Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Contradiction of Nature

The infant spring was two days old, the back stoop was littered with the transparent pink wings of pine tree seeds and the cars looked as though they’d been dusted with saffron. I had absolutely no business going outside and coating my lungs with what amounts to south Georgia snow, but I could stand it no longer.

Bare-legged and bare-armed I slipped out the back door and headed across the field toward the woods. Be quiet, I reprimanded myself in anticipation of the thoughts – unchangeable facts, unnecessary reminders, unimportant questions – that would, without the intervention of my mental customs agents, assail me within moments. Be quiet and listen. Listen.

Along the edge of the field road hundreds of four-petaled white flowers hugging the ground promised blackberries in the days to come. A closer look gave me a peek at the nascent berries themselves, tight pink buds no bigger than the top of a dressmaker’s pin.

Just beyond them were three dead oak trees, trunks grown together, bark fallen off in sheets, 10 or 12 holes of various depths bored out by some destructive insect. How long, I wondered, did that take? And all I heard in response was that other voice reminding me to hush, to listen.

Across the pond dam I saw more blackberry blossoms, stepped over Daddy’s john boat, heard birds fluttering in the underbrush like the pages of a book under a thumb. Under the arc of pine trees and scrub oaks I felt goosebumps spring up on my arms and shook my shoulders with the chill.

I’d just come down the dam and made the turn toward the low place where the creek runs along the property line when I heard a scurry that was too heavy for a bird or a field mouse. I looked off to the side and there, not more than 20 feet away, was a raccoon. He was standing up on his hind legs and holding his graceful little front paws together almost as though folded in prayer.

We exchanged a glance of intimate familiarity, like two old acquaintances, and then that voice – the one I’d done a fairly good job of silencing for the last few minutes – shrilly reminded me that if the raccoon, who shouldn’t even be awake in the middle of the afternoon, had not run away immediately at the sight of me he might be rabid. So I moved on, made it in just a few more minutes to the fallen barbed wire fence I have to climb over to get into the woods proper.

I wandered around back there, crunching last winter’s acorns beneath my feet and trying to keep the still-bare branches of the smaller trees from hooking themselves into my hair, for a long time. I climbed over another fence to get to a rise where I could see an adjoining piece of land planted in CRP pines and watched a loud obnoxious crow dive and loop as though believing he could convince someone he was a really a red-tailed hawk.

And I kept thinking about the raccoon. Kept seeing the eyes within the bandit’s mask that reflected just enough light into their blackness for me to know he was looking at me. Kept wondering if maybe, just maybe, he had contradicted his nature and come out in the daylight because, like me, he’d been simply unable to resist the almost-gravitational pull of the change of seasons.

I walked home another way, cut through the field and came up behind the house from the other side of the pond where frogs or turtles or fish kept making shallow splashes around the submerged trunks of fallen trees. There was no need to return to the hollowed out place in the bushes where my friend – for he was certainly by now my friend – the raccoon had taken a moment to acknowledge me. With some things, once is enough.

Copyright 2009

No comments: