I find bits of former lives everywhere in the woods, along roadsides, on traces of paths through brambles and high grass. Carried home, they take up space on bookshelves, pushed back in the refrigerator until I get to them or in the freezer. Five skulls, one of an unknown fish, a snakeskin and jawbones rest above my head next to novels. Over the years, the freezer has held the head of a fox, a cardinal, many other birds, a whole crow and oh … other creatures. I examine them close up, beasts who move so quickly to see well. I imagine circles around each, and within those circles, the one whose remains I hold in my hand and its life, of which I know nothing really — only reports of the species’ behaviors and instincts as studied by others, but nothing of the actual life of this singular creature, this one, this one alone plucked from the catalog of its genus. What territory did it roam? What passed in front of its eyes? What lost spells of time and events have I missed? So … a week ago and the wing on the trail….
The wing had been torn from the shoulder. A sliver of red bone glances from beneath the black feathers — both the primaries and secondaries are still attached as if the wing had been surgically removed. No other feathers circle it. I walk a 6 foot radius, 12 feet, 20 feet. Nothing. It had been dropped. The kill had taken place elsewhere. Only hawks and owls kill crows. The wing measures just short of foot in length, its bones tensile and very strong, the color a shiny ‘noir’ black. This belonged to an adult. How had he been taken?
In more open country a few days later I bent to pick up and sift a piece of scat — a twirl of grayish hair dusted through with ashy feces. Fox…winter food…dry…no berry seeds…a mouse or shrew by the look of the bones. I walk this path often. This was new…early rain the day before but this was dry as can be so last night probably. Kneeling now, my head low to the ground. The dogs come to look, curious and always hungry. They settle next to me in the cold sunshine.
The more time I spend out here, the better chance to witness something that will change my day, make me gasp, make me think, slip me away from the worried life of bills and obligations and those common duties that stick to us like burrs.
Three days ago moving slowly in deeper woods, just waiting and looking — then a flash as if someone had thrown black and red and white light that broke on a sharp curve. Going still I see five feet away a pileated woodpecker come to rest. This close he is enormous. At the base of a dead tree he begins hammering out flecks of wood the length of my finger. Methodically he moves down. When he finally sees me, he flings himself away, cutting through the undergrowth by twists and torques.
The two places where I have felt most comfortable are in a classroom and out here — a room crowded with desks or space and silence; 25 kids five times a day or solitude and woods and sky. I wonder about that conciliation.
That room is behind me now. This is where I want to be, surrounded by all the invisible events that I long to witness, a trespasser hoping to infiltrate other strange lives and be taught once again.