A young Japanese Red Maple casts her blue shadow upon white snow. Trees paint in shadow, each work a self-portrait laid over the Earth’s seasonal canvas.
Hawk and Sparrow —
along the fallow edge they flew,
with wings and talons slicing
that perimeter unseen.
A dance of opposition —
capture and escape;
Unison of hearts intent
Flash of yellow,
thrust of taloned legs —
Sparrow cries alarm.
beating earth and air.
Confusion of color —
ivory, woodland rusts and browns.
But Hawk cannot extract his prize,
cannot pull it under, out, and up
and lift away in flight.
Release is unexpected —
talons unclutch and liberate;
Sparrow streaks to ruffled safety
within the bristle of nearby hedge.
Beyond separating glass —
among fenced and netted stones
of slumbering, tongueless garden —
Nature’s urgent tug and pull
and I am Witness.
Okay — go brew yourself a pot of your favorite hot beverage and get a little something to snack on…maybe a cinnamon raisin scone, or an old-fashioned doughnut. Then, sit back, make yourself comfy, a prepare for a long, wild read!
Wide blue sky. Scudding clouds. Steep slope of grassy hill awash in gray stones scattered like small flocks of sheep. We follow her — this green-clad woman, this mystic, old-world physician — up the hillside, struggling against an edge of wind through which she glides unbufetted. We have left the small town below so suddenly, the townsfolk are suspicious; they gather together in the square, plotting and whispering. Even at this distance, at our ever-increasing elevation, I feel their collective stare.
We have almost reached the hill’s top, that gently sloping shoulder of soft, wind-tossed grasses, when we see them — three small gray balls of fluff. Wolf pups. And then, we see their mother, prone upon the ground, torn in two. Beyond all probability and imagining, she yet lives. The woman, this doctor who leads us — she can save the wolf. I watch as she kneels beside the ragged body, and I realize another gray shape hurtles toward us from the hill’s far side. The she-wolf’s mate. Fury in his eyes, bristling his coat. He won’t stop, will rend us entirely, though we wish only to help.
Standing, placing myself in his path and shielding the doctor and her lupine charge, I call out in a loud, steady voice unfamiliar to my own ears:
Immediately, the rushing male halts. Yellow eyes stare, but he listens as I explain, in wolf’s tongue, what we attempt, that he must take the pups to safety, that we will bring her to him when we have completed our task to the best of our abilities. He must show me where we may deliver her at that time. Still, he stares with those yellow eyes, turns at last and leads me around the hill’s far side till we arrive at a steep mountain of polished granite. A smooth ledge is incised into the mountain’s curve, up and around. The wolf starts upon this path, looks back at me, and gestures with his muzzle several times to be sure I understand. Yes. Follow the path. Continue. Around. Like the warming curl of tail over nose in Winter. Up. And up. Like wolfsong called out to the full Moon.
Back at the scene of carnage, I am, now, the woman physician. The mystic. I kneel in the spread of spilled blood. Green skirts rusting, hands slick. I stitch the she-wolf together — organ to organ, flesh to flesh, front half to back. I wrap her torso in strips of white cloth. Fur pokes through, a fringe of gray between overlapping seams. She makes no noise at any time. Never struggles.
With help, I fashion a litter from two long branches and a pair of jeans. We struggle to force the leafed and twigged limbs down the pant legs. At last, I lift the wolf as gently as possible, secure her to the litter. Leading the way, I begin the trek up the smooth granite path to the mountain’s top.
Such a climb. Footing unsure on gripless stone. Ceaseless, tugging wind. Upon reaching the top, I have abandoned the litter, clutch the bundled wolf to my chest. Before us — a pair of stainless steel sliding doors, which part, allow entry into a cavern fashioned from within the mountain’s dome. Lights hang from impossibly long steel cables anchored to the interior curve of mountain above us — slender, luminous stalactites. A plane of polished granite spreads out before us, chasing away past a reception desk, a set of elevators, what appear to be offices. The floor disappears into the dark beyond.
Most astonishing, though are this places’ inhabitants — wolves all, yes; but the majority of them walk about upright on two legs. Some are clad as people, in business suits and work uniforms; others in only their varied shades of fur. All eyes slew to intercept us, eyeing me in particular, with my bloodied burden clasped against my chest.
A wolf dressed in white doctor’s scrubs and head mirror steps out from behind the front desk. I lay my charge down, and the wolf doctor speaks to me, assures me of our safety, of their gratitude. She speaks English, I notice. She begins her examination, and I watch her run a scanner over the wounded hind wolf’s paws, witness her alarm when the device offers no reading. Again, the same with the she-wolf’s front paws. The doctor wolf is confused, she says; the patient smells of the right identity, but the scanners do not support this finding. I explain her injuries were so severe, I was forced to apply skin grafts.
Noise from the dark. Tumult. The wounded wolf’s mate is charging, on all fours. I exhort the doctor to check the she-wolf’s eyes, to take a retinal scan. She peel’s back an eyelid. To my great relief, the scanning device blips confirmation.
Blizzard sifts and swirls without, accumulating insistent inches. Pressing up against the windows’ panes, collected snow peers inside. We are fortunate of our warmth.
The Sweetgum’s cache of seed pods are heaped upon the earth in offering. Each burlike sphere contains two small seeds. Each seed retains the bright green, star-leafed memory of its parent, and all of its potential.
the hearth was stoked
two brands withdrawn
to light their
patient breath upon the coals
till the embers
The church hall is thronged — a mass of people sitting on the green-and-ivory tiled floor, all facing the stage at the room’s far end. From the back near the kitchen, my vantage allows me an unobstructed view of restless crowd, allows me to see the one, large man lumber to standing. Slowly he turns, his gaze settling on me. His face breaks into a great, goofy grin as he begins pushing his way through the crowd.
No, no, no. I do not have time for this — for his ridiculous games and bad jokes and awkward conversation. I make my escape before he can reach me. Past the coat rack, out the double doors, down the spill of wide steps into the night. To discourage pursuit, I dash across the street, in search of a place to hide. The night is cool and thick with shadow. As I prowl about, I’m concerned someone will mistake me for a burglar. Dogs in my grandmother’s yard raise an alarm. Heading back toward the street, I lie down in the dirt, curling up at the road’s edge. Grit and stones and leaf litter press into my palms, my cheek. Bits of broken glass wink and glitter, lit by passing cars’ headlights. The earth’s chill slips up into hip and shoulder.
When the footsteps approach, I peeking through my lashes, see a little girl dashing across the church’s night-darkened lawn. She can’t be more than eight years old — curly blonde ringlets, blue eyes. Dressed in a flounce of blue and white taffeta, a sky blue ribbon in her hair. Without hesitation, without a look, she skips across the street to lie in the dirt alongside me. Where are her parents? Why is she out here, all by herself, at this late hour? Traffic has increased now, and I worry about her safety, assure myself she is far enough away from the pavement’s crumble.
Checking on her again, she is no longer a little girl, but a young man who regards me with a steady, dark-eyed gaze. There is something menacing about him, predatory. On knees and elbows, I press myself up from the cold, hard earth and run back across the street, down the church’s long driveway. My husband awaits me outside the church’s side door; we’ll enter together, get back into the warmth and safety of the kitchen. But the door is flung open, and that same young man now blocks our entry. He threatens. Commands. Coerces. But I will not be influenced; will not be persuaded or manipulated. Until he changes his tactics, threatens instead to break my husband’s legs if I do not comply…