My father said they smiled.

    “This is not He!” The father cried
    The new one that they sent
    “These painted dolls! These wooden sticks!”
    Into the fire they went.

    There went my patron Anthony
    Who fought against the Snake
    Dark-eyed Lucy, gentle Claire
    And Martin in their wake

    Fierce wolves of God, they gnawed the church
    Down to her very bone
    Even the body on the rood
    They did not leave alone

    When all was gone that I had loved
    They saw me standing by
    Very small and very scared
    and very soon to cry.

    The father stroked my tousled hair
    And held aloft a Book
    He fixed me with his icy gaze
    It was no pleasant look

    “Child”, he said, “From this you’ll learn”
    “The ways of God above”
    “And how he proffers saving faith”
    “With His electing love”

    I don’t want his nasty Book
    But to run and jump and play
    And to feel the wind upon my cheek
    The cool of night, the warmth of day

    He says that this is evil
    I must learn to mortify
    All that sin that in me dwells
    Or surely I will die.

    And so I grew from girl to maid
    and cut myself away
    and feared lest all this useless beauty
    should cause my soul to stray

    But as I listened to his book
    I heard the ancient strain
    The palm trees laden with their dates
    The flowers after rain.

    The eagle in his heaven
    The tree beside the brook
    The conies in their stoney place
    All this was in the Book

    “This is also Me” I heard Him say
    The voice within the Book
    Omnia quia sunt lumina sunt
    But you have to learn to look.

  4. David Cornwell says

    I do not have a wolf story, and definitely not a poem. However I live in a rural farm area, on a portion of my son-in-law’s dairy farm, about a mile from the main section. Our house in on a lot measuring about one acre. Behind our house is a corn field, a small one by midwest standards. Just west of that is a rise that takes one up to a another field of about 80 acres. This bank is semi-wooded, rough and rocky.

    Every year, from this rough-hewn rise, we hear coyotes in the night, with their somewhat eerie barks and howls. This year, each evening, toward sunset, we hear them again, much closer to the house, earlier and louder. About a mile from us in the another direction is a railroad. The trains sound their whistles as they approach the crossings, and the coyotes join in with their long howls, seeming to float windward, aloft and flying. And so we have a chorus of the wild, joining with modernity, and stating protest– or maybe surrender.

    I haven’t had the privilege of seeing these beasts yet, as they keep their distance. But I’m somewhat sure this will happen if I bide my time.

  5. You paint a very good word-picture, David …

  6. Once I was flying east and had to change planes in Salt Lake City. As the airplane came close to the runway and the landing gear came down, a pack of coyotes came out of the salt flats and proceeded to chase the airplane tires like dog chase car tires. I will never forget that playfulness.

    The wild is not entirely red in tooth and claw.

    Dana

  7. When you are a child up in New England, you go with your aunt and cousins up to the mountains to swim, and hike, and pick blueberries. You know it’s wonderful, but you don’t know how special it is, and that the time will someday come when it hurts to walk from car to store and you value the support of the cart to hold onto, and the blueberries are encased in plastic, and someone else has picked them for you

    I saw the little containers for five dollars one day, and went by them and further in, coming upon a stand where there were small open wicker baskets with handles, filled to brim, overflowing . . . ten dollars . . . something about the shape of the basket and the abundance . . .

    what was I paying for that day?
    Yes, the berries WERE delicious, but I suspect I parted with my money in honor of a long-ago memory of freedom and sunlight, and the sweet joy of fresh food directly from the hand of God on a mountainside just off of the Mohawk Trail . . .

    was it worth it? Oh, yeah.

    • Christiane

      I think I know this wolf, for it is the same wolf that stalks me and nips at my heals. Is its name lupus?

      heather

      • Hi HEATHER,

        I don’t have lupus, no. But I can see how that might have come up with the references to sunlight and pain, yes.
        No, I just got older, and am sorely in need of a second knee replacement. But all is well, and every day is enjoyed for the goodness of it.

        If you suffer from lupus, I hope you are properly cared for, although I don’t know the latest treatments. We once had a neighbor who had it, a young mother of two, and fortunately her husband was a medical doctor (a resident then at the local hospital), so I suppose she had better support than many do.

        I hope you are not in too much pain.
        God Bless

        • Christiane

          I am soo relieved to know that you do not have Lupus and I hope that knee of yours does not cause you too much pain.
          Thank you for your response and kind words. I was diagnosed with Lupus about a year ago but have been struggling with pain and random symptoms for about 4 years before that. I do finally have a strong team of doctors helping me now and a husband that loves me and takes good care of me.

          Lupus is Latin for wolf and it was the first thing I thought of when I read this post. So far that wolf has been scratching and making a lot of noise but has not bit me. I hope and pray that it stays that way. Thank you for caring,
          heather

          • Heather….I am glad for your sake, not that you HAVE lupus, but that you have a name and a “face” to go with your pain and symtoms. I know how hard it is to be told that, more or less, it is all in your head! Remember that rest —of body and soul—will go a long way in managing this affliction. (Not a personal knowledge, but I am a nurse and have some challenges of my own.) Blessings to you!