Crazy Wolf

Crazy Wolf was not really crazy. 

Not that anyone knew or suspected, anyway.  Didn’t look ‘wolfish,’ nor did he act the wolf – high-country wolf or Madison Avenue wolf.  Neither one.  He was a piece of local charisma, a bit of hereabouts flavor that would attract and spellbind tourists if we here were in the tourist business.  We weren’t then; aren’t now, in the tourist business.  We were, still are, concerned here more from day to day, from year to year, with simpler important things.  With tending our herds, the price beef would bring when market-time came, and, naturally, whether or not we would get enough rain in the spring and early summer.  Enough rain to fill scattered reservoirs and keep pastures green through invariably hot and mostly rainless summer months.  Enough to get us by until autumn rains coaxed essentially indigenous prairie grass back to luxuriant greens dotted here and there, some places more and some places less, with the oddest collection of wildflowers an artist could hope for to busy-up his palette and test his skills.  Or hers.

Well, Crazy Wolf, was maybe fifty or sixty years old, perhaps more, who can tell of a full-blooded Native American how many “moons” they’ve seen?  Nothing cultural in that, I’m convinced any Lakota or Comanche would make the same statement about “White Eyes.”  Couldn’t tell from his wife either, or I guess his wife, Fat Rabbit, because she was one of those Sioux women whose hair was still jet black, her body storybook Indian princess slender and her carriage proud, erect, and confident.  Not knowing either Fat Rabbit or Crazy Wolf you might assume, most of us here didn’t, that Fat Rabbit was Crazy Wolf’s daughter or even his granddaughter.  But while any kind of husband-wife relationship – white-man’s law, Lakota law, or what have you – was unknown, clearly, she was not his daughter or granddaughter.  Knowing that begins to describe Crazy Wolf.  Old, but not really “old” but not really “young.”   Rather timeless.  Handsome enough to keep Fat Rabbit happy, young, and fit enough he was still very much physically active.

If I had to give you an idea of what Crazy Wolf looked like, I’d show you a buffalo nickel.  If I happened to have one in my pocket, which these days, nobody does.  Yup, Wolf wore his hair tied-back like that.  He had a prominent, full, and regal nose, a strong forehead, a chiseled chin below high cheekbones, and black hair only touched a bit with gray, full and tight against his head braided into a ‘tail’ in the back.  Had he been that old, you’d swear he posed for the buffalo nickel.  He was tall for an Indian, a little over six foot, broad shouldered, narrow at the hips and blessed with a quietly strong physical presence.

No one is actually sure if “crazy” was part of his Indian name or if it was something he tried on and liked.  Or something someone threw at him that stuck.  Most likely, to my imagination, it was something someone used to describe his calm in the face of all manner of unpleasantness and it just kind of hung around as perfectly suited.  It does suit the man.  When you’ve seen his brand of calm, it more or less fits.  He was silent for the most part, stingy with words, and his expression seldom changed, if ever.  I’d seen him smile; I’d never heard him laugh.  Never saw anger or disgust.  In this crazy place, in these crazy times, that ability to accept and survive with an implacable calm does suggest some kind of crazy.  Back then was no different from now.  All in all, that brand of crazy was, is, enviable.

Wolf earned his living riding all of the local grazing lands, thousands and thousands of acres, reporting fence lines down, cattle in the wrong places and so-on to local ranchers.  That was a pretty damned good deal for all of us since, while none of us understand how Wolf could be so many places all at once, he was, and damned if he didn’t know everything in every remote place, way before anyone else.  For his vigilance and all-knowingness many could-be problems were fixed long before they became problems.  He was on retainer with every major ranching outfit in these parts, and as I hinted, damned-well worth it.

Riding the outlying parts kept Wolf in the open most of the year from early spring to early winter.  He wasn’t one for hats, so the sun worked on his skin.  It was deep brown; where the hell ‘redskin’ came from beats the blazes out of me.  He was only two shades deeper brown than the color foolish young ladies these days look to get, unaware or uncaring of the price they’re actually paying for their vanity.  But Wolf’s skin showed his years, whatever they were, in wrinkles and crevices making his complexion that of weathered leather.  That’s one of the things that made it so difficult to guess his age.  Was he “old” or just real close friends with the sun and the wind?

One year we had a particularly dry summer.  Well out here, they’re all dry, but this one was hotter and drier than most.  Rainless months came early and stayed late, and we all suffered in the heat, the dry, and the dust.  Reservoirs dried-up.  Grass browned, then burned to weightless wisps, and blew away, all but the roots.  When the wind had a mind to blow, it sucked every last bit of dew out of your soul, dried your socks deep inside your boots, and emptied your iced-tea glass before you got around to your second swallow.  Listening to the radio or television weathermen, we’d become accustomed to “no chance of rain the next few days.”  Not a cloud in the sky.  A puff or two of half-hearted cumulous clouds would pepper the sky most late afternoons, only to disappear to wherever clouds go when they haven’t the heart to make rain, when they lose interest, or when they get scared-off by a mean and evil sun.

Late one September afternoon, I was in Jean’s Café in town, working on a cup of coffee and some cattleman talk with two of my similarly drought-worried neighbors.  We sat at a table near one of the two glass windows that made the Café’s front, inviting folks in for a cup of coffee and a bit of jaw.  One of my coffee-mates remarked on the unusually persistent clouds.  Of course, we shrugged that off. 

Our attentions were pulled back through the window and away from our rancher small-talk when it became obvious that for five o’clock in the afternoon, damned-near October, it was too damned dark.  As one, we turned from the conversation to look out the window, then back at each other silently.  Then again without a word, back out the window.  I noticed Crazy Wolf walking from the courthouse lawn in his blue faded-to-white Levi’s and his even-in-summer long-sleeve denim shirt, buttoned clean to the top button, making it look it had to be hard just to swallow. 

Did I say walking?  Let me clear that up.  For the first time in my life, since knowing Crazy Wolf, he looked to me like he might just be crazy.  Not walking in a purposeful, get-from-here-to-somewhere-else straight line, he was bobbing up and down, and twirling in staccato circles, clockwise, then counter-clockwise.  In the grass, or what would be grass, if we got rain like any more normal part of the country, not on the sidewalk.  In this way, he had covered half the lazy expanse of some one hundred yards between the courthouse steps and Main Street running in front of Jean’s Café.  We ain’t got nothing out here if not land enough to waste on courthouse lawns, with or without grass.  Wolf was headed in the direction of the street and the café.  Hard to miss him.  Not much else going on in town.  It was so damned hot, in September, the pickup trucks were sweating, nobody was intentionally outside until the sun went down.

Suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, the sky was black and there was a clap of thunder the likes of what you only hear when you’re standing too damned close to whatever just took a zillion volts of electricity.  Wet-trousers too-damned close, rattler-in-my-boot too-damned close.  And then came the rain.  A downpour bent on making-up for five months of drought.  I reckon I’m the dumbest of the afternoon coffee klatch.  While my two neighbors watched through the front window, I got up and went outside.

It was pouring.  Thankfully not in sheets that would wash away pastureland too long too dry, but an insistent, immodest soaking, silver dollar size, thump on your head raindrop rain.  I started toward the courthouse.  At the edge of the brown, mostly dirt and straw lawn, there was Crazy Wolf.  I had to watch, mesmerized.

I’m sure everyone has seen that stereotypical Indian dance; powerfully acrobatic as the dancer repeatedly bends low at the waist, then springs upright describing spinning circles inscribed in a larger continuous orbit around what, I’m not supposed to understand.  Yup, that’s exactly what Crazy Wolf was doing.  Not intense, because you could never call that Indian dance ‘intense,’ more reverent, focused, and methodic.  Mystic and maybe, if you’re inclined, spiritual.   The only thing missing was the ‘chant.’  I suspected at the time Wolf was that tight with words.

Wolf was soaked to the bone.  Well, in my short walk, so was I.   Wolf’s shirt, as faded as his breeches a few moments before, was plastered tight against his skin and for that and the water in it and still coming down, looked black.  Wolf did not see me standing there watching.  After twenty or so seconds my curiosity bolted. 

“Wolf!  What the hell are you doing?”

Crazy Wolf stopped mid-crouch – something I’d assume impossible – it might cause your body to break for the suddenness and completeness of it – frozen as if in some mid eighteen-hundred tintype or daguerreotype.  Without breaking his crouch, he twisted his trunk sideways, another impossibility except for a teenage gymnast or a crazy Native American.  He turned his face toward me, rain pelting that leathery brown skin and trying to fill his eyes.   For the rain, he still never blinked, just stared in that stoic way of his, right at this ‘crazy’ White Eyes.  

I asked again. “What the hell are you doing, Wolf?’

Wolf still did not blink.  But he did smile.  A crazy, “gotcha” kind of smile and tossed two words at me.

“Rain dance.”

(c) S P Wilcenski 2013

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