Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The wind

We walk on the lee of a hill. Wind whips overhead, rushes through the trees nearby and sails off the crest of the hill before swirling down to where we walk, the bite of it tempered by obstacles and changes in direction and velocity. Still, I make sure the scarf is pulled up over my nose; hold my hood taut at the side of my face as a windbreak.

In the open, as the dogs and I move away from one section of forest, leaving the trees and the voices of birds behind us, and follow the curving trail down the hill to its base, the wind sweeps up handfuls of snow, dispersing it out over the marsh grasses, clumps of gold rustling away to the distant mountain, sculpting the landscape.

I am struck by the cold wind and the warm sun mingling here in this open space, imagine how much more bitter it would be if the sun were obscured by cloud and the sky a flat gray and the landscape not lit by its golden light. I might have not come to this spot today, I think, if the sun wasn’t shining.

The wind began early, with the lightening of the sky before the sun sent the first of its yellow rays down through our woods. It did not buffet the house or roar through the trees, but there was movement outside the windows, the woods swaying as a dark mass against the deep indigo sky.

I became more aware of it because of Chestnut’s absence. He had appeared in his usual indelicate way to rouse me from bed and I followed him downstairs in the half-light of predawn seeping in at the windows, turning my head to catch a glimpse of him at the edges of my vision and listening for his movements ahead of me so as not to step on him and send us both tumbling down the stairs.

After everyone was fed and I sat finishing my own breakfast I became aware that Chestnut was not circling the room, pacing out a route with the not so subtle pad-pad of his feet, nor was he sitting at the table, eyes peering over the flat surface at me with a look of almost-panic, as if I might not give him the bowl with remnants of oatmeal and yoghurt to clean like I do every day.

I looked for him, waited, called his name, and then I thought of the wind. I had heard it of course when I put the dogs out, when I opened the door and listened to it wash through the forest, but it had seemed fairly tame, not as remarkable as those days when it crashes against the house, making it creak and groan with the trees.

So when we walk the lee of the hill later that day and the wind roars overhead, I think of Chestnut, a lump in the middle of the bed huddled beneath the covers. He would hate this. The sun warms my face on one side while the wind slices at me on the other and I think of Aesop’s fable about the sun and wind and their dispute about which one is stronger.

We head into a stand of trees and the wind grows louder but we are sheltered down amongst the trunks. We walk a loop, ducking under low branches and scrambling over downed trees and then we return to the open field to retrace our steps. But our trail is gone, covered up the by wind and snow as though it had never been. And there is a part of me that thinks, as I stand at the edge of things and look at the smooth, seemingly untouched snow ahead before striking out again for home, that this is exactly as it should be.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Molly’s find

Night has not yet fallen, but it is there, waiting to cast its black net across the sky, to illuminate this corner of the world with a thousand stars. The forest is like a solid thing in the fading light, the trees a dark mass here, the snow white and featureless there.

I stand on the edge of it in the cold absence of the sun and I scan the muted landscape for movement. I listen for the ring of a collar, the shush of feet moving quickly through snow. But there is a wind coming up, featureless in the same way the woods are featureless, gray and cold as it creaks around trees and rustles through branches in the same way the light is gray and cold.

In these half times, between light and dark, when the world is neither fully awake nor fully asleep, there is a restlessness that seizes the senses, that tempts a running forward into things, into the dark, into motion of any kind and I stand on the edge of the darkening woods teetering forward while the house sits comfortably behind me, smoke puffing out of the chimney, warm light beckoning at the windows.

Part of me wants to strike out into those woods, into the featurelessness of a world I know so well by daylight. I want to follow the familiar trail and listen to the woods at twilight, in the flat gray. But I am waiting for Molly, and Murdoch is waiting for me.

I watched from the window when I put the dogs out before their dinner, Murdoch on his line and Molly wandering free. I don’t trust her, not after a number of evenings when my voice bounced hollowly about in the trees calling her name and there was no reply but the silence of the forest after dark. Putting her on a line of her own didn’t work as she wrapped herself around trees, winding up the rope until she had nowhere to go and nothing to do but lie down, pinned to the ground.

So I watch from the window, call her back the minute she looks like a notion has passed into her mind to head in the opposite direction from the house. Mostly I just step outside with her, follow her around. But that is ridiculous, I think. I am being overbearing.

I let her out this night on her own. It is suppertime she won’t go far, but I am wrong and I watch from the window as she finishes checking the perimeter of the woods, steps beyond the outlying trees, takes a hard left and disappears.

Murdoch returns on his line and I call for Molly, expect to see through the window her dark shape leap across the snow towards the door. But there is nothing. No dark shadows detaching themselves from the dark shadowed woods, no bounding figures racing at the house.

I put on my boots, grab my coat from the hook, and step out into the quiet of this half time. I call her name and my voice falls flat in the flat light. I walk to the edge of the woods where I saw Molly disappear and I call again, cast my eyes over the ground that has been churned up by many feet leaving their prints over a stretch of days. And I am tempted to wander off in to the woods myself.

I take a few steps along the trail and call her name again and then turn away and head for the road. It would not be the first time a dog managed to show up in exactly the opposite direction from the one in which they disappeared. But there is no sign of her there either, so I return to the gray and creak of the woods.

Now I start to worry. My mind begins to skip ahead, making a list of people to tell I have lost her, imagining their reactions.

I turn around with her name forming on my lips, and she is there, silently and suddenly as though she has never been gone, as though I had just overlooked her there on the edge of my vision. She skips towards me, her whole body wagging, so happy to show me what she has found. It is lying behind her in the clearing on the way to the house.

The creamy yellow of the bone is jarring against the flat gray-white of the snow, making the partial ribcage and section of spine almost glow in the low light. It was a deer, I imagine, taking in the broken ribs still curving towards the missing sternum, the vertebrae locked in a gentle C shape with a twist at the end, but the shape makes me think of a giant scorpion or something insectile.

I escort Molly inside and then scoop the hunk of skeleton onto the rake I use for cleaning up after the dogs and it clicks against the plastic fingers and overbalances one way and then the other. I do not study it as I walk it down the driveway to the road and then across to the gully. I do not want to think about the animal it used to be and how it ended up in pieces, perhaps scattered throughout the forest.

It is awkward to aim with the smoothness of the rake and the roundness of the bones, so I kind of flip the partial skeleton over the edge and it tumbles down where the road falls away to a shallow ravine and I watch it disappear amongst a featureless mass in the half-light of the woods, a mass which I know to be a tangle of fallen trees laden with snow.

I stare down after it for a moment, trying to pick out the creamy-yellow glow against the black of the trees or the darkening gray of the snow but the fading light, lying heavily now over everything, has swallowed it up. Gone. But I wonder how long it will be before Molly or Murdoch finds it again.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Pileated Woodpecker

There is a road, white and featureless, tapering to the dark smudge of trees in the distance which are picked out in minute detail by dustings of fresh fallen snow. A pink-hued sky stretches overhead, tinted by a late afternoon sun completely hidden behind a wash of cloud.

There is an unending sense of stillness. A moment out of time, an old photograph, faded through the middle and sharp at the edges where the woods are black in the muted light. Cold drapes heavily over everything. It would be bleak if not for the faint blush of sky.

And then a voice startles from the woods. The rising and falling peal of the Pileated Woodpecker cuts a path ahead of the bird, which appears from amidst one patch of forest and flies up the center of the road straight and true, a dart aimed with precision.

It cries and dips with unseen currents, its wings tucked neatly about its torpedo-shaped body. And then the wings unfold with a snap, white underneath edged in black, like a cloak lined in white satin. Within a beat the wings snap back into place, there is a flash of red from the crest atop its head and then it disappears into another patch of woods, on the path of the tree with the hole picked out ruthlessly months ago, from where chips once flew and littered the ground in a radiating semicircle.

In its wake the startling cry remains and an afterimage of white underwing like a secret revealed, that red flash. And then there is stillness, a white road and a pink-hued sky.