"holding the trap at eyelevel against the morning sky he looked to be truing some older, some subtler instrument. Astrolabe or sextant. Like a man bent at fixing himself someway in the world"

The astrolabe and sextant were instruments used in sea and celestial navigation, for taking and measuring the altitudes of the sun and the stars.

Sailor using a sextant
Public DomainSailor using a sextant - Credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Arabic 13th century astrolabe
Public DomainArabic 13th century astrolabe - Credit: J. A. Repsold

McCarthy’s use of nautical imagery is not arbitrary. Billy’s father is Ahab on the trail of Moby Dick. Like Melville’s white whale, the wolf represents some metaphysical force whose true nature can never be known, far less contained in a trap. As Don Arnulfo says, comparing the wolf to the copo de nieve (snowflake), that which the wolf represents is lost the moment it is caught:


'El loba es una cosa incognoscible, he said. Lo que se tiene trampa no es mas que dientes y forro. El lobo propio no se puede conocer. Lobo o lo que sabe el lobo. Tan como preguntar lo que saben las piedras. Los arboles. El mundo.

(The wolf is an unknowable thing, he said. That which one has in the trap is no more than teeth and fur. One cannot know the true wolf. Wolf or what the wolf knows. It’s like asking what the stones know. The trees. The world.') [p.45]