During dinner one night last week Bobby said, “We’re supposed to go out and howl.”
“At 8 o’clock, we’re supposed to go out and howl.”
He said a neighbor who he sees on his daily walk ha shouted across the street to him—“Howl with us!”
They’ve started howling every night at 8pm and have been getting other neighbors to do it, too. By neighbors I mean the people we know who live in the woods near us, they’re not people we can see from our house.
And so that night, after dinner, we stepped outside. The moon was incredibly bright, which helped, because I wasn’t feeling it. But Bobby just started right up. I’m not a good howler—you’d think I would be, but no. My howls sound like the way howls are written—How how how! Bobby, on the other hand, has a good howl, which you might find surprising, seeing as he’s more civilized than I. But no, his howls have that ragged quality that mimics actually howling, you don’t see the word spelled out in his howls. You hear wildness.
The idea was that we were supposed to be able to hear our neighbors.
“Wait, do you hear that?” I said. Bobby stopped.
We listened and then it came—it was our dog, barking at us from inside the house.
Our dog is a rat terrier and she’s vigilant the way terriers can be—she barks at the wind, at leaves rustling. Sometimes she’ll start barking in the middle of the day and we’ll realize she’s barking at us—something I moved in a kitchen drawer, or Bobby shuffling around in his studio.
“It’s me!” I will holler.
“It’s just me,” Bobby says from upstairs.
I felt stupid standing there howling. Makes me wonder if there are stupid animals—and not in the way that humans like to say certain animals are smarter than others. I mean like in a pack of wolves, is there the smart one? And then the stupid one? Or many stupid ones?
Years back when I was living in the city, I had to howl in a workshop for a new play. I did so many plays, which seems so strange now—theater, that thing we used to make in dark spaces, wearing costumes and pretending to be other people, acting out stories, this practice must have descended from our ancestors telling stories by the fire. Is that what we’ll be returning to? This play was about New York City and gentrification, the recurring motif was a wolf that had gotten loose and was roaming the city. This is where I learned my howl wasn’t good.
“Ok,” the director said to me after the first time I tried it, “let’s see if you can do it again and really dig into it.”
Again, I lamely howled.
“Right…” I looked around the table at the other actors, most of them too embarrassed to look at me. Oh god, I thought, I’m a horrible howler!
We couldn’t hear our neighbors howling so we went back in. I think Bobby went out to do it the next night, I continued to put away dinner things.
Yesterday an article came out in the local paper, which isn’t a paper anymore, it’s only published online, ever since the shutdown…the article was about folks in Woodstock and the surrounding areas howling every night at 8pm.
My friend Nancy texted me last night, attaching the article.
“We’re going to howl.” She wrote.
I wrote back that we had tried it but couldn’t hear anyone.
She said a whole group of them were going to do it. “If nothing else,” she wrote, “it will blow off some steam.” Then a few minutes later, ”they’re howling in Bearsville,” a hamlet near where we live. I guess they could all hear each other. How nice for them, I thought, bitterly, alone with my wolf husband, no pack to answer us. Do animals feel resentment, I wonder? Or is that one of those things only humans have developed.
Sometimes I think it would be so great to return to the earth, I don’t mean to die and be buried, not yet anyway. But, to live more simply, depend less on the modern world—it’s not like I’m living a ridiculously extravagant lifestyle, we live in a cottage in the woods, but we drive a car, we have our tablets and smart phones, we shop at the grocery store, order things online to be shipped to our house. Before all this I was flying to LA 5-6 times a year, taking the bus to the city once a week. Will I go back to doing those thing again?
Krishnamurti said: “When one loses the deep intimate relationship with nature, then temples, mosques and churches become important.”
Which implies that nature—the earth and its places, unruined by human civilization--is holy. I believe that. But as in most things, when it comes to worshipping the earth, I am not devout, I dabble, while longing to have greater faith, to be of greater use, I’m not there yet. I stand outside the doors of the temple, with the bad kids, smoking cigarettes. I can hear the music coming from inside the temple, though, birdsong and wind, the stream outside our front door and the trees that creek in the winter. I hear coyotes crying at night, which is not the same as howling, which I still have yet to hear. But, I will try again. Even if my howl is bad, and even if I never hear the others, I may be able to touch something wilder in me.