Friday, June 6, 2014

Late Summer Musings (First in the Series of Summer Essays)

The afternoon light has grown decidedly different once again, penetrating these woods at a slightly different angle from mere days ago. It dances on the low pine branches earlier now, and bathes the low-hanging leaves of the witch hazel as it sinks behind the taller trees.

The cricket’s music has replaced that of the wood and hermit thrushes that never stay much beyond the end of July, and owls are dominating the night woods again. They regaled me one night last week with a full-blown hooted conversation that went on for several minutes until the participants decided to move deeper into the shadows where I couldn’t hear them anymore. I lay awake awhile listening, but all I heard was a dog barking.

I have always enjoyed the sound of a dog barking from a distance at night. I am somehow comforted while going to sleep knowing that someone’s faithful pet is out there alert to the sounds and smells and also to any danger that might be lurking. That same alertness is to be found in another creature as well, and one that most people would least expect.

Several years ago, I was sitting in front of the fire with a book when I heard crows cawing close by. That’s a common sound here, so I paid it no mind. After a few more minutes, though, I realized that their cries had intensified and that other crows had joined in the chorus. Their cawing was now at a higher pitch and more frantic, so I got up to look outside. I reached the window just in time to see a large fisher run across the yard under some trees not 40 feet from my front door. It scooted across the rock wall that divides my property from my neighbor’s and disappeared into the woods.

I noticed then that the crows had stopped and had flown away, and I realized that they had been tracking that fisher on its way through the woods. In a very real way, those crows had assumed the role of sentinels, their uncharacteristically high-pitched cawing their way of sounding the alarm that an intruder was lurking.

I had the same experience again just a few weeks ago, but this time, a coyote skulked through in exactly the same spot the fisher had. Like the fisher, it had disturbed the crows’ peace, and they were once again frantic to let someone know. A bit of research revealed that crows actually band together to intimidate intruders, which was surely what these crows had been doing as well.

And so it goes in these Lyman woods, not that far from the beaten paths that lead to busier places. Each day brings new wonders, new sounds, new smells, new simple truths to learn, and all that is asked of me is that I be cognizant and open to it, not judging, but simply accepting a way of life that was here before I was.

Today, one of my cats scurried off into the low brush and made quite a noise in the process. She’d disturbed something, so I went off to see what it was. Through the low branches, a small flock of turkey hens were making their way toward the deeper woods. I watched them for a moment, and like my cat, gave them wide berth and headed home.

Tonight, I’ll listen again for owls. Raccoons will most likely visit the back porch and leave their muddy paw prints across the picnic table. And maybe, with any luck, that dog will bark in the distance, letting me know that all is well in these dark and wondrous woods.

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