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Something Looks Back from the Trees
And knows me for who I am
The other day a friend I haven’t seen in months and loves the cold as much as I do invited me out for a saunter through the snow beside a creek and I was happy to oblige. Along the way we discussed only the most important things: that the terrain seemed perfect grouse habitat (it is); that black bears seem to be frequenting the area more often (they are); and whether or not moving water somehow seems to sound differently in cold weather from warm (doesn’t it?).
My friend pointed out something I’d missed, that as we ascended the trail we were walking parallel to what appeared to be the tracks of a fox heading the opposite direction, clearly evident when the prints weren’t obscured by dog tracks. Shortly after making the observation, we reached a pair of fallen logs that spanned the creek flow. One log had a story of its own to tell, about the jaunty little red fox who had scurried along its length to get across the stream, then hopped off onto the ground and went along on her way. I had no difficulty picturing the event in my mind, nor, I’m certain did my friend. Trees are among the best old school storytellers.
(Have I mentioned my friend is also a wonderful poet?)
We then shared anecdotes of witnessing other stories told by the earth that clearly spoke of prey animals being taken from above. My friend told a story of the landscape that summons grizzly bears. We agreed that was a story we would both prefer to experience from a distance. The thing is the world is whispering these kinds of stories all around us if we pay attention, stories no less compelling than anything we may stream from any electronic contraption.
A story in my neighborhood is confounding me. After the last big windstorm hereone of those small, square toddler playpen things suddenly appeared fetched up against a fence. And not just any old fence like, say, a fence around an open sinkhole to Hell or China or someone’s septic system. It’s the fence around someone’s yard. And there the playpen has remained for over a month now, unmoved, through rain, surprisingly warm temperatures, and now, finally, some cold and snow. It’s practically a landmark at this point.
Whose is it? Where did it come from? Surely it was lifted up out of someone’s yard and tumbled to its resting place. Whose yard? How far away? If only I could have seen that thing hurtling across the sky. Now it’s right across the street from the mailboxes so you’d think they’d have seen it. Was it tossed aside from lack of use and they don’t care where it’s gone? Or don’t even know? Could they be driving by and one person says to the other, “Hey, doesn’t that thing look like the one we used to have?” So random! So many questions!
And why don’t the people whose fence it is decorating pick it up and toss it or something? Why are they just leaving it there? I picture some sinewy old curmudgeon snuffing out a cigarette on the bulky plastic boot thing he wears on his left leg while muttering, “Not my baby, not my fucking playpen….”
I want answers.
The same day my friend and I saw the fox tracks I was driving on a country road I don’t often traverse and a coyote emerged from the field on my right, dashed across the road, and ducked under the fence into the field on my left. He didn’t go far before stopping to turn around and look. He was standing right in the middle of several Angus cattle and nobody seemed to mind. I looked to my right to the field he emerged from and some distance in was clearly a carcass. A number of magpies were nearby but also several gigantic raptors. The mottling of their feathers and their size seemed to me they must have been immature bald eagles. I don’t know what else they could have been. They were tugging and pulling free strips of flesh from whatever was dead there.
There is a story here too. The coyote must have been after the carcass and the birds drove him off. What was the carcass? My guess is it was a deer, likely struck on the road (either this one I was on or the busier road I was just short of intersecting with) and then made it that much farther before expiring. Or it could have been a carcass a farmer threw out there. Regardless, the entire neighborhood wanted a piece of it and no one was too interested in sharing.
The coyote didn’t venture back across the road. Instead he trotted aimlessly around the field, pausing to pounce here and there and then swallow an unwary vole. When I passed through the same area an hour later, all the players were still pretty much as I left them. I loved every moment. This morning I made a point to venture back by and there was no sign of anyone.
I do love these stories, even the ones without answers. I love that the lore of my people — of all of our peoples — are full of tales of talking animals doing unusual things and dispensing knowledge and wisdom along the way. What was the world trying to tell me with all of this activity that day? That I need to make time to pay closer attention more often? That is the message I received anyway.
I love knowing these animals are out there in the world all around us, living their lives on the fringes, right under our noses. They still have wisdom to share. We just need to get back to doing a better job of listening.
My hypothesis is that with so much of the overgrowth along the stream bed knocked back or completely gone (tree leaves, shrubs, etc.) the sound waves are also changed. But I yield to smarter people than me for alternatives….
It was a night I was still in Butte; I battled the swirling elements to defend the flickering life of the pilot light on the weary old furnace while the entire house shook