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Monday, November 6, 2006

When the wind kicked up, the leaves of this beech shimmered and swam like a school of golden minnows. Now they've all turned brown. But they'll hang on to those dry, taupe leaves almost until spring, a trait known as marescence, and one of the things that makes beeches one of my favorite trees. Most everyone around here hates them; at least the people who sell timber for money, because beeches are usually hollow and not good for many board-feet. I enjoy having an entirely different, aesthetically-based value system, even as I am aware that having that value system is a luxury in itself. I'm no Thoreau; I like hot baths and fancy lotions, and I don't have to sell timber to buy them.

The last couple of days I have been hanging on until it's time to go for a walk. I force myself to work until I'm cross-eyed, and then I set out on the trail at a fast lope, Chet in the lead, to try to send some air through my lungs and some blood through my legs and clear my mind out. I don't know what I'd do without these woods, this dog, the light hitting off his smooth back, his small feet hitting in a perfect, foxlike line. I watch him, the fluid working of his muscles, and watch him some more. He's so clean, so beautiful, so young and strong. A living, frolicking, sweet-smelling antidote to drudgery, dissimulation, self-absorption, anger, hurt, ill humor; all the soul-clogging conditions and emotions that seem to be the unique province of the angel beast.I've been keeping him on the lead until we get off the neighbor's land and come back onto ours. This is for the cattle, for the turkeys, fox squirrels, towhees, sparrows and grouse, for the hermit thrushes and anything that makes a rustle in the leaves. I've decided that I like to see them before Chet does. And it's good practice for him to behave once in a while, to learn not to haul on the leash but to walk like the American gentleman he is. To my delight, the gas company cut the head-high brambles and weeds that choked The Cut, a once-clear strip along the back of our property. Now I can see again, lope again. Some clearings are nice. Once we get there, I unleash Chet, and he's free to boing off after chipmunks, deer and squirrels to his heart's content, always heading toward home.

It's rutting season, and I'm seeing bucks every day. A beautiful eight-pointer, head low, following a frisky doe along Dalzell Road, oblivious to the time of day and my stopped car. Hunters, of course, take advantage of the single-mindedness of a horny buck; I do too, though I'm content just to admire them. That value system again... Everywhere on the Loop are big areas of the forest floor, scraped clean; broken twigs overhead where the buck has been thrashing his antlers and poking twig ends into the glands below his eyes, leaving resin-like scent droplets on them. Sumacs are broken and girdled. Somebody out there is getting lucky.
This little buck was sunning along our meadow one morning before the gale took the leaves away. I'll know him again from his odd, high-crowned rack, the left antler pointing straight up. That is, if the bowhunters allow it. Yes, I wish I could protect him and the other deer, and I know that our land offers some safety, if incomplete. They know it too. I suspect they know me, by the way they stand and look. Animals always know so much more than we give them credit for.
Chet climbed unseen up a long, leaning log, reaching its broken end, which jutted up some four feet over the forest floor. I was examining some ferns and didn't see him until I glanced up to resume my climb. He waited while I fumbled with my camera, held his pose while it slowly awakened, and gave me a half-dozen shots of his leonine majesty. He was right--it was the perfect photo-op. How could a dog know how to make the woman he loves smile? And then I remembered: it's Job One for Chet Baker.


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