My mother used to wake me up late at night, or early in the morning depending on how you looked at it. I opened my eyes to see her standing over me, shaking me gently awake, a gleam in her eye that I rarely ever saw.
"Get up," she said. "Get dressed and meet me in the barn."
Then she would leave with me still in bed, mired by indecision. Do I get up and follow her, or do I stay in my warm, comfortable bed? The latter brought a bout of guilt, thinking of my mother in the barn waiting for me, only to not have me show up. With that thought in mind I threw off my blankets and forced myself to get up. Shivering, I searched for proper clothes. A riding skirt, blouse and stockings were my attire. I pulled on my boots and threw on a long warm coat to keep myself warm. A chill hung in the air, a promise of winter. After braiding my hair I made my way to the barn where my mother waited for me, dressed in her own riding clothes, her hair braided and coiled on the top of her head like a crown. She held our two horses, already saddled, a mysterious smile on her lips.
"Come," she said. "I want to take you somewhere."
"Where?" I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
Together we rode toward the woods, the moon lighting our way. I worried that in the dark our horses would trip in a rabbit hole, or nightly predators would pounce. My mother shared none of these worries. She guided her horse along the trail, full of determination and grace. I struggled to keep up with her. Though the full moon shone brightly the forest was cast in shadow by the trees branches, some of which grabbed at my hair and clothes. The rich smell of the earth met my nostrils. The wind kissed my cheek, its breath cold. I drew my coat tighter around myself, wishing that I had stayed in bed. Finally my mother stopped at the top of the hill and I pulled my horse up beside her. She sat silently, looking out over the starry field.
"What are we doing out here?" I asked.
"Shh," she said, holding a finger to her lips. "Just listen."
I did, but the cold and discomfort of sitting in the saddle distracted me. I became irritated and almost turned back. But then I heard it.
My mother nodded. "Wolves."
I had only heard wolves from the comfort of my home's walls and was always told that their calls signaled danger. Standing here on this hill, though, I heard a different sound entirely. They were making music, the melody sweet and sad. Their calls did not fill me with fear as they used to, but wonderment. I looked at my mother, but she was lost in her own world. A faint smile parted her lips. The moon shone in her eyes, making them glimmer. I had never seen my mother this way before. I had heard stories, of course, from my grandfather. In her younger days, my mother was a wild thing. The forest was her playground, the barn her bedroom. She lived in the saddle, and every night she sat outside and listened to the wolves.
She changed after she married my father. He cared for none of these things. My mother did not love him. She cared for him, that I could see, but she did not love him. She loved the wilderness, the feeling of dirt under her bare feet. Now that she was married to him there was no time for that. Instead of breeches, she wore beautiful, if not entirely comfortable, dresses. Polished shoes adorned her feet. No more nightly rides or trips to the forest. Instead she spent her time entertaining guests of the same cut as my father. She was a proper lady in all aspects.
Now, though, watching her as she listened to the wolves' song, I realized I was seeing the real woman before me. This was someone new, someone filled with a hope and courage that seemed to be pouring out of her, making her skin shimmer. She was the woman from my grandfather's stories. And she was someone I wanted to know more about.
After listening to the wolves for a while she turned to me, the smile still on her lips, the moon still in her eyes.
"Shall we turn back now?" she asked. "I suppose you want to get back to your bed."
I had thought that was what I wanted. Now, after seeing her, all I wanted to do was talk and get to know her. The real her. Instead, I nodded and we turned our horses back home.
That was not the last night we went into the forest together. It soon became a tradition of ours. On that first night, while I lay in bed, I closed my eyes and all I could see was the glimmer in my mother's eyes.