I drove. It was a long way, but not far off the motorway I came to a place of tall trees. A small village. I couldn’t follow the satnav and so I stopped the van and asked some people out walking a spotted dog, dappled. As I stepped out from the cocoon of my van I heard them, eerie on the wind, calling.
Down a track, to a beautiful house that looked for all the world like Withywoods, but brick and timber, and there they were.
I was supposed to be at a huge event at the Freemasons Hall in London, with Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, and George R R Martin. Instead I slept in a garden in the back of my van, wrapped in thick duvets with the back door opened wide to the night and the owls and the bats and the howling of wolves. Magic.
What magic. I arrived just as Jack and his family were about to take a wolf for a walk. Jack had written a letter to George RR about wolves, sending all his pocket money in and as a result George donated $10 000 to the Wolf Watch UK. He was there to present the cheque and to meet the wolves and walk with them. Close encounters with wild creatures.
I had taken too long to get there, dropping off paintings in Narberth at The Golden Sheaf on the way, but caught up with the walk and joined in, taking photos, talking. So lovely to meet a young man with such a passion for wild things.
The wolf prowled around my van. Jack got closer to a wolf than he had thought possible. Mary Bear chatted with Jack’s wolves.
( The wolves walk on chains mostly for their own safety. They are such canny creatures they would snip through leather in a flash of a tooth, and if ever they were to escape they would be shot, because of that fear of wild things, not by The Wolf Watch, but by the authorities. So they walk on a chain, and they are in control of where they walk, going where they want, stopping to sniff, keeping in constant communication with their pack by howling, scent marking, rolling, resting in long grass, then back to their home to be greeted by the pack. It gives people a chance to meet them, to learn from them. They act as ambassadors for the wild wolves and raise awareness and money for wild wolf projects.)
Then everyone left and I settled down to look and to watch and to think. I made a picnic supper of bread and cold meats and olives. As I did I turned around to see right behind me about two meet away, two pairs of eyes watching. The wolves had come up on silent, clever paws and were watching me, unafraid, at ease.
I walked around between the enclosures and at one found the three wolves playing with ropes. In the day they had watched as the ropes were tied to the walls of the cages. When they thought everyone had gone they began to untie them, with tooth and claw. They stopped for a moment. Why was I there? There shouldn’t be a human there. They watched me. I was no threat to them. And then they continued with their game. Clever wolves. A sharp, fierce intelligence.
I was tired. As dusk began to fall I watched the wolves run, around great enclosures, racing each other, running with each other, stopping to howl, ten wolves together hurtling through stands of trees. The day faded. One by one stars came. I fell to sleep and dreams, even as the wolves were still running.
At 4 am I woke. The sun was so near the edge of the horizon and ten wolves were joining voices with the stars.
Drifting back off and then early to the enclosures I wandered the walls and then tried so hard to learn the shape of the wolf. Drawing is all about looking, dropping the part of your mind that runs eyes over something and then tells the brain ‘wolf’, and really looking, learning the shape, the movement, the space a wolf takes in the world. So I drew and I waited and drew and looked and took photos.
Why do people fear wolves? I think it is because of their obvious intelligence, their superior strength, their wildness. Why do wolves fear people? Simply because wolves are intelligent. I fear people, more than I fear wolves.
The wolves here have literary connections. Michelle Paver of Wolf Brother fame came here to experience wolves close up and runs creative writing classes here sometimes. Tsa’s wolves were in Angela Carter’s Company of Wolves film ( though they also used dogs)
And then they arrived. Two weary authors, looking wonderful despite the gruelling book tour that saw Fool’s Assassin come in to the best seller lists at no 4, Jane Johnson and Robin Hobb. And Robin didn’t know that she was coming to see wolves, only that she was coming to meet up and spend just a bit of time, away from the cameras and the press and the signings, before doing an interview with Radio 4 and then heading back to US for brief rest before more touring.
Mary Bear got hold of the Harper Voyageur mobile and tried to call in and make an appointment. And she had a cuddle with Robin. We talked and ate a picnic and walked with a wolf and it was good to see them both. Then the day was over much to soon and I headed back to Wales with a head full of wolves and ideas.
We picked up feathers along the way. Robin found a jay’s feather with a flash of blue. Jane and I spotted a wide buzzard feather, so I have added them to my haul and will write something when the right words arrive, something short. We had talked about the differences in how we all write. So often my stories are carried in my head for a while then come out over a number of days or weeks where as both Jane and Robin carry a much larger universe inside their minds that take so much longer. How to find the time to write when so much else is expected. How to capture that peace of mind and space necessary. Always for me this is the silence, the space, devoid of people, the mind settling. George Mackay Brown called it an interrogation of silence. The answers he found to his interrogation were always beautiful.
Now it is time to settle to paint, to remember to draw from life, something I don’t do enough, to look and to learn and the interrogate the silence . Time to hunt words and images with the strength of a wolf.
There is also Wolf Watch Uk, a beautiful wild valley of wolves. I was lucky enough to visit there a few years back thanks to Robin ( Mr Stenham) arranging a special surprise for my birthday. Here I howled with wolves, so close that the sound of wolf music wrapped all around me. Wonderful. Walking wild.
And I came home to my small tigers. Walking wild, beautiful.
Meanwhile, this is where I should have been: Lovely to see Jane, Robin and Geore RR on stage, and such a splendid stage.
During conversation at lunch woodpigeons were fluttering in the trees. Robin/Megan asked what the noise was and what the birdsong was. Jane and I both casually said, “Woodpigeons.” They are common. “Now I understand the lines from a book,” said Megan. ” In Rebecca. She talks of the sound of woodpigeons in the trees.” She may not remember her house number but has a remarkable memory for story.” I love what she says here about writing for children too.