Cormac McCarthy: Excerpt from ‘The Crossing’

Warning: If you have not read this book and don’t want to know how the story about the wolf ends, do not read this. If you have, or don’t mind knowing, read on. Please note that there are no typos in the excerpt, which is reproduced exactly as written.

I sat in the garden in the beautiful September sunshine reading this, and as I read to the end of chapter one, which follows, I wept bitterly. I wept for the wolf, for the boy, for my dog, for my dead dog of years ago, for Cormac McCarthy and the beauty of his heart and words, for my life, for all our lives, and for some grief hidden in the pathos of the world which will forever remain unfathomable, just slightly out of range, unless maybe it be revealed by my death.

The sixteen year-old protagonist rescues the she-wolf from the trap he himself has set, and takes her across the border into Mexico, to set her free in the mountains from which she has strayed. Unfortunately his plan is thwarted by ignorant officials who impound the wolf and allow her to be put into an arena to be savaged by all the town’s dogs in turn. He tries to rescue the wolf, who is heavily pregnant, but to no avail.

He leaves the arena, gets his rifle, returns to the arena, and shoots the stricken wolf in the head. He then trades his rifle for the wolf’s carcass, and takes her to the hills astride his horse, to bury her:

‘He squatted over the wolf and touched her fur. He touched the cold and perfect teeth. The eye turned to the fire gave back no light and he closed it with his thumb and sat by her and put his hand upon her bloodied forehead and closed his own eyes that he could see her running in the mountains, running in the starlight where the grass was wet and the sun’s coming as yet had not undone the rich matrix of creatures passed in the night before her. Deer and hare and dove and groundvole all richly empaneled on the air for her delight, all nations of the possible world ordained by God of which she was one among and not separate from. Where she ran the cries of the coyotes clapped shut as if a door had closed upon them and all was fear and marvel. He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of a great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves not make on any altar nor by any wound of war. What we may well believe has power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world surely if wind can, if rain can. But what cannot be held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it.’