Don Arnulfo’s Wolf Secrets.

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In Cormac McCarthy´s The Crossing (pages 41-49, 1994 edition), the second book of his Border Trilogy, Billy Parham, concerned that after some travail all efforts to trap a shewolf have failed, goes down to Animas to see old Don Arnulfo, find out if he could buy a scent off him. Don Arnulfo, old and sick, sells him no scent but gives him some wisdom in Spanish. One suspects that there is a lot at stake in this conversation, if it is a conversation—that something like the very issue of “the border” or “the crossing” is at stake in it. Don Arnulfo calls himself a heretic (“Y por eso soy hereje”), and his caretaker says of him to Billy that he is a godless man and a brujo.   Regardless, Don Arnulfo tells Billy words that Billy probably won’t be able to use for the hunt: “El lobo es una cosa incognoscible, he said. Lo que se tiene en la trampa no es mas que dientes y forro. El lobo propio no se puede conocer. Lobo o lo que sabe el lobo. Tan como preguntar lo que saben las piedras. Los arboles. El mundo.”  At this point, Don Arnulfo’s argument splits into two lines of thought that I find significant, but that I do not know how to relate to each other.

According to the first line (first in order of enunciation, although it could be logically second), the wolf and God are linked through something man does not know, or not normally: “He said that men believe the blood of the slain to be of no consequence but that the wolf knows better. He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in the world save that which death has put there. Finally he said that if men drink the blood of God yet they do not understand the seriousness of what they do.” This is the line that seems to be connected with the only thing that could be taken by Billy in the way of advice for the hunt. Don Arnulfo, after Billy has already said vaya con Dios to him, tells him to “find that place where acts of God and those of man are of a piece. Where they cannot be distinguished.” Billy, with some perplexity, asks about the place. Don Arnulfo responds that it is not a place you find, rather a place you recognize when it presents itself. And “he said that it was at such places that God sits and conspires in the destruction of that which he has been at such pains to create.” This is of course Don Arnulfo’s disagreement with God: “Y por eso soy hereje. Por eso y nada más.”

The second line, I could argue, seems to link wolves, and the animal in general, God, and the ontico-ontological difference. In fact, it is probably one of the great renditions of the ontico-ontological difference in twentieth-century literature. It goes: “Men wish to be serious but they do not understand how to be so. Between their acts and their ceremonies lies the world and in this world the storms blow and the trees twist and all the animals that God has made go to and from yet this world men do not see. They see the acts of their own hands or they see that which they name and call out to one another but the world between is invisible to them.” Don Arnulfo, who is holding the boy’s arm all along, is telling him something important, but difficult. He is a lonely and sick old man whom nobody visits any more. He is telling Billy something precious to him. “The wolf is like the copo de nieve . . . You catch the snowflake but when you look in your hand you dont have it no more. Maybe you see this dechado. But before you can see it it is gone. If you want to see it you have to see it on its own ground. If you catch it you lose it. And where it goes there is no coming back from. Not even God can bring it back.” The intensity of Don Arnulfo’s words tunes up in the last set of words before the releasement of Billy’s hand: “Escúchame, joven, the old man wheezed. If you could breathe a breath so strong you could blow out the wolf. Like you blow out the copo. Like you blow out the fire from the candela. The wolf is made the way the world is made. You cannot touch the world. You cannot hold it in your hand for it is made of breath only.”

I would like to understand the connection of Don Arnulfo’s two lines of speech. I suspect they are connected to whatever it is McCarthy understands by “the border,” across which it is said at the beginning of The Crossing one can “miswander” in one’s life journey and find oneself as a result “beyond the wall of that antique gaze from whence there could be no way back forever.”

 

 

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