ebb & flow

this autumn season has been a series of tiny vignettes, none of them poignant or significant enough to get me writing about them. there was the hour i spent being a human chickadee feeder, standing with my arms out, palms full of seed, and letting the little wonders take feed from my hands. that was the day i discovered the leucistic chickadee in my flock, its tiny black eyes starkly beady in its completely white face. there was the evening that i walked down the driveway to move some fallen pine branches when i startled a tree full of roosting juvenile ravens, sending twenty-five or thirty of them out of the ash tree they were just settling in, their grumpy croaks and taffeta wing-beats receding deeper into the woods.

all these little moments got me thinking about the season, though, about how autumn is when everything is dialed back, slowed down, everything becomes somehow more personal.

in spring, everything comes bursting out in a tidal wave of lust and gluttony. you can almost hear the roar of things springing out of the ground, the buzz of incoming swarms of insects, the birds sweeping back north to eat and nest and raise a brood or two or three. i feel that if i was quiet and still, i could hear a steady pulse, a creaking of growth, through the cacophony of possibilities. there is a drumbeat in spring, dizzying, overwhelming, and contagious.

it pounds on through the summer until early september, when it starts to fade and retreat. the bugs and birds melt away. the grass stops growing. the fleshy summer foliage shrinks and becomes brittle and brown. then the trees, after a brief riot of color, drop their leaves. when the wind blows in fall, the mighty swoosh of a tree in full leaf that sounds like a distant waterfall, becomes a soft clacking of twigs and creaking of boughs. funny that you don’t hear those plaintive sighs from the trees in a spring or summer storm, only in fall. the deer and the turkeys flock up, move down toward the valleys. the bears and skunks go to ground. in the vast silence that’s left, there open up moments where nature feels more accessible, more one-on-one, moments where you can touch the world and it touches back, because it finally has the time to do so.

a pack

we break into the forest,
some dogs and i.
we are a pack,
one organism
with loll-eared, slaver-jawed parts.
our paws smash crunching leaves,
our feet crush brittle twigs.
we charge into the fray,
our hunting grins feral
our eyes focused miles away,
ready to bay,
to howl,
to laugh.
we are a pack.

on the edge of the bliss

i was born in september; it’s my time. we who live in temperate climates have an almost primal tie to the cycles: to the the holding up of light against the darkness, to bonfires, to harvest, to the dying land. there’s a thrum in the blood, a return to the hunt, something fierce and violent, but right on the edge of a long, peaceful somnolence. we gobble up the abundance before the lean times, festooning everything with corn and squashes and wheat as though piling our porches will sustain us through the winter. it is glorious, this time of plenty, but we also stand upon the threshold of a metaphysical death and we feel it, deep. we watch the skies, we smell the wind, we begin looking for omens in the stripes of a caterpillar or the height of a bees nest. there is a hush now, an echo of the missing summer songbirds, a susurrus that’s something more than leaves, a whisper that is thrilling and terrifying, that pushes us to leap over bonfires, spill the blood of the autumn king, tell tales of spirits with the heads of pumpkins. and eat candy apples, blister our hands on rake handles, and grumble in the morning about having to put on proper shoes.

happy september, friends.

october night (willow)

the gumboot gumshoe has become a dog-blogger, but this too shall pass. i have a texas a&m quail on the farm now (just one) and it’s time to batten down the hatches for winter, with associated fencing and running-of-electrical-cords and i will get to all that, but today is about willow, who, YES, is still somehow with us. but just for today. and about grief. and about october, which is a grand time for grief.

as i’ve said in previous entries, willow has been an old dog for a long time, a lot longer time than her age (13) would necessarily warrant. she wasn’t even 10 when she started to opt to stay home from walks and it had been years at that point since she disappeared down to mud pond for a secret swim. for the last year, she has had good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, long stretches of comfort and sanity and shorter stretches of deaf, crapping battiness. every time i think it’s time to call the vet and make that terminal appointment, she bounces back, goes for a little walk, manages to get outside to do all her bodily functions every day for days until the next time.

last weekend was a bad one, so i called the vet monday morning and organized willow’s last day. i arranged the cremation. i planned all the ways to spoil an old, deaf, crapping, batty dog until the end. and, really, she’s had a good week. good enough that if i was a person of stronger constitution and less bleeding heart, i would probably have called the vet and postponed for a while, but there’s only so many times you can resolve yourself to your dog’s last day.

that’s today.

as i write this, willow is still with us. later on, i’ll leave work early, i’ll carry her to the jeep, i’ll drive to the vet, and i’ll come home alone. tonight will be impossible, tomorrow difficult, and the next week or two melancholy. i won’t want to talk about willow or grief then. it’s hard to talk about her now, with the scythe hanging over her, but it must come now or come never.

october is about little deaths: the end of bounty, the end of warmth, the end of the promise and hope of spring and summer before the long, long dark days of winter. we start looking for comfort: hot drinks, warm woolens, flannel and fire and light and something, anything to keep us from the cold. each leaf that falls, each goose that flies, each bloom of frost is a knell. it is practice for life in that it is practice for our own terminal nature. we wake, we bloom, we grow, we thrive, we wither, we die. the closer we get to our own ends, the more we look for comforts: achievements, accomplishments, concrete proof that we were here, that we had meaningful lives, that we didn’t waste what time we had.

most dogs don’t do this. they do everything with relish, everything with abandon. they sleep with joy, they eat with joy, they find nasty things to roll in and do that with joy, too. they don’t wrestle with the cursed manuscript of the next great american novel. they don’t struggle with a job to pay their mortgage. they don’t have moments of ennui. they’re dogs. they just do dog.

last night, willow came to me for a pettins. she got so excited over the ear scratching that she lost her balance and went ass over teakettle and continued to smile. feeble, odorous, and generally not in charge of her own physicality anymore, she was still living with joy, whistling through an october night and not fearing the end.

good night, my girl.

old willow

and fall fell

edward, the most horrible goat in the world, is an incredible escape artist. he breaks chains, plows through fences, drags concrete blocks for miles, and breaks down doors. at only about 100 pounds, he’s not a very big goat, but he’s as wide as he is long and too stubborn to let mere physics get in the way of his caprine antics. and (of course) this is the goat that oakland can’t stop chasing. late last week, edward broke a steel cable tether (the kind that says “for giant or aggressive dogs; 150 lb. strength”, har har) and was loose most of the weekend. he stayed up in the back pasture where the other two goats are tethered, so it was no big, but there’s no guarantee that he won’t just wander into the house if he’s wild and free, so i prefer to keep him tied. after a failed attempt at tying the steel cable back together, i went to the hardware store and bought fifteen feet of welded steel chain. like, you could drag trees with this chain. it’s ridiculous when jenny is fine with a flimsy dog chain and big old oak is handily tied with a 185# strength nylon rope. i chained edward to the calf hutch sunday night and went merrily on my way. when i got home on monday after work, he was dragging the hutch all over the place, spooking the horses and sending soni under the hot gate. it takes two humans to carry this hutch and would probably take three to beat the friction from the ground to drag or push it. ridiculous!

so, tuesday evening i set about moving some of dana’s pasture fence so that i could tie edward to a tree next to the composter, where the weeds and grass have rather buried the composting operation this summer. the weather was pleasantly jacket-y and cool, but not chilly, and the sun was shining. i was pottering around in the sort of aimless way that i do when i haven’t sat down and made a fencing plan before i start fencing when i realized that those red things on the ground that kept catching my eye were leaves. then i heard the honk of geese. and i realized that there was no escape, the downhill slope was sloping gleefully downhill: autumn.

i looked around me, seeing all of the things that still need to be done before winter and couldn’t believe how quickly the summer flew, how little i accomplished, how panicked the idea of snow on the wind made me feel. at least this summer’s failed garden means that i don’t have the garden to put to bed before winter, but the chicken coop needs repairs, the shed needs cleaning and the floor replaced (and the roof, too, but that might have to wait for next spring), the flower beds need attention, and the whole place needs to be tidied and battened down. and it’s only september, but there’s so much to do and so few (so short, so usually-rainy) days left.