I know my children. I know them in an unknowable place that is inside me and beyond me. I know the shapes their souls take when they think no one is looking.
Evelyn was my wolf daughter. She was born to the bear in me. To the internal force all women—all mothers—know within themselves that stretches like a taproot into the void of time, and from which they can call upon infinite reserves of strength and energy whenever their child is threatened.
It is the devouring, the part of a woman's soul that is cast in shadow, that is ready at a moment's notice to dismantle the world in order to save, nourish, protect her young.
It is the part that scares the shit out of civilized men.
She was the cub of my black bear heart. In my mothering, especially and particularly in my mothering of her, I saw in myself a frightening and mighty capability—a ruthless and reckless and absolutely joyous and wild freedom—the knowing that I would and could do anything to nurture her. It is the nature of a love so consuming it cannot be held in captivity. And it is pure magic—the spiritual and psychic inheritance of all mothers.
My Evelyn came in like a flower, like a sigh. She came in as the night sky. She was full of twinkle with no voice. Her songs gusted within her like so many trapped winds. But I could hear her singing when others could not. She was never silent to me. Our conversations were deep and many from that very first night.
With time and patience and the help of many precious ones along the way, we taught our wolf girl how to howl, how to intone the speakings of her innermost self. And that is all she knew. She never learned the way this world of man speaks—on the surface of the tongue. She knew only how to speak the language of truth. How to call up all her strength and pitch it through her throat into the world at large.
I miss her howls. I miss the wild mothering she awakened in me. I miss the untouchable feeling I experienced when she was first placed in my arms—a raw, unbridled kind of power that is wholly feminine. I miss believing in myself so completely, in my instincts as a mother, in my knowing as a bear, that it never even registered to me that my children would die, let alone could die on my watch. I miss the scent of her, and the thickness of her hair. I miss her quiet, wolfish ways. Her silent steps in the dark. The speaking of her eyes.
The mother bear in me is broken. Her coat is coarse and matted. Her eyes dulled. She has taken to her den in despair. She will hibernate forever. Spring will not come again. She chews at her own claws until the quicks bleed. She wears her teeth down on rocks. Her sleep is fitful at best. Her dreams have all died in her breast. The call of her cubs barely stirs her anymore. She does not know how to be anything to them if she cannot be everything. Her power is not simply gone. It was never real at all. She believes herself to be a lie.
If I am not a bear mother, I don't know what I am. I stand outside her cave and dig my hands into the dust. I set myself against the stone and listen for her heartbeat in the rock. I need her to whisper to me the secrets of her dreaming ways again. I need to know the plants that heal, the trees that are best for rubbing and scratching, the streams that are most plentiful, and the roads that can't be crossed. I need to wring the wisdom from her paws and read the world through her nose. I am blind without her. I am bear blind. I am heart blind. I walk in darkness without the wolf daughter at my side.
I have to remind myself that I still know my children. I know them in an unknowable place that is inside me and beyond me. I know the shapes their souls take when they think no one is looking.
I have to remind myself that Evelyn is still my wolf daughter. And broken as I am, I am still her mother bear.
I have to remind myself that if I listen with my heart, I can hear her calling to me in ways that do not require words. I have to remind myself that her soul is still taking shape, even if her body has lost its form.
To mother a dead child is to need your instincts even more. If I cannot look with the thousand eyes of intuition, I will never see her again. If I cannot listen for the sound of her silent song, I will never hear her voice. If I cannot rouse the bear mother from her cave, my cub is lost to me in both this world and the next. If I cannot feel her as the wolf she is, and not just the girl she was, I will lose myself in the searching. I will lose us all.
Sometimes, when I am still, when I am wretched and caving in on myself, I feel the poetry of my soul reaching for her through space immeasurable. I feel something unfurl within me, the way a fiddlehead fern reaches for the light, and I imagine the ears of the bear inside me twitching. I imagine Evelyn howling to me across the universe. I imagine her fragrance on a far wind.
My eldest daughter says we speak in dreams. That she wakes with our final words on her lips, and her sister's voice still ringing in her ears. She is a child of the snake, my eldest, a child of the earth and the dark and the burrow. All soft and vulnerable, yet so much stronger than she knows. There is fire in her. There is venom. But she never strikes in vain. Her wisdom came in like a full set of teeth. She was born old.
When she tells me that we meet in the dreaming—she, Evelyn, and I—as beasts and women and family, I listen. I believe her. And I whisper that truth to the bear holed up in the caverns of my heart. I tell her that I need to wear her skin when I walk the ways of dreaming. That I need her sight in the darkness and her nose to pick out the path that will lead us all together again. I tell her that our wolf daughter is still out there, in the unknowable place that is inside and beyond me. That her soul is still taking shape, even when no one is looking. I tell her we should be looking.
I know my children. To know them in an unknowable place that is inside me and beyond me is to know the shapes their souls take. It is to believe in those shapes long after their bodies are gone, long after mine is gone. It is to feel the shape of my own soul curled around theirs. It is to build a meeting place for us in the dreaming, and to walk the night paths there again and again. It is to learn to bloom in the dark, so that when the sun fades, we go on, a garden unto ourselves.
To be a mother is to be the soil in which your children take root. If they are to thrive, you must dig your ground deep into the world beneath this one. Then, when the topsoil washes away, they will hold fast. And you will have a place to return to where they are. You must know their souls better than you know their bodies.
I hope that when Evelyn died, when she was released so unexpectedly from the hold of her body, that her spirit ran like the wolf she became, and that the medicine of her heart poured out like a never-ending howl. I will listen for her song in the dark, and howl back whenever I hear her. I will sit at the mouth of the cave for as long as my bear heart needs. I will wait for it to emerge and take a new shape, one that can run at my daughter's side.