Welcome back to Magnetic North on Jan. 21, where winter nights are filled with stars and song and mystery. Last Monday night I heard one long and lonely howl as I puttered around doing evening chores. Rather, I felt it. As the ancient sound hunted around in my brain for its name, the hairs on the back of my neck stiffened. Only the timber wolf’s song has that effect on humans.
“I’m putting the goats to bed early,” I told Paul as I hustled to pull my ice grippers on and slip the remote phone into my barn coat. When I told him why I was in such a sweat to lock up the goats, he was not pleased.
“Take the dog!” he suggested.
“No way!” I shot back. “Scout would make a lovely late night snack for those suckers!”
“Well, what ARE you going to take with you?” my darling inquired.
“A REALLY bad attitude!” I snapped as I grabbed my flashlight and shepherd’s crook. Obviously, Paul had forgotten the morning some years ago when I took off across the snow in my pajamas, broom in hand and wailing like a banshee, all because I spied a coyote peering through the corral fence at my precious goats. The nerve of that critter! He actually tried to stare me down, letting me get close enough to see him blink. But blink he did and I missed my chance to whack him.
Well, this time was much less dramatic. No wolf sightings, only a few more mournful notes, then silence. By the time I’d distributed the evening hay meal, tucked in the baby goats with their foster mom, Summer the llama, and locked the barn tight, only the sound of my own boots crunching the crusted snow echoed in the night.
And what a night. We might have had foggy days this past week, but the nights have been stunningly clear. Stars up here have no competition from manmade light, so you can easily see the full range of them, dusted across the blackness like so much confectioner’s sugar.
Earlier that day, Paul and I drove into town just as the sun was setting. A whisker of moon dangled over the lake. And tendrils of mist rose from the chilly waters of Lake Superior drifting away, shape shifting into clouds. I wonder sometimes how far away those clouds go before they spend themselves as rain or snow. Or what the average life span of a cloud is.
Such wonderings once were the stuff of poetic musings. Now, they are grist for Googling. Way less satisfying. Facts are, after all is said and done, a bit like fiber: necessary, but in need of spice and sweetening.
The morning after my wolf fright, I stepped out onto a sparkling of snow on all the paths. Now is the time of year when I walk on our paths as if on a balance beam, lest I sink knee deep into the untrammeled snow on either side. With each step I add one more to-do to my list of chores: scrape the chicken roosts; give the yearling goat kids their booster shots; try moving the injured black hen into the barn with the other retired layers.
My friend, John Hendricksson, a Gunflint Lake summer resident and author, is a bit puzzled by my recent acquisitions of bunnies and goats and one llama. When I told him early last summer about my newly filled barn and rabbitry, he asked, “So......what’s the point of all this?”
I couldn’t answer him to my satisfaction, but babbled something lame about collecting fiber to spin or sell. Surely not excuse enough for all this effort. But trekking carefully to the barn on my perilously narrow paths, recalling the adventure of the night and the pleasant chores stretching out before me, I found the answer to John’s question.
It’s a mystery.
Like the hair-raising reaction to a wolf’s song. Or where Superior’s clouds end up.
It can’t be explained. It can’t be justified. And thankfully, it certainly can’t be Googled.