Thursday, January 15, 2004

I don't know how it works out there in the woods, but sometimes the animals call a meeting. Maybe they always have meetings and we only notice when they get too close to the road. Picture a moon past fullness but still very bright on a 20 degree night with a little snow still lying in the shady spots. We were driving home from an evening soccer game on our gravel road and encountered the first of several groups of deer. Not unusual but we had to slow down for not one but four groups in a hundred yard stretch of road. The woods are thick up to the edge of the road and the white ice of refrozen snow covered the curve just before we got to our driveway. The deer tolerate us and so, moved out of the way as a last resort on this night. Several of them have scars from wrestling matches with vehicles. Why do they think they can win such a contest? I suppose that, since there are more of them now than ever before, they actually are winning after a fashion, and the Subaru has scars, too. Now, after repair and recovery, the Subaru and the deer have only small scars, but the marks are there, nonetheless.

We think the beast that flew across the road just before we turned up the driveway was a fox. It would have to have been a grey fox but it was definitely in more of a hurry than the deer and did not present itself for indentification. Its tail orbited furiously as it changed direction at high speed to lose itself into the smallest opening under a downed pine tree. Sometimes you have a flash encounter with something that you can only identify by the way it moves. The bobcats trot faster than most things can gallop and their rear end seems like it is going to outrun the front. Coyotes are just shadows that appear and disappear except for every once in a while when one of them will parade around in full scruffy glory. Shunks, possums, and racoons all have signature shuffles. Skunks have another kind of signature and, judging form the number of autographs we pass on our hikes, the skunks are doing pretty well out there. They were all at the meeting.

We can take our hikes and see a few animals most times, but things are usually sparse. It is clear to me that they don't trust us all that much. I like to find a good spot and sit quietly for twenty minutes or so. After much thought, I have come to think that one designated animal gives a signal and all of them start some kind of dance about the country side at the same time. Sometimes the woods will be empty and noiseless. Then, like someone flipped a switch, it gets crowded and clattering with activity. I guess we drove through one of these moments the other night.

In my fractured memory of childhood, there are some other moments of white light clarity, like the first time my father showed me a canebrake rattlesnake that had come into our yard behind the chicken coop... Like the time I saw a gopher tortise walking, in all its waddle necked glory, from under the mill house we lived in down to the woods at the edge of our yard. I was three and four years old for these events but they are burned in and easily retrievable from my mind's good places. I can't clearly recall what I did after breakfast yesterday but I have countless snapshots that define those intense minutes of joyous life that constitute heaven.

I wonder if my children will remember the animal meeting we attended?

Peace and courage,


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