I have never seen a wolf. Not in the wild. My dad did, once, up north, in the boundary waters. It was early morning and we kids were all asleep in the tent. He got up to cook fish someone had caught the night before and to smoke cigarettes. There he was on the rocks by the lakeshore with the early morning mist and the sun just coming up and a deer swimming across the lake. He went for a camera and took the picture, the deer further away now and almost to the opposite shore, so far now there wasn’t much of a picture so he put the camera down and that’s when the wolf showed up. The wolf slipped quietly into the water and swam after the deer. Then they all disappear into the forest and what happens next he couldn’t see. Anyways, we woke up later and ate the fish and my dad said he saw a wolf and weeks later we see the picture of the deer swimming and the early morning light. There were other pictures too. Of silvery canoes and green canvas tents and kids jumping off rocks into water.
It is summer and many years later and we don’t really have a destination or plan when we head north. Three of us go, my sister and son and I. We go to the big lake where we find ourselves watching ships with foreign names we can’t pronounce go from open water to loading dock. At first it rains and rains, even when we eat walleye and walk out to the end of a pier where there is a light house and a rainbow shows and the lift bridge goes up.
In the morning the sun shines and we go to the beach across the street, up and over a fence and down the concrete stairs, holding coffee and donuts. The beach is long and vast here and you can see the city and houses and the lake like an ocean stretches before us. Later we drive to an even bigger beach. Years ago we were here with my sister’s sons and her husband and I had no husband or son but our dad was very much alive. It’s nearly three months now since he died.
We walk along the beach to another pier and watch more ships come and go. We watch the clouds and make up stories about what they are and what they do and then my sister says one looks like a uterus and my son asks what is a uterus and we laugh but don’t explain. Then we go driving and my son says uterus, uterus, uterus over and over, laughing from the backseat until I nearly hit a skunk. I see a grave in the trees alongside the road with feathers and other things so I slow and it is near dusk and my sister says no don’t stop, its bad luck so we roll the windows up and go find a motel where they let us swim until midnight.
The next day we buy smoked fish and find another pier and light house and take more pictures. We have a picnic and skip stones and then eat pie. We buy a pie for my mom to bring back home with us – all lemony and full of meringue. We bring smoked fish too, as if we could bring the whole north shore to her, as if this will help somehow. Her grief, it is big in her, and makes her sick and sometimes she talks of it and it scares us and it is big in us too but words are hard so we go to the beach, we go to the lake that is vast and big as an ocean, deep as love, hoping there is something we can glimpse of him, there in the rocks, the rain, the lake shore. Something before he slips away like the wolf, like the deer, disappearing in the forest, lost to us forever.