Seek some witness | A passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing

The black eyes all shifted to the leader of their small clan. He sat for a long time. It was very quiet. Out on the road one of the oxen began to piss loudly. Finally he shaped his mouth and said that he believed that fate had intervened in the matter for its own good reasons. He said that fate might enter into the affairs of men in order to contravene them or set them at naught but to say that fate could deny the true and uphold the false would seem to be a contradictory view of things. To speak of a will in the world that ran counter to one’s own was one thing. To speak of such a will that ran counter to the truth was quite another, for then all was rendered senseless. Billy then asked him if it was his notion that the false plane had been swept away by God in order to single out the true and the gypsy said that it was not. When Billy said that he had understood him to say that it was God who had ultimately made the decision concerning the two planes the gypsy said that he believed that to be so but he did not believe that by this act God had spoken to anyone. He said that he was not a superstitious man. The gypsies heard this out and then turned to Billy to see how he would respond. Billy said that it seemed to him that the freighters did not hold the identity of the airplane to be of any great consequence but the gitano only turned and studied him with those dark and troubled eyes. He said that it was indeed of consequence and that it was in fact the whole burden of their inquiry. From a certain perspective one might even hazard to say that the great trouble with the world was that that which survived was held in hard evidence as to past events. A false authority clung to what persisted, as if those artifacts of the past which had endured had done so by some act of their own will. Yet the witness could not survive the witnessing. In the world that came to be that which prevailed could never speak for that which perished but could only parade its own arrogance. It pretended symbol and summation of the vanished world but was neither. He said that in any case the past was little more than a dream and its force in the world greatly exaggerated. For the world was made new each day and it was only men’s clinging to its vanished husks that could make of that world one husk more.

La cascara no es la cosa, he said. It looked the same. But it was not.

Y la tercera historia? said Billy.

La tercera historia, said the gypsy, es esta. El existe en la historia de las historias. Es que ultimadamente la verdad no puede quedar en ningun otro lugar sino en el habla. He held his hands before him and looked at his palms. As if they may have been at some work not of his own doing. The past, he said, is always this argument between counterclaimants. Memories dim with age. There is no repository for our images. The loved ones who visit us in dreams are strangers. To even see aright is effort. We seek some witness but the world will not provide one. This is the third history. It is the history that each man makes alone out of what is left to him. Bits of wreckage. Some bones. The words of the dead. How make a world of this? How live in that world once made?

From Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing. 

The wolf had crossed the international boundary line at about the point where it intersected the thirtieth minute of the one hundred and eighth meridian | A passage from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing

The wolf had crossed the international boundary line at about the point where it intersected the thirtieth minute of the one hundred and eighth meridian and she had crossed the old Nations road a mile north of the boundary and followed Whitewater Creek west up into the San Luis Mountains and crossed through the gap north to the Animas range and then crossed the Animas Valley and on into the Peloncillos as told. She carried a scabbedover wound on her hip where her mate had bitten her two weeks before somewhere in the mountains of Sonora. He’d bitten her because she would not leave him. Standing with one forefoot in the jaws of a steeltrap and snarling at her to drive her off where she lay just beyond the reach of the chain. She’d flattened her ears and whined and she would not leave. In the morning they came on horses. She watched from a slope a hundred yards away as he stood up to meet them.

She wandered the eastern slopes of the Sierra de la Madera for a week. Her ancestors had hunted camels and primitive toy horses on these grounds. She found little to eat. Most of the game was slaughtered out of the country. Most of the forest cut to feed the boilers of the stampmills at the mines. The wolves in that country had been killing cattle for a long time but the ignorance of the animals was a puzzle to them. The cows bellowing and bleeding and stumbling through the mountain meadows with their shovel feet and their confusion, bawling and floundering through the fences and dragging posts and wires behind. The ranchers said they brutalized the cattle in a way they did not the wild game. As if the cows evoked in them some anger. As if they were offended by some violation of an old order. Old ceremonies. Old protocols.

She crossed the Bavispe River and moved north. She was carrying her first litter and she had no way to know the trouble she was in. She was moving out of the country not because the game was gone but because the wolves were and she needed them. When she pulled down the veal calf in the snow at the head of Foster Draw in the Peloncillo Mountains of New Mexico she had eaten little but carrion for two weeks and she wore a haunted look and she’d found no trace of wolves at all. She ate and rested and ate again. She ate till her belly dragged and she did not go back. She would not return to a kill. She would not cross a road or a rail line in daylight. She would not cross under a wire fence twice in the same place. These were the new protocols. Strictures that had not existed before. Now they did.

She ranged west into Cochise County in the state of Arizona, across the south fork of Skeleton Creek and west to the head of Starvation Canyon and south to Hog Canyon Springs. Then east again to the high country between Clanton and Foster draws. At night she would go down onto the Animas Plains and drive the wild antelope, watching them flow and turn in the dust of their own passage where it rose like smoke off the basin floor, watching the precisely indexed articulation of their limbs and the rocking movements of their heads and the slow bunching and the slow extension of their running, looking for anything at all among them that would name to her her quarry.

At this season the does were already carrying calves and as they commonly aborted long before term the one least favored so twice she found these pale unborn still warm and gawking on the ground, milkblue and near translucent in the dawn like beings miscarried from another world entire. She ate even their bones where they lay blind and dying in the snow. Before sunrise she was off the plain and she would raise her muzzle where she stood on some low promontory or rock overlooking the valley and howl and howl again into that terrible silence. She might have left the country altogether if she had not come upon the scent of a wolf just below the high pass west of Black Point. She stopped as if she’d walked into a wall.

She circled the set for the better part of an hour sorting and indexing the varied scents and ordering their sequences in an effort to reconstruct the events that had taken place here. When she left she went down through the pass south following the tracks of the horses now thirty-six hours old.

By evening she’d found all eight of the sets and she was back at the gap of the mountain again where she circled the trap whining. Then she began to dig. She dug a hole alongside the trap until the caving dirt fell away to reveal the trap’s jaw. She stood looking at it. She dug again. When she left the set the trap was sitting naked on the ground with only a handful of dirt over the waxed paper covering the pan and when the boy and his father rode through the gap the following morning that was what they found.

From Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing.