Before I wrote Wintering, I had not paid much attention to wolves. They were, I thought, creatures from another time and place, almost mythological in their reputation. I had not realised that we had intentionally hunted them to extinction in England, nor that they formed exceptionally tender bonds within their packs. I had not expected to fall in love with them.
But in doing my research, I started to notice that they were everywhere in the literature of winter, in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Box of Delights and A Song of Ice and Fire; they were present in the ‘wolf moon’ of January, and the in metamorphic terrors of Halloween. And, strangely, the more I saw them in the margins, the more familiar they felt to me. The wolves were a perfect mirror on human life at its extremes: hungry, snarling, unpredictable, unmistakably other, irresistibly liminal.
Whenever the writing ran dry, I would drive over to my local animal conservation centre and spend time watching the wolf pack there - or rather, trying to spot these creatures who could fade so uncannily into the trees. Every now and then, I would make out a canine form, and then meet a pair of wary eyes, so intelligent that the gaze felt like a jolt. The first time I heard them howl, my skin came alive, as though I had been summoned. The sound was so innate, so elemental, a call and response between animal and human.
That’s why I was thrilled to persuade Erica Berry to talk about her brilliant new book, Wolfish, on the True Stories Book Club last month. Erica has a profound connection to wolves, but also a dazzling understanding of what they mean to us. Knitted throughout our language and folklore, they seem to be a way for us to talk about the experience of being human, standing in for all our darknesses, all our transgressions. For Erica, this is a very personal story, made up of a series of encounters with unknowable men, and a series of encounters with actual wolves, both real and imaginary.
I think you’re going to love it. Any fellow wolf-lovers, please howl in the comments.
You can watch a clip of our conversation below - click ‘CC’ to watch with subtitles.
By the way, we’re trying something new this month. The same replays are available as usual to subscribers beyond the paywall - the full video and an ad-free podcast format for those who prefer to listen. But we’re also putting the episode out on the How We Live Now podcast feed (with ads), and posting the transcript here to make sure it’s fully accessible to all.
If you’d like to join us live at next month’s True Stories Book Club with Camille T. Dungy talking about her memoir, Soil - or send her a question - please consider upgrading to a paid membership.