Conversation 45

Now That You’re Dead
I’m Observing
Great Bodies of Water

Sandra Simonds


Your eyes repeat the landscape

Summer J. Hart

Ink, salt, water, and air on paper
28 x 36 cm

IMG_4574 2

The Last Matriarch

Karen McBride

Watercolour and ink on paper
21 x 26 cm

I Followed a Wolf Ghost

Angélique Lalonde

I followed a wolf ghost down to the river. Tracks on the snow like an imprint of my own hand, only with claws and wolf pads. My hand is the size of any small cantaloupe, or large maple leaf. The size of a medium women’s glove intended to protect a hand from thistle, bramble, splinters, or rope burn. The wolf ghost’s tracks slipped sideways off my ski trail, which I had made passing over snow, day after day through the winter—setting track—two parallel lines compressed into snow by my weight. My compendium of human smells mixing now with wolf scent—a scent I could not decipher, but which my dog followed, nose to snow, knowing a thousand secrets I did not about the wolf we were following and where its trail might lead. She knew by dog knowing what the wolf had been eating and scratching, whether it was male or female, in oestrous, seeking prey nearby whose scents I also could not feel. 

Halfway to the river the tracks disappeared, and that’s how I knew we’d been following a wolf ghost rather than a flesh-and-blood wolf who could not, like this wolf ghost, transform into something that could take flight, or dematerialize. I wanted to say it might have become a dark-matter wolf ghost, because it was not interacting with regular matter in any way I could perceive, but I knew little of dark matter, or of wolves, or ghosts, or regular matter and its limits, so this was pure conjecture on my part—a desire to make meaning of fantastical things, to pin them to the real world. As if everything could possibly be known by human knowing. 

I had words so I gave word to form and formlessness: wolf ghost, dark matter. 

I had words and a track vanished into thin air, so I surmised. So I went on. I followed the dog, who still had a scent I did not, but now the scent was in the air—vaporous, rather than on the earth.

She may have been leading me astray, but it was nice to have someone leading me, suggesting a path to follow that might lead to revelation, danger, or deep confounding questions that I did not need answers to, but needed to feel as questions in order to feel alive. Someone leading me outside of the endless cycles of thought spurred by fear in a world violent with human impulses, in a world broken by lifestyles of want fringed by despair, by wealth dependent on impoverishment. Tap, click, a screen lit up, hello? Are you there, out there in the world? I can’t feel you across this interface, but still I do feel some surge in my body—a response. So it must be at least something shared?

I ached for the wolf ghost to teach me how to change course—become vapour, become air, become dark matter—wanting to feel the influences of these subtle forces, and for feeling them to alter the materiality of my body. A body rendered inert and disassociated by living in a disconnected world so that I felt myself as Other in a world of wolves, ghosts and vapour, rather than as one.

The dog led me to a mossy cleft in the bank—a vertical slit where water was dripping, pouring, flowing, ice melting to rivulet, snow melting to groundwater seeping through earth to ooze out of a cliff face tufted with moss and lichen—themselves home to microscopic cosmos I knew of theoretically but remained perceptually incoherent of because of my limited abilities to feel into the world’s complexity and meld. I had seen what microscopes could show me of tardigrades and knew they were there in the moss—awakening to the sun’s heat all along the folds of the cleft where the dog led me, but could form no picture in my mind of their microscopic form. And then there was the cleft itself, which resembled a giant green vulva, clitoris and all. A hundred times I had passed that cliff face on my journeys to the river, and never before seen the cleft. I inhaled deeply the scent of cedar, perched on the cliff above the cleft, whose roots encircled it before disappearing into moss and rock. A cedar leaning out over the river, pulled towards earth by gravity, yet growing skyward, pinioned to the bank by a towering hemlock whose roots had melded with the cedar’s, leveraging its body’s weight against the force of gravity to keep the cedar from careening off the bank into riverbed. I was not so blind as to miss the profound implication of meld I was being given as my body leaned towards the cleft. I wore synthetic fibres to keep my skin safe, I had been taught, from the wet cold, to keep my skin comfortable, allowing my hairless body to dwell in a winter that would otherwise freeze me. I had been taught that my organism would be unable to cope with the elements without human technologies and garments. That without such garments I would be dead—a body consumed by a wolf on the banks of a river, should I freeze there, should all my costumes fall away. My clothes were not a shield, exactly, because had the wolf been made of regular matter, my clothes would have been simply one extra layer to tear through—something to spit out before arriving at the real solid meat of me.

I had a sense I was being led to another world—the cleft a portal, the wolf ghost a lure, and here I was, tripped up at its mystery, apprehending and being unmade by the spectre of its otherworldliness lapping at the boundaries of my flesh. The wolf ghost whispered at me from the cleft to come in.

What manner of folly would it be for a human to heed a wolf ghost’s call?

The dog, for her part, looked at me expectantly. “I have led you here, and now?”

She did not believe I should enter. She lifted her left ear, as though a reminder. “Your body will not fit in that crevasse, your bulk would rip the moss off the cleft’s rim.You would desacralize it.”

“You know about sacrilege, then?”

And she turned, mouth to tail, in fast circles, her lithe brown body splayed on the wet rocks, ecstatic. Pounced up again to repeat the performance as many times as felt titillating, and then ran to me, playfully checking me with her back haunches, before bounding to edge of the river where the massive ice floes had been melted in a semi-circle by water flowing from the bank. 

Meanwhile the ghost wolf pulled at me from the cleft, it’s breath a whisper that sounded like “zephyr,” which I balked at, because really, as if a ghost wolf here on the bank of the river Xsan would ever use such a word! It was absurd, so I questioned its motives, and its simplicity, and my own powers to listen and hear in the right way, reaching my face towards the cleft, inhaling, peering in as far as I could see. 

It was inappropriate for me to penetrate this interstice, this I knew.

Yet the interstice called me, a liminal verge, wanting me to hover at its revelation and become other than I was. 

I turned my head to find an eagle feather, dangling from under a crag, wispy white down interwoven into a moss forest, tip pointing down, the feather a symbol of a creaturely adaptation to sky—an invitation I sensed but could not understand. A physical apparition drawing me away from the pull of the cleft back into the world of the riverbank. All of these languages, and me here, with words, thinking “feather,” thinking “moss,” thinking “gift,” thinking “what magic is thus revealed, then refolded, where have you gone, ghost, and what will become of what I have un-become when I scale the bank, home?”

I caught a glimpse of something moving in the trees above the bank. A tremor in the forest, and in its wake, stillness. I had seen enough movies to fear tremors in the forest, so my skin prickled. A different kind of fear than the mind loops of anxiety fuelled by the frazzled traffic of so many human lives lived out at the intersections of one another in my domestic, social, and  virtual real worlds. The dog barked, hair on nape prickled to attention. There was a sound, a howl? Or a whoosh? A howl elongated to a whoosh? 

And then an impression brushing fast against my face, sending me backward, my body into the embankment. A zephyr? No, more like a gust, a stamp of wind like the imprint of a large paw in wet snow. I put my hand up to my cheek and it fit the mark exactly, except at the tips of my fingers where small indentations stung my skin like those left by claws on a paw’s uplift.