Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Night Watches

“At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that 'news' is not something that happens to other people. He might learn how his ancestors lived and that he himself is no different--in the crunch his life depends on his agility, alertness, and personal resourcefulness.”
― Robert A. Heinlein

A late Spring snowstorm hist the Midwest and a city will grind to a halt. An autumn windstorm of vast power catches the west, catching many off guard. I pay attention to weather, the forecasts, the chances for a really bad day. I've learned first hand how nature is more than happy to cut off your breath with a choking whisper of disregard.
Few do. Hollywood actors return from the political fundraisers to their houses build on hillsides that do, and will for eternity, burn to the dirt line every few years. People move to the mountains, build houses the size of New Hampshire, including green lawns that have to be watered in the high desert and then wonder why there's a water shortage and they have to dig a new well so often.

As that commercial from my childhood went "it's not NICE to fool mother nature".

You never know from whence your own moment will come. A couple of winters ago in my own area, a woman talking on her cell phone on ice slicked roads drives into a small pond and drowns mere feet from the bank, somewhere else, someone killed by a falling branch, heavy with ice as they took the dog out. There will not be a Spring storm where someone doesn't try and cross a rain washed road only to be washed away and drowned. The unwary, the naive, don't last long in the world we live in now.
As a child I lived right on the edge of mountains, which I could see out my window, where I could hear all that was around me in the still, dark nights. In those days before the big box marts moved in and a highway came on through, you could live the sound of nature right outside the window at night. I'd listen for the screech of the owl, the tiny fairy feet of a chipmunk on the deck, the lumbering gait of a raccoon, looking for something good to eat, the tiny tracks in the pristine snow. So young, so idealistic, I'd yet to understand that nature often wears a benign disguise to hide the evidence of how both man and beast craft their own survival.

Later, as I was learning to hunt, I'd see the predators, a bobcat shadowing me, or the deer that I was stalking. There in the edge of my vision, deer rifle slung over the shoulder, I'd be watching him watching me. He turns, so thin as he moves sideways that his form seem no larger than a branch, a shadow of tooth and claw, and then he's gone.
A crack of thunder splits the night, a warning to take shelter.  As I hurry back to camp I know that somewhere tonight, blood, hot and dense, bringing both pleasure and pain, will soak into the ground, starting the cycle of life again. From the woods a cry of an animal lingered long on the air, leaving on the breeze the thin echo of regret.  Today you weren't worthy prey, tomorrow who knows

It's not just in the woods, when my mind has turned towards being prey. There's been times where I've turned the key in the ignition of a little Cessna, took a long hard look at the sky, and shut down the engine, tied it back down and headed in. But there were also times I flirted with the cold and the dark with the abandon that one gets when their youthful flesh is untouched.

We all take paths that seem exciting at the time, as we travel the wilderness of a heart, of a landscape. Everything is as it seems to be, you're not mindful of the dangers, the lies that flow from a warm front during a time of cold.  Yet sometimes, the sky clears, you look carefully at where you're at, and where you're headed and realize the wisest thing to do is to walk away, clean and with as little blood as possible.
Fear is a gift of nature, so that the field will be more fairly played. I still spend just as much time outdoors as I did as a young woman. The walks are often alone, but on my hip is a weapon always, especially when out West when the four legged predators are a little bigger than they normally grow in the Midwest.

On the table by the bat phone is a stone I took from a field.  It was not party to anything I was looking at that night, it simply was there, marking the spot where I stood like an unblinking eye. When I picked it up, the rock was still warm, not enough to pull my fingers away, but enough that it possessed a luminescence heat, not the sort that would burn, but a slow steady warmth that the dying fire may scorn, rain would dilute, but only time could truly deplete. I picked it up and held it in my hand, feeling it cool. Not everything of strength and density is cold. Watching a drip of water fall to the ground I thought, even a stone can weep.

Years later I would look at the phone that whispered to me with the deliberate murmur of its waiting. I know it's going to ring, somehow I always seemed to know. It dud, late in the evening, nearly dark. Somewhere on cold air, buzzards soar in strong wind, the stiff breeze giving them the illusion of regression. The truck's warmed up, it's time to take my things and go.
As I headed down the road that night, a yawn escapes from me. My breath was frosty against the window as I turn past the cemetery, where angelic forms in shadowed marble muse, their eyes raised up above as if to ask why.

I could not answer that question, I could only drive the truck to where I've been called, scars hidden underneath a dark blue jacket, the letters that spell out my calling, splayed like snow across the back. I watched my path closely, eyes straight out on the road, checking for downed limbs or water underneath the clearing sky.

I looked out at the shadowed form of fence and trees, broken branches drooping, the landscape empty and uncaring, even as it flows as liquid past, from right to left. What is left was a silent blur, posts and caution signs, shattered with rain, dissolving into ground, each in their ordered place so soon to be disregarded. I opened the window for the sound of nature, and heard it in all its glory, a song simple in melody and tone. It's repentance, and retribution, ecstasy and bereavement; a tune spun on the night air, a disembodied wind singing a lament for those who trod where they should not.