Art by Judy Pfeifer
Used with permission of the artist.
Grandmother sat at her loom by the fire. Her fingers danced across the strings like a harpist. A beautiful pattern of intertwining loops grew into a tapestry from nothing more than the little balls of thread on her lap. She came to the end of a white strand and worked in a thread of black until you couldn’t see where one began and the other ended. The moon was full and low and pregnant.
Grandmother’s house sat on the side of a low mountain. Below the house, there was a thick line of forest and beyond that a bog. The bog was usually wrapped in a thick mist, but that night everything was clear. The bog lay barren and unprotected. That empty place under the light of the moon was like a secret. I thought if I were a decent sort of person, I would look away, but I couldn’t.
In that circle of moonlight, I saw the woman who ran with wolves for the first time. She appeared from the forest and into the bog with her hair wild and silver in the wind. Two wolves loped behind her. One was white and the other black. If they followed her lead or chased her, I couldn’t tell. The wolves stopped at the edge of the bog and took up a fight. The woman dropped to her hands and knees and started to dig. The wolves rolled and bit until they were a blur of black and white. You couldn’t see where one began and the other ended. The woman took no notice. She left the hole she’d dug and crawled forward to start another.
“Who is she?” I whispered.
“Ach,” Grandmother pulled her thread tight. “The moon is full and you’ve grown old enough to see the world as it truly is. I’ll wager you’ve caught your first glimpse of the Bog Woman.”
“Where does she come from?”
Grandmother took the dark ball of thread from her lap and held it in her old, gray hand. The ball was as dark and rich as the peat soil of the bog. The chill of the night moved across my skin. The wind moaned and the wolves howled. “That answer is buried in the past, all the way down to the first women who ever lived and loved and wished she was better than she’d been.” Grandmother cut the thread and took up a line of red.
“What is she doing?” I asked.
“Some say she used to meet a man out there at the edge of the forest by the bog. It has always been a place of secrets. When he was young, that man had found a bag of gold on a bench in the courtyard of the market. It had a name on it, but instead of finding the owner, he concealed it in his pocket. On his way home, he saw the hat maker. A hat! He’d never bought a hat before. He’d never needed one.
“The thrill of the purchase made the trees greener, the sky bluer. For a moment in time, he was full of a power he’d never known before. He told the hat maker that his father had sent him to pick it out, because he would need it for a journey they would take together. He wasn’t going anywhere with his father, of course. In fact, the hat would never be any use to him at all. If he ever wore it, his parents would know he hadn’t come by it honestly. When he got home, he hid it under his bed.
“That silly, stolen hat tormented him. Every time there was a knock at the door, he was sure it was the owner of the gold come to tell his parents what he’d done. The shame of his parents knowing his wrong doing frightened him where the theft had not. He buried the hat and the empty bag in the peat like dead men. Even when it was lost in the earth, he feared the owner of the bag would find him and give him away. He had dared to be a thief, but he couldn’t stand to be known as a fool.
“One day, her lover left her in the bog with his other treasures. He married a wealthy girl and never returned. The woman couldn’t stand to be known as a fool, but a heart isn’t a hat. It can’t be buried and left for dead. She has stayed in the bog ever since, digging for the hidden story of someone else’s shame. While she digs, her wolves fight untended.”
“Are those wolves good or evil?” They both looked wild and dangerous.
“Neither. All of us live with two wolves, but we keep them hidden inside. One wolf is love, compassion, forgiveness…all that drives us to good. The other is jealousy, anger and fear…all that drives us to hurt. Our wolves battle to the death.”
The woman was bent and old and desperate, but I still saw the beauty in her. If she could find solace from such a battle, certainly I could too.
“Which wolf will win?” I asked.
“That’s her choice. “Grandmother tied a knot at the end of her work. “It will depend on which wolf she feeds.”