When I flew to California in September, the golden archipelago summer, verdant below and mazarine above, still held sway. Twenty-three days and eleven thousand two hundred and forty miles later, if you’d sat here with me on the back deck this afternoon--you’d know, too--autumn now envelopes Sweden in a patchwork of yellow, red and gold below and scudding cumulus above. A persistent wind off the Baltic, sometimes warm but increasingly chill as the days unfold, rushes up and over the granite ridge beyond with its warning: if the coming winter isn’t just around the corner, it’s around the next corner after that.
At eight o’clock on Thursday night, Arne Holmqvist returns from Vissvass, where he’s been hunting the last of the shy chanterelles--Cantharellus cibarius--a reclusive but prized fungus that hides amongst the snag and pine. Monday morning, the photo caption on the front page of the local paper reads, "The she-wolf, born last year and collared as a weanling, is moving South from Norway, and has been sighted in Vissvass." The Middle Russian forest wolf, Canis lupus lupus, often travels solo and will walk up to twelve miles a day, and often around the clock, a wildlife official from Tyresta National Forest says, opining to the reporter that "she may be looking for a place to winter over." It is noted, too, that no wolf has travelled into the Kommun for more than a decade.
A magpie, perhaps the last, arrives, all bluster in black and white. This Pica pica brakes his wings and lands on a lump of fallen leaves in a fluff. "One for sorrow…" my mind intones. Then, another glides onto the dying grass by the blueberry bush. It hops three or four times. On the last, it is with a bounce and a bark or a quack, depending on your interpretation of a magpie's screech. "Two for joy," I whisper, as they begin to work the ragged lawn for what wormy bounty the tired summer soil might yet yield.
"At first, I didn’t realise it was a wolf but the photos make it clear," Arne is quoted as saying. "I hope the Kommun won’t let her be killed. Maybe no one will complain this time." The forest manager at the National Park is queried and her expertise catalogued by the reporter: "If she moves further down the peninsula, she will have a better chance," the expert concludes.
It's early October, and I already miss my smallest summer friends. Tuxedoed in blue and yellow, Cyanistes caeruleus, the Eurasian blue tits, have abandoned me for warmer climes, off to the Azores, perhaps, or Northern Africa. How I love those boisterous little birds. Two pair nested in the boxes I offered them, one in the old birch and the other in a rowan tree, from earliest spring. By midsummer there were a dozen or more, chittering and flitting, first thing in the morning in the big old beech that overhangs the footpath to the stream, next bouncing from branch to branch and tree to tree, then swooping down to the windmill feeder, or even landing here on the deck to tease me, right outside my study window. Sometimes they'd visit the odd yellow tubular feeder, purchased in a moment of sale-catalogue weakness, grabbing some seed and disappearing, always to return with the mid-morning sun the next day. But no longer.
Since Arne Holmquist’s chance encounter, the Kommun’s Facebook page says on Sunday, there have been two further reported sightings of "Ylva", as a group of youngsters at Tyresö Forskolan voted to call the wanderer. "This is an area of pilgrimage," their teacher, Mrs Halvesson, writes in her FB post, "and it means ‘she-wolf’, I told the class. Such interested children!" On Monday, early, she edits her post to add a new detail: Google research has revealed to her that ‘Ylva’ is a derivative of the Old Norse ‘úlfr,’ which means wolf. "The children will be making large posters of ‘Ylva the Úlfr’ for display in the school lobby over the coming week," she writes, and adds a smiley face.
It is at this time of year that the golden eagles (if I am observant) will be most active. With their broad wings and longish tail, you might be convinced you’re looking at a buzzard, but the outline is quite different. The buzzard, the old man up the road told me when first we moved here, is much smaller. The majestic Aquila chrysaetos glides on air currents, he explained, holding its wings in a shallow ‘V’-shape to remain aloft. Golden eagles choose nesting places and mark out territories which may be used for generations by the same birds, I later read. This area, a jumble of rocky ridges, spurs, crags, scree, and steep upslopes of lichen- and moss-covered granite, must be just right for such an eagle thinking to catch a thermal and be carried into the heavens.
"Still another sighting has been reported this morning, this time just beyond the fence around the train station," Username SvenMB posts later that afternoon. No further detail is forthcoming. "I hope the newspaper will give us another report soon, and more pictures. I don’t trust the authorities," user MrMarsdenV adds to the post in a Reply. Sixty-seven have Liked the post by the time evening rolls around. Just before ten, user KristiVakkmen posts a graphic: it's a dreamcatcher above a wolf in the snow. The over-text in the lower right reads:
She howls at midnight.
Mist drifts from her singing jaws,
Starlight hits the snow.
The sky isn’t cerulean today, but almost. Not a cloud, not one. Oh! A flash, black and red and white. I imagine it could be the elusive spotted woodpecker, that furtive pied Dendrocopos major that’s teased me with its distant knok knok knok for too long. By the time my eyes adjust there is nothing to see. It’s ok, I think, if I never see that bird. I close my eyes then, hoping that for once my will will will it into my sight. Isn't it sufficient to console myself, to know it is near, pecking seeds from the pine cones, insect larvae from inside the trees and even spiriting away the eggs and chicks of other birds from right inside their nests? I am happy that it breeds in secret, in furtive holes excavated in these, the trees I call mine--living or dead will do if you're a woodpecker, it seems--in nests unlined apart from wood chips. It’s ok, I whisper again to the bird, live your life far from view and I will simply listen. I close my eyes….the next knok, knok, knok sounds closer as it writes itself in the still darkness behind my lids. My heart jumps. My eyes flash open. The tattoo has stopped and the woodpecker is gone.
The next morning, there are two hundred and thirteen Likes on the dreamcatcher post.
Cynthia Reed is a retired technical author who’ll someday (she claims) complete her novel and collection of linked short stories. Previous work has appeared in Sobotka Literary Magazine, as well as anthologies in Europe, Asia and the US. She lives in Sweden with Derek (the husband) and Solo (the wonderdog).
Located in Sweden.