We pull up facing the ship channel at the end of the island and see a coyote down along the shore loping long-legged at the foamy waterline, turning up into the rocks, dipping and sniffing into the long grass of the bank below the old dock.
He says, You get coyotes in Canada?
I say, Jesus.
He shrugs. How will I know? I been there?
We get everything up there.
Stuff you never going see down here for sure. And we don’t have to import any weird species of deer from India for hunting, I can tell you that.
He shrugs again.
You get moose down here? I ask. Huh? You get elk? I don’t how many types of bear we got. Brown, Black, Cinnamon, Grizzly, Kodiak…all of them. Polar, obviously.
You got wolves?
I lived in a town called Wolf River!
But did you ever see a wolf?
Oh yeah? Up close?
Mmmm. Like he didn’t believe me.
Ok, listen, I said. I went with a buddy one time, was years back, to climb a mountain out at Banff. I woulda been around your age matter of fact. The plan was to climb up the back side and then down the face. I don’t know what we were thinking. We weren’t trained, practiced climbers. I’d never been anywhere near the top of a mountain! We were fit, sure enough. We’d been working the entire summer as roustabouts and field hands at the gas plant. Now it was September and we figured this was going to be our last chance before the snow flew. Someone had told my buddy – Chris, his name was, I remember right – that the route was very straightforward, up and over and down in one go. One day. Looking up there from the highway I wasn’t so sure. I was nervous from the start and then we were late getting onto the trail up into the canyons, and the sky wasn’t the pristine blue we’d thought it was going to be. And of course I was worried about bears, especially that time of year. And we were wearing work boots. Jesus! Not proper climbing footwear. And jeans and sweaters. Nothing proper for a climbing expedition. I had the strong feeling it was like, you know, like the stars whatever weren’t all that well aligned for us.
But you climbed a mountain! That’s pretty cool.
Nah. We never even got up the back side of it. The easy side. The thing was, it was miles in from the highway to the bottom of the mountain and then, we started climbing, it was up through miles and miles of incredibly steep scree where there was nothing to hang onto, just bent over climbing, slipping back, climbing. Time we actually got up into crags and outcrops and all of that exciting stuff we were beat. And then the weather was on us. Fog rolled in, the rain came on heavy, I got a nose bleed and then I just plain got spooked, and I think Chris did too, and we decided the best thing, the right thing, was to play it safe and go back down, try again some other time.
That’s too bad.
Which we never did.
But you saw a wolf.
Yeah. We weren’t talking much by that point. We’d staggered down out of the cloud cover, off the scree into the trees, soaking wet and wore out, disappointed and thinking we’d let each other down I suppose, and I remember we were into a stand of aspen. It was late afternoon but the light was still half-decent and we could still see what was around us, and I think it was Chris pointed across me into the trees on my side. Look, he whispered. Just keep walking but look. I looked across to my left and there, back maybe thirty yards in, amongst all the silvery bark in the last of the sunshine, was a big black wolf.
Gangly looking, is what I remember thinking. Rangy.
Chris said, Maybe it’s just a coyote. I said, If that’s a coyote it’s a big one. Just keep walking. I mean, it was like it was stalking us. We kept on walking, trudging more like, down and down and round and down the trail into the valley, and the wolf kept pace with us, thirty yards out, no more no less, until, down deep into the valley in the gloom, we couldn’t see it anymore.
In my memory I can see its yellow eyes even after the dark came down but that’s likely just fanciful.
I have a photograph somewhere. A polaroid. We took shots in the direction of the wolf while we were walking and there was one where you could see it, against the trunks of the trees, watching us, making sure we got off the property.
Look! He pointed through the windshield to the ship channel where a couple tugs and a pilot boat were heading out towards the Gulf to bring in a tanker to one of the refineries across the waterway.
See, he said? I bet you don’t get porpoise up there in your wolf country. Huh? See ‘em?
I did see and they were beautiful. They were leaping back and forth across the bow of the lead tug, through the waves and the sun’s glitter. He laughed and turned his face toward me. Listen, he said. I got to get going. We got company coming for dinner.
That’s ok, I said, and leaned across the console to kiss him.
What will you do?
I’m good, I said. I got beer in the room. I’ll get a pizza.
He turned the truck around and we headed back, bumped down from the levee onto the beach road and past the houses out on the beach, on stilts, against the Gulf, and then up across the bridge over the waterway into town.
Mark Cassidy was born in the UK (Glasgow) and emigrated to Canada after his schooling was finished. He worked all round the world and is now living and working in Texas.