The wolf nibbled at the bone—there was nothing nourishing on it, nothing at all, yet she was desperate. All around her, the ice had not yet thawed and the wind blew chill. This cold—surely it must come to an end and warmth arrive? Warmth that would make life easier again. Life and food, healing, recovery—she longed for it.
In the meantime, she gnawed at this dry bone and let some memory of flesh feed her. She was not ready to die. There was more that she could do when she was warm again, when there was green again, when there was life once more.
When there was nothing left on the bone, nothing even to imagine, the wolf slunk off through the moonlit darkness, her coat staring, her eyes dull. She felt defeated and old. Yet within her ravaged body there was a spark of hope, a small image of a future where she was wanted—wise elder of her pack. She could see herself like the true offspring of her own half-remembered grand-dam. She had been grizzled, yet fierce and tender all at once.
Some part of her knew the truth of this image. The wolf saw herself part of a pack, nourished with food, snug in a comfortable den not living hard in a scrape of a cave barely out of the wind. Yet as she reached that shelter, she was grateful even for that, for some possibility of huddled warmth. She fell asleep immediately.
When she woke, she was dazed. It was perhaps the next day already but the sky was dark and a flurry of snow was all she could see. So she fell asleep again, giving in to the sense that, more even than food, her body needed rest.
When she woke again, it seemed like a night and a day had passed. The snow had gone but the sky was dull and the forest dripped with melted cold. The wolf got up and sniffed at the air to see whether she and the world were yet ready for each other. But after one chilled breath, her heart said ‘No’ and she returned to her shelter. She turned three times, curled herself small and let her yearning for rest take over.
Later, much later, more than hours, beyond days, she woke again, the wolf, and she stared out into the darkness.
But it was no longer dark. It was no longer snowing, it hardly dripped. Gleaming on leaves on the forest floor she could make out sunlight.
The wolf cast aside her weariness, cast aside her hunger, and she moved out into the forest eager to find a patch of sun.
She halted as a haze of warmth misted around her. She caught a glimpse of flight in the distance. A large white butterfly lazed unsteadily in front of her before landing on a sole flower, a pink bloom. It perched on the petals and the wolf watched as it slowly opened and closed its wings in the light.
The wolf set off until she came to a clearing in the forest. A shelf of rock faced toward the east. She lay down on the sun-warmed stone. As she lay there, the warmth penetrated beneath her coat, beneath her skin, into her muscles, ligaments and organs, deep into her body. She lay still, panting steadily, until she was warmed right through. She lay there for a long time, dozing with gratitude.
Then all at once, she heard something familiar. It was distant, it was far away but it startled her from slumber.
What was it? Howling?
She listened more closely. No, wolves. They were howling, a whole pack of them.
The wolf sprang to her feet and padded to the edge of the forest with a speed that surprised her.
When the trees and undergrowth thinned, she saw them.
Away on the other side of the grassland, they were howling for her. The wolves, her new pack, were calling her home.
I later realised that wrote this story for some personal soul support because there was something gnawing at me, some need, some hunger that the story illuminated. It also seems to honour this shift into ‘wise elderhood’ that has come up as a theme recently both in my own life and in conversations with people. How do we move through times of challenge and difficulty into times of ease? How do we honour changing roles? Find new tribes? These are threshold questions worthy of a fable.
I also became aware that perhaps I wrote it in tribute of rest, of the deep rest we need at times of illness and disease; the rest we need when the world is not yet ready for our new idea of ourselves and nor is the idea itself ready. And the rest we need regularly—nightly sleep, regular slumber, a rhythm of quiet time, and true holiday.
We also need to respect the aspects of transformation that cannot occur through effort but only while we rest and allow other forces to work. The need for rest is a great mystery that we must heed if we are not to exhaust our selves; the paradox of summoning up our intention, voicing it to the world, and then ‘resting’ from frantic activity so that we allow the world to respond.