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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Woodpile At Night

You're out there on the edge of it, you know.

You can smell it of course. The winter's just a hand on the shoulder, not a fist in the face, and the dull swampy flavor of the place washes over you when the wind shifts. Rotten and fecund. When it freezes over, the wind tastes like metal, or an ice cube that's been in the freezer too long.

It rustles from time to time. A bird in a branch. A squirrel in the leaves. A possum or a raccoon or a bear or a griffon or a tyrannosaur, for all you know. They never announce themselves.

The good wood clanks when you drop it on the splitting stump. It sounds ceramic. You know it'll split along the medullary rays in one quick stroke, a few stringy tendrils left to cleave the splits together until they tumble to the hard packed dirt and wait for the stack, the gentle arc of the bark side always up to shed the water that sneaks under the pile cover.

The raptor goes overhead. In the winter the sun is too low in the southern sky to put you noticeably in their shadow. The first you know of them is the shriek they emit, cruising way over the tall pines. No fish today. Something soft and furry that the cat missed.

Come out here at night, with the chilly stars pricked in the slate firmament, the wind abated. Come out to the edge of the forest and fen to the woodpile. That edge has moved with the sunset, and you realize the new edge of the wild was the doorknob. You're in it now, not at the margin of it.

You can stand there a quiet minute, and all the sound is gone but the blood in your veins. The air is redolent of woodsmoke already, but something else, too. You're just another beast, without claw or tooth to speak of, and you're among them. You're not afraid; you're attuned to the place your kind once kept in the order of things. You turn back to the path you crushed in the frosted dormant turf, and know the stuff of the cave.

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