Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Night symphony

I pull on my snow pants, shrug into my jacket, Morgan pokes his head in the door, “Hurry, you can hear the wolves howling and yipping all around out here.”

I stuff my feet into my boots, pull on my toque and my new gauntlet-style mitts and step out into the crisp night air.

I take a few squeaking steps across the packed snow around our low deck. The sound is amplified in the quiet of the forest at night, the sky so dark it could be right there above us, within reach just beyond the treetops.

The moon isn’t up yet, or maybe it has already set, the stars are hidden in the flat black sky. We stand in the pool of warm light gathered outside the windows of our house and listen.

It is silent. My breath puffs out in slow curling clouds in front of my face as I try to breathe quietly so it does not fill my ears. The night is still. Cold pushes against my bubble of layers but I’m warm except for the flick of winter against my face.

Morgan walks toward the tree line, boots squeaking over snow, his coat crinkles loudly, slightly brittle in the cold. He cups his hand to his face and howls at the sky, a long mournful siren filling the space between the trees. When he stops, the absence of the sound rings in my ears.

There is a moment of silence and then an answering howl, like an echo circling around a great canyon. And then another rises up from the darkness, starting in low, gaining power until it sounds as though it is coming right from the very edge of our tiny forest, though I picture them sitting atop the mountains, calling one to another. It is like we are in a domed theatre, their voices curve around and down to where we stand. I can almost see them. For a moment we can believe they are calling just for us.

I picture the giant footprints in the snow I followed a few weeks before when Murdoch and I walked the trail. “Are these yours?” I called ahead incredulously to Murdoch before realizing he had galumphed his way through the deeper snow just off the trail. These prints, unlike Murdoch’s, were set down with a purpose; the owner of this trail was going somewhere. Each print was exactly like the one before, the spacing between perfectly equal, one in line with the next and the next, economy of motion. Murdoch’s trail looped and curved like a fraying rope left in an unraveling pile on the ground.

I imagine that wolf calling out into the darkness now, his voice tumbling down from the mountain, cutting effortlessly through the clear cold night air. The voices hang above the trees for a moment, haunt the spaces in between. They begin to fade away and then they’re gone.

We stand motionless in the creaking winter silence. Inside the dogs press their faces to the window.


  1. Lovely example of descriptive writing - I just fall into the page and find myself standing alongside you and Morgan. Sight is our dominate sense, but, wisely, given the nature of the article, you make lyrical appeal to our auditory sense. The starless night setting sounds with howling wolves and so I "see" everything with my ears. You juxtapose the quietness of the landscape against the powerful outcry of the droning wolves. The results are quite vivid. Initially, all is silent so subtle sounds surface: "puff" of breath, "boots squeaking", "night is still". [you listen so well] The silence ends with Morgan and his "long mournful siren" and the wolves' answering howl like an echo . . . gaining power". The wolf ululation even takes on a physical dimension as it becomes a "domed theater" where "voices curve around". In the final paragraphs, you go on to personalize one of these wolves through contrast with Murdoch. Bringing a smile to my face as usual, your crisp similes are target-on: Murdoch's trail is "curved like a fraying rope". For the ear, you conclude with the oxymoron "creaking winter silence"; for the eye, the domestic image of dogs pressing their faces to windows. Quite an enjoyable read.

  2. the wolves howl here, too, but they are in the zoo! doug and riley heard them yesterday morning when they walked before the sun was up. riley does not respond to the wolves' howl. he sits very quietly.

  3. Oh, the entire two years I was in northern Minnesota I hoped to hear the wolves howl - but never did! I never even made it to the International Wolf Center in Ely (I think that's what it was called). Thanks for sharing your night symphony, it was fun to experience it vicariously.

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone! Too bad you never got to hear the wolves Brenda :( glad you got something out of this post! I do wonder what the dogs think when they hear their wild cousins, or smell them on the trail. When our dogs hear other dogs yipping or barking in the distance they don't waste any time joining in but they never said a word that night to the wolves.