The bug bites, I think, were worth it. One of the advantages of living in the country is the absence of sensory overload, which allows us to take in the more subtle phenomena that we would otherwise miss.
It’s not the solitude of the deep woods, alas; there are dogs down the hill that bark enough to power an SUV if the effort they spend at it could be harnessed. The darkness is forever pierced by neighbors, who charity prevents my characterizing, that have gotten those lights that go on when it gets dark. Still, there are spaces between the barks and the darkness on the other side of the hill is not ruined. (The neighbors will no doubt get louder dogs and brighter lights, but for now this is so.)
Sometimes nature is not a political thing. Sometimes nature is just nature. It stands on its own and is its own justification. But when our minds are overloaded by other considerations, it’s easy to miss. We catch just the high points, the most demanding of nature’s aspects.
Lately, the high points have been fog in the morning and heat the rest of the time.
The other evening, I took a little walk back along the ridge behind my house. It was after sunset but there was still plenty of light. The air was heavy and damp, and breathing alone was enough to cause me to erupt in sweat. It took effort to notice anything beyond the discomfort, which was akin to standing in the bathroom fully clothed and turning the shower on to hot and just standing there in the steam.
The effort was worth it, though. It allowed me to use my other senses.
The woods smell wonderful in the summer, when it’s been damp. The perfume of flowers is mixed with the scent of vegetation in the process of being recycled into new, rich dirt; describing that scent would require words normally associated with wine tasting.
I listened. The bugs were going at it, a constant stream of identical chirps with the occasional soloist, a loud katydid. One needs to be very still in the woods in order to hear things other than the sounds of one’s own clumsiness — the dead leaves and twigs make stealth difficult.
In the distance I could hear what at first sounded like dogs, but they weren’t. They were coyotes, perhaps the ones responsible for my having to spend a while the other morning cleaning up the trash from my yard and putting it back into what had been a latched-shut garbage can. I had seen a coyote a few days earlier, in the afternoon, crossing a field a mile or so from my house. It was fat and healthy looking; most coyotes I’ve seen over the years are kind of skinny and woebegone. It must have been a good year for rabbits and fawns. (It certainly has been a good year for the rabbit that has been eating the jade plants on my porch!)
As darkness fell, the soft, impressionistic view across the valley was replaced by starker shapes, bigger shapes. The view went from pretty to a different kind of pretty. The sound was replaced by a persistent mosquito which seemed to like hovering near my left ear. Other mosquitoes were more industrious. I decided to abandon my hilltop perch.
I recreated the trip early the next morning. The bugs and coyotes had all apparently gone to sleep, because now there was stillness.
You’ve probably noticed that when it is snowing, sounds outside are somehow different. I think that much the same thing happens when it is very foggy, as it was that morning. I trudged up the ridge and, as is always the case, I was surprised when I looked back after only a little walk and could no longer see the house. My right shoulder was soaking wet where I had brushed against some leaves which in irritation had deposited their entire inventory of dew on me, and I discovered how it is possible to be both uncomfortably hot and clammy-chilly at the same time.
As the sun rose — because of the hill to the east, it’s fully light before the sun is visible here — I saw it hit the tops of the trees, making shadows in the fog of a sort normally found in religious paintings. It was, yes, majestic. Now birds were beginning their day. First was the rausousness of the mockingbird, but that was soon joined by a distant mourning dove. (Well, I say distant, but I do not know — mourning doves always sound distant.) Overhead, a squirrel had noticed me and set to the task of informing the woods of my presence.
Just beyond the line of vision, just deep enough in the fog, something moved. I have no idea what it was, though it sounded big. But in these leaves, everything sounds big.
The mosquito was back, as were his colleagues. It was time to head back inside and start my own day.
Which I did, my mood and outlook both much improved.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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