I’ve never written about the property adjacent to ours. It fails the “simple, true, beautiful,” criteria and then some. There is a red house, but no one lives there. The owner keeps the six feet of driveway between the gate and the road plowed. Every so often he stops by with another load of garbage, puts it on his property and leaves. Microwaves, laundry baskets, plastic buckets, green tubs, garbage bags, and various other pieces of junk cover what was at some point, someone’s lawn and driveway. Stray cats go there and in the spring crocuses dare to peek around the edges, but it is as ugly as a lifetime of holding on to worthless things.
The fact that I have to pass it in order to arrive at my preferred walk past the cemetery and into the woods irritates me. I look straight ahead or imagine the red house as it might have been when it was a home. I push down the need to sigh and mutter to myself about townships and taxes and dump trucks. Returning from my walk yesterday I had my eye on a squirrel. Last year there was a really strange one that would run the fence six feet away from me, then leap from tree to tree. One day in particular he must have gone on fifty feet or so until if felt like we were walking together. I wondered if among his fellow squirrels he was viewed as uncannily bright or mentally ill. Yesterday’s squirrel stayed with me for a while and I found myself wondering if it was the same squirrel. I lost him just before I got to the garbage gateway. I could still hear him talking and strained to find him with my eyes.
Which is when I saw this.
I’ve seen porcupines up in trees chewing leaves in the spring, but not in the winter until now. I’m not sure where I think they should be, but I took it as a gift and went to get my camera. By the time I got back, the closer one was almost to the ground. I stood there staring and he began his sloth like ascent up again.
I was quite taken with his tail.
But his face was even better.
I took at least ten pictures which mostly look the same but I couldn’t help myself. I stood at garbage gate delighted – with the wonder of porcupines and redemption and doing what you do without worrying about where you do it.
Imagine beauty, hunkered down in trees above a sea of refuse, mounds upon mounds of it . . . yet there it was. Wild and free, sitting above me, ambling through the branches. Even in junkyards, life comes, rises above, and is.
It is hunting season around here. My neighbour always kindly reminds me, or I might forget. Forgetting wasn’t a possibility the other day. It was so loud that I looked out the kitchen window to see if there was a confused hunter out shooting our sheep. Whether it was target practice or boredom, the dog and I stuck to the roads for our walk.
The kids and I call the woods that I usually walk through, “The Magic Forest.” It’s pure Narnia. Especially in winter. Kids who are ambivalent about walks in general, almost always accept invitations to the Magic Forest. Hunting season is short, but I miss my magic trees. Gravel, pavement, telephone poles, and plastic food wrappers (reminding me that living in the country does make the one immune to self-indulgent stupidity) are just not the same, even without the cars.
The only magic on the roads is when I happen on some of the creatures passing by. Skunks, deer, racoons, rabbits, a family of foxes, wild turkey. I always slow down to look. One night a porcupine stopped to look back so we had a conversation in the dark until he finally ambled off.
I think my favourites are the turtles. Every year in May or June, there is a week when the turtles line the gravel on the sides of the road like vacation destinations. A road just around the corner from us seems to be prime real estate. At dusk, huge snapping turtles dig nests in the gravel and lay their eggs. I always want to explain that the benefits of warm blacktop can’t possibly outweigh the danger of cars. I never see the babies, only mothers in the spring. But despite the fatalities, they keep showing up to lay eggs, so something must be working.
On my unmagic walk, I tried to convince the dog that removing the burr from her tail would make her more attractive. We have been having this discussion for about three weeks now. Turns out she doesn’t care what she looks like. Every time she paused to sniff something, I would give a futile attempt to grab at that burr with my fingers. Bent over trying to grab the burr in motion, my eyes caught sight of a hole. For a second I thought some moron had buried their white plastic garbage in the gravel, but logic prevailed and I took a closer look.
On the side of a most un-enchanted and ordinary road, magic. Turtle eggs. Already hatched. No baby turtles, but I dug out five or six dusty white broken shells and took them home to show the kids. In the dance down here between miracles and madness, mark one for the miracles.