I have never seen a wolf. Not in the wild. My dad did. Once. Up north, as they say, in the boundary waters. Early morning and we kids were all asleep in the tent when he woke to cook trout 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 a picture. The deer was almost to the opposite shore, so far now there wasn’t much of a picture, so he put the camera down. That’s when the wolf showed up and slipped quietly into the water – swam after the deer. Then they all disappeared into the pines and what happened next he couldn’t see.
We woke up later and ate the fish and my dad said he saw a wolf and weeks later we saw 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.
Now it is many years later and we don’t have a destination or much of a plan when we head north. Three of us go. My sister, son and myself. We go to the big lake and watch ships go from open water to loading dock. It starts to rain heavy so we go eat walleye and after, walk out to the end of a pier where there is a lighthouse and across the way, a lift bridge. The rain stops and a rainbow shows and the bridge goes up, seemingly all at once.
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. We go driving and my son says uterus, uterus, uterus over and over, laughing from the backseat. I see a grave in the trees alongside the road with feathers and beads 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 is big in her, and makes her sick and sometimes she talks of it and it scares us. Grief – 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, gone to the pines, there in the forest, lost to us forever.