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All Halloweeny

Sunday, October 29, 2017

There are those days when staying home and trying to write isn't working. The house has been far too quiet lately. Liam's a senior in high school. 'Nuff said. 
  I didn't realize how much it meant to have another warm living body in the house, whether it was a person or just a sweetly weary dog, his face all silver, his eyes clouded. Now he's gone, too, and sometimes I just have to put some miles on and head down Dean's Fork, because there's nowhere else to put this feeling but in the measured rhythm of my boot steps. I pick my way down the uneven slopes until I hit the packed dirt of the road and can settle into a steadier gait. His ghost trots along with me, I expect, but I've only heard him snort once, and I've never yet seen him. It's taking him awhile to come through the veil.

There are others out there watching, and they're a comfort; they'll pass for company.

She lifts a strong slender leg and stamps, telling me I've been seen. Her next move--to whirl in a flash of white and rise on those slender legs, and kerthump away. Aw c'mon. What's so scary about a woman with a camera?

I'm delighted to find this field sparrow perched in perfect camouflage against stringy bark. As if it knows it. Well, it does. 

I imitate its thin whistle, sweet as maple syrup, and the sparrow perches up high for a better look at me.
Is there any blue like that of a late October sky? The perfect compliment to the field sparrow's soft, cinnamon-dusted feathers.

I follow the squidgy grinding sound of a gray squirrel cutting a black walnut, the work of an hour or more. I try to imagine opening a black walnut with my teeth and cannot. I can't even open them with a dang hammer.
Those are some razor sharp teeth there, Mr. Squirrel. I'm making him nervous by watching him, but he's not about to drop this partially-opened walnut. He can almost taste the purply sweetness of that precious kernel, the one that's never going to become a tree.

There's Alice. I just found out her name. She's an Allis Chalmers, and she still runs, I'm told. I've always called her the Right Reverend Allis Chalmers, and I know she doesn't care what anybody calls her. The phoebes nest up under the ceiling of her cab every year, and I love to see them sitting out on on ironweed in the meadow, bobbing their tails, like nobody would have figured out they'd hidden a nest up in Alice's cab. 

I keep walking until I get to the black barn, the green meadow, with the dead stalks of ironweed still standing; the warm brown Limousins grazing between the bitter plants. Since the gristmill fell down, the barn and this field-- Main Grounds for the Ironweed Festival-- is my endpoint, my destination. I need something to walk to. I have peeked through its boards, but have never been inside it, because it's always been padlocked. But today I'm amazed to see a board has rotted and fallen off, and the portal is suddenly open to me. Of course, I go in. This is where it gets all Halloweeny.

There is nothing like the slatted light inside an old barn, and nothing like the way the iPhone captures it. Oh, it gives me shivers. 
I always see watercolors in the limited palette, the lines and shapes of a barn interior.

The absolute first thing I see is guano. Oh. My. God. So much guano.

It's a pile of bat guano, that of big brown bats beyond doubt, with stripes of light raking across it, like a big claw trying to gather it in.

I am so flabbergasted that I'm cussing and babbling to myself. I'm briefly glad Chet isn't here to walk through it, maybe taste it as dogs will. His spirit is surely snuffling around here. He always wanted to go in this barn, would ask me to open the door, but I couldn't help him. 
Now Rot and Time, those gracious hosts, have let us in.

This must be a maternity roost, active in summer, and empty now. The barn is far too cold and drafty a place for any big brown bat to winter. I squint up into the rafters, knowing I'll find no bats. I look for the bodies of baby bats to confirm my guess that big browns breed here, but find none. There are scavengers aplenty to take care of any that fall. 
I pace off the sides of the heap to get some measure of it. It's seven feet long by five wide. I think it's at least a foot deep. That's a lot of bats, pooping for a very long time. 

I'm filled with joy that there is a place so near me where big brown bats may raise their young in peace, without someone freaking out and calling an exterminator to get rid of them. It's hard to be a bat in the world of people. There is a house on the same road where they'd been breeding, but they'll find it closed to them come spring. I can't blame the homeowners, but it made me sad just the same. It's what bats meet, everywhere they go. Exclusion. I'm glad to know there is this fallback. 
I'm just so glad to find a huge pile of bat frass. Better than roses, better than dinner out.
 I'm the ultimate low-maintenance woman. I'm the maintenance.

Processed flying insects, that's what this is, extruded in pellet form. This massive pile tells you something about the biomass of insects out there, and the tremendous potential of a bat colony to reduce it to finely-crunched fertilizer, to turn it into warm milk for wee warm short-furred pups. What a beautiful thought.

Batfrass duly admired and thought about, I turned to other sights.

Well. About 20 canisters of propellant explosives for cannons. Wednesday Thursday Friday. Holy crap. Wut? They seem pretty innocuous, lying on their sides, but I can't divine why anyone would have this, or store it here. I hope they're empty, but don't want to nudge them to see. It's a weird world. And about time to get out of this barn. But there's still so much to see.

On the canisters on an old seed or maybe fertilizer spreader, there's Rech Farm Equipment, from back in the days when Marietta, Ohio, didn't need to tell you the first two digits of a phone number. Everybody knew they were 3-7.
I wonder who I'd get if I dialed 373-9339 right now? A creaky, ghostly voice, answering "Rech 'Quipment, may I help you?" OoooOoooo.

 Ghostly things. There are always dead things in old barns. It doesn't take me long to find one.
A late squirrel rests in peace. I can see that nothing killed it; from its position and the intact bones, it came in here to die many years ago. I wonder why. Maybe it got into rat poison. I could see that happening, in a barn where unexpected explosives are stored.
The hair has long since gone with the flesh, melted into goo and decayed.

Despite its naked tail, I know it's a squirrel and not a rat because of its enormous tree-climbing claws. 

After the monochrome palette inside the barn, the autumn fire almost burns my eyes as I emerge back into Oz.

Smilax hearts, hanging suspended.

And there are ghosts on the walk home, too. I stop a long way away to watch mourning doves spiraling, winnowing down to feed on beechnuts in the road. I know what they're eating, because I've found and eaten them here this time of year, too, and I'll see them in the road when I walk up to investigate. Beechnuts are divine, sweet, triangular things, surprisingly nutty and juicy. I'm looking at mourning doves, but all my mind's eye can see is passenger pigeons, and I think of this dirt road and the entire forest floor moving with a great herd of slate blue and rose birds, twice the size of these, moving like a living carpet, vacuuming up the nuts of great beeches three times the size of the ones now growing here. I think of the roar of their wings should I move and startle them, the furious clatter of so many souls rising. 

It's been a cold day. It's after four, and the chicory never opened, never wilted; its face never went pale. That kind of chicory persistence only happens when it's cold, in October.

And this is October--deep, deep cold shadow and brilliant blue sky, blazing leaves at long last. October, in turn, makes me sweat, then makes me want to jump up high enough to catch that hilltop light and be warm again. Tonight as I write, it's raining, the kind of cold, steady rain that makes the leaves give up and fall off the trees. Oh please don't go. We'll eat you up, we love you so.

It's impossible to take a photo of October woods that shows the depth and the glow-from-within, but I try, again and again. 

I absolutely love the screaming neon chartreuse that catalpas take on in October. You can pick it out to the right of the cabin, catching the last sun. I'd never realized that was a catalpa until now. Each tree has its color, its week of utter individuality, when you can pick it out from the rest. And that happens in October, too.

Now I try to catch the last puddles of light, soaking up the color as it drains from the landscape. 

Time was when there would have been an inkblot crossing those puddles. It wasn't so long ago, but in my heart it feels like forever. 
I can hear you yelling, "SO GET A DOG, SADSACK!!" Unfortunately, another dog is not in the cards right now. My far-flung speaking engagements are only increasing; Liam's very busy in his senior year and rarely home, and when he heads to college in just a few months, I'll have no reliable dog-care backup at all. It's different out here in the sticks, 18 miles from town. You can't just call a next-door neighbor and ask them to stop in, because they aren't around, either. Liam and I managed as Chet got older and needed more care, but making sure someone was there for him a couple of times a day was an everyday struggle, one I know better than to invite right now. There's a peace in not having to worry about one's dog, after almost 13 years of worrying about one's dog. It's an aching peace, but peace nonetheless. No wonder I try so hard to make friends with wild things, who don't need to be fed or let out. They're already out.

I was too warm at the beginning of the walk, so stripped down to a T-shirt and rolled my jackets up in the weeds where I could find them again. I'm glad to get back to them and put them on now. In only two hours it's gone from sunny to shivering. Oh, October, you're a moody month.

I'm so glad to get my clothes back I stop to take a rare selfie. Not my favorite subject, but I want to show my beautiful Toronto Blue Jays Underarmor fleece that Hodge sent to me. I love keeping Jemima close to my heart, love flashing her colors. I love having such a creative and thoughtful friend.  Now that it's gotten cold, I can't take it off. I have to wash it today, though, because it smells of beef from the stew I made last night. Phew! 

 I don't notice until I upload the photo to my laptop that I've got bat poop in my  hair. Par for the Zick course. Truth in advertising. There she is, folks, batsh-t in her hair, don't know, don't care, ain't skeert. As my kids love to say, SPOOPY!!

I stop to look back down the road. Yep, beautiful, and still empty.

And up ahead, a tunnel of beauty. I head home, trying to beat the shadows, trying to stay in the light.

And the deer scatter before me.


you are lovely-bat poop and all, and your words are as elegant and resonant as the world you describe...��

A beautiful homily in the church of an October afternoon. Thanks for this. I miss Chet Baker too.

Your words so descriptive make all your journeys feel as if we are right beside you. Wish I were. XO

Lovely piece, thank you for sharing the magic!

Such a delightful account of your walk---both the mental and physical ones. I think you will like Camus's observation : "Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is in flower."

"Now Rot and Time, those gracious hosts, have let us in." You are not suffering from writer's block. This post is one of the best.

Those images of the road with the puddles and their bright leaf reflections... to click and embiggen them is to almost stand beside you in that moment. I am soaking up the sensations, and I can understand why this place calls to your soul. Thank you for sharing.

Bat poop in your hair?... you had to tell us... I was writing it off as a smudge on your camera lens.
And Liam is a senior in high school!!? HOW is that possible! didn't Phoebe just begin college a month-or-two ago...(or so it seems) ;)

Thank you. I get the dog thing. The rest - beauty.

This post is just perfect, I am awestruck.

Such a poignant, beautiful post. I feel your melancholy, and wonder if I could survive it, survive being dogless. I love October; I love your photos, your heart.

A cat on your lap is mighty comforting...

Beautiful, beautiful writing . . . it takes us there.

Just perfect. Love it.

What a glorious and poignant walk you took us on, Julie -- your gift is to enable us to see through your eyes and feel your passion for this breathtakingly beautiful—sometimes wild and haunting—world we live in.

I held my breath while you were in the barn, praying you wouldn't fall through a rotten floorboard! Having grown up on a farm, I could smell the remnants of stale hay and guano. We used to rearrange the stacks of hay in our barn's hayloft to create forts and fabulous jumping platforms. Ah, the memories...

So beautiful! I have not the sense of adventure to peer, let alone walk in, an abandoned anything. But I love what you find when you do. Yes, batshit crazy in the best possible way. I so get it about another dog. There was a time, now’s not the time, there’ll be another time.

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