Living in the Moment, Outdoors, Things I Can

97. Things I Can Redraw: The Boundary Lines

resistance

I remember to look up. The reason I remember is because I have been so busy looking down.

Down, yes, but looking as in actually seeing.

Vision is an unexpected discovery, like a forgotten scent stirring in a place of dead things. Like yesterday when I caught myself singing as I ironed my purple shirt for work. I’m gonna let it shine. . . The silvery thread of music startled me to a shiver.

My song. Still here. My sight. Always, again.

I have been looking down and so noticed for the first time the thick ropes of roots pushing up the sidewalk. This is why I’ve stopped and let my gaze slide up the gnarled skin, up and up into the turning leaves.

“What?” Bug says. He almost plows into me. Then he too peers skyward. Cars rip past us on the clogged road. His is an all-wheel-drive school. Walking is forbidden because keeping the children a safe distance from these thin-lipped, texting, whiplash drivers trumps community concerns about obesity levels and global temperatures.

It’s rare these days that this stretched-to-splitting mama has the guts or gas to rebel. Oh, but it is a tasty little thrill when she does. Because sometimes we have to step right out in front of absurdity. Sometimes we even have to let it run us down. How else do we keep the winners from winning it all?

Once in a while when the train arrives two minutes early or the traffic parts like the biblical sea two blocks from my neighborhood, a gash opens in the choking press of late hurry go more go hurry late. It is a bright gust, it is mountaintop air.

It is opportunity.

I get to flout that stupidest of stupid policies.

I get to walk.

And here we are doing exactly that. Bug is wearing his backpack and his first sweatshirt of fall. I’m wearing my Wellies. Hurricane Joaquin in bearing down on us and we are taking the slow route home.

We gaze up together.

“Have you ever noticed how big this tree is?” I ask.

He considers it. “Big how?”

“Look at these roots. The whole sidewalk is a hill. It’s growing right under us.” We nudge our toes at the knobby knees pressing through concrete. “It probably goes all the way across the road.”

Bug lifts his gaze again to the towering branches far above. “It would be hard to climb.” We circle around it and take in the grade of the sloping grass. Then he peers across the grounds of the hulking telecom sales center that abuts our neighborhood. “That one.” He points to a drooping, naked thing with one arm. “That’s a good climbing tree.”

We cut across, striding right through the chain of “No Trespassing” signs. Bug tosses his backpack on the soaked ground and gives me a sly grin. “You first.”

I consider my twinged back, the slick bark, a throbbing current of sleep deprivation. Oh, the warm couch waiting. Then I shrug. “Okay.”

I shimmy and slide, hooking my knee over a knot and swinging myself up. Bug tries but his shoes keep slipping. He peels off his sweatshirt and ties it around the trunk. “If it’s dry, maybe I can get up.” This is an imperfect plan. After his third try, he leaves the jersey limp and tethered like an abandoned prisoner. He races off towards another stand of trees. “That one!” He cries and leaves me to collect our things.

Inside a sheltering arc of boughs he ranks them, 1-2-3, from easiest to hardest. I go first again, contorting my limbs to fit. I haul my mass onto a branch and perch there under a damp canopy. He gets partway up too before we both sort of spill off. I laugh and show him my hands. Mud has worked its way deep in. Laugh line, love line, all in bold. He holds up his grimy palm and I give him a high five.

Near our heads dangles a bulbous seed cluster we notice now for the first time. From tumorous, split husks gleam half a dozen cherry-red zombie eyes. They look like they might actually blink. We step back and decide to forgo a deeper investigation.

As we circle the parking lot for the shortcut home, I glance up again. “If the hurricane does come, we may lose all these leaves before they even change.”

Bug kicks at some that have fallen. He stops at the edge of a cracked tree whose branches on one side are entirely bare. The other side is draped in rust foliage.

“The rain is coming,” he says.

“How do you know?”

“Feel that,” he says. “There’s a gust.” He lifts his face. I do the same.

“It’s darker too,” I say. “Storm dark.” We both watch the steel sky churn.

“Whenever there’s a gust, it rains,” he tells me. “The rain is probably like 30 seconds to 5 minutes away.”

“We’d better get home quick.”

“Okay,” he says. “And we can make a fire and wait for the flood.”

Image from the Cheap Art collection of the Bread and Puppet theater in Glover, Vermont

Outdoors

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

With two plastic bags for gloves, you make another grab for the beast. She is not even halfway across the blacktop. Cars roar past seeking the good parking spots.

The thing hops like a frog but has bone-snapping jaws. She is bigger than a beach ball and twice as slippery. Who knew such creatures still inhabited this place? 

She snarls and flaps her leathery mitts before twisting airborne out of your reach. The rain sheets down in the flash of your hazard lights. Her fury has backed her now to the curb — the wrong direction entirely. You go in again. Again.

You stopped for this. Without a poncho or a plan, you planted yourself between this creature and her ruin. Turtles are supposed to take the long view but this one must have decided to go rogue. Here you are pushing back that inevitable day when the only animals left are in pet stores and Aesop’s Fables, and your only reward is a thorough bruising

She was safe and you were gone before I had a chance to speak for her. For me too. It’s never enough but here it is: Thank you.

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Happy 100 Days: 63

A hawk lifts off from a branch when we pass under. It is the same one we saw in the spring from the balcony. It was a distant visitor then, its tail a crimson haze. We named it Cesar.
 
The rain pelts our coats. Looking up to find the place where the bird has landed sends water snaking down our jaws to pool in the necks of our hoods. The hawk’s tiny eyes look down, taking the measure of us (two gangling primates and one lop-eared wolf). We cannot pose much threat, our boots slipping on the path’s wet skin of leaves. Still, the raptor lifts its wings and rises again, beating against the fierce wind to find the elevation where it can see but not be seen.
 
Here, under the sagging autumn canopy, we are silent. The power to name is no longer ours.
 
Blocked by debris, the creek has cut a new channel. White water surges alongside the roots of the oaks. It makes its escape downstream, forming an island. The emerald heads of mallards reflect the last of the light. Their white necks trace busy figures against the roiling pond. The small flock bobs in dizzying circles, rivulets of wet streaming along their feathers and back to the source.
 
Around the bend, the blue heron stands knee-deep in churning white right at the funnel where the waterfall begins. He glances our way. Not until the pooch veers towards the creek do the wings shudder to life. Gunmetal feathers unfurl, grab air, and haul the body up. The heron barely bothers to tuck its spindled legs under its belly. It skims the surface, tarnished bronze feet almost flicking into the water. It alights in a quieter eddy upstream on the opposite bank. It turns its head away from us, the cutlass of its beak rending the wind.
 

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Giving Way

The storm blows
trees across lines
and we all come out to see
neighbors we have not met
in thirteen years
calling to us from across the way,
“Hello, hello, do you have power?
Do you have any damage?”
 
It is hot for days.
 
The dog and I clamber
over fallen beeches
to walk the trail
winding along a stream
as we do every week.
 
A stranger in soiled wellies with his panting
labrador pauses to ask
about the contents of our fridge
and the integrity of our roof
before apologizing
for all the mud. “The path to the pond
is pretty rough with all the trees down.”
 
The pond?
 
He and the hound bid us farewell
and I see a trail
I have never met
in thirteen years
bending off through the shattered woods.
 
It takes me two months to find
time, it is September
before we follow the thin ribbon
of roots and earth
to a place where lily pads blanket the surface
and tiny frogs whing away from the splashing
advance of my dog through mud
swallowing her up to her chest. She dips
her head again
and again to drink
living water
all of a sudden
right here.