Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ignorance is Bliss

A possum (yes, I know that's "opossum" but all the locals leave off the "o") raided the chicken house night after night. Once the ghastly, white faced, sharp fanged, stupid, hissing, rocking, filthy creatures had discovered my chickens, nothing deterred them. In a single night four hens were beheaded and then left. It couldn't have killed one and finished eating it--he had to take one bite of four different hens, my fine, beautiful, multicolored Araucana Easter egg hens.

The only solution was to lock them up at night. Most of them roosted at night anyway, so it was only a matter of catching a few stragglers, tossing them in the door, and bolting it. The possums couldn't open the door, and I stopped losing chickens.

One tired night I forgot to lock them in. The possums didn't forget, and I lost some more. It became imperative not to forget even once.

Storms would sometimes arrive one right after the other in a steady succession that kept up for hours, even days. Now, the chicken house was at the crest of a hill, next to a tree line that had been struck several times by lightning. Examining those trees was mighty awe inspiring, especially the ones that had become a scattered pile of splinters. Being reluctant to go up there during severe thunderstorms, and having experienced them in long successive chains that continued long into the night, I was left with a dilemma: risk lightning, or lose my chickens. I watched eagerly for hours, hoping it would let up for even a few minutes, but every time one storm moved out another moved right in. My stomach hurt at the thought of both dangers, one of which I would have to choose by nightfall.

Finally in late afternoon all the thunder stopped. I looked outside. The atmosphere above had a reddish tint in a sky wide, impenetrable cloud bank. I watched for several minutes. No lightning.

I ventured out. I stopped by the dog pen to get my faithful border collie. The dog, quite uncharacteristically, refused to come out of her house. After much coaxing I gave up and went on without her. (I will always ever after trust a dog's good instinct.)

The wind became strong. I ran. A gust of it knocked me to the ground. I got up and ran some more. Turning a corner revealed in the southern sky a large, twisted mass of slowly circulating clouds that formed a black, nasty tower from ground to sky. An older, wiser person would have known what that was, but I was fifteen and a novice, more concerned with avoiding lightning than the cloud. I kept a close eye on it, caught all the chickens in record speed (especially since none of them had roosted yet), and ran for the house, fighting the wind.

The pillared cloud moved off to the north east, doing no damage. As if to mock me, within an hour the sun came out, and we had a lovely sunset full of vivid colors and gentle breezes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Musicians of the Hills

The moist, tree pollen scented wind threw small boughs and branches skyward under the blurred and watery light of a cloud-covered moon. Lightning flashed silently, too far away to be heard. He laid his hand on a wet tree trunk and tried to keep from slipping on the slimy wet moss underfoot.

Normally he'd be asleep at this hour, but something had awakened him and had sparked his curiosity into a fully fledged forest fire. For some inexplicable reason he felt he would cease to exist if he did not find the source of the sound he'd heard.

It was delicate, but not a tree frog; loud, but not a screech owl; frightening, but not a bobcat, coyote, puma, or bear; musical, but not a katydid or cricket; strong, but not a deer; intelligent, but not exactly human.

The notes were elusive. They seemed to come from the pond. When he neared the pond, however, he heard them towards the head of the spring-fed creek. When he approached it again, they paused for a moment, and then continued from the deep, rocky ditch between two extremely steep hills, where if one were not careful it might be possible to step into a nest of pit vipers. The fire within that compelled him to seek the sound felt as if he'd sooner do just that than deny it the journey. He went on.

Now it seemed to come from the tip top of an isolated bluff. Thunder from the far away storm became slightly audible, and the winds grew even rougher. Immune to any danger except that of stopping, he climbed. His fingers were barely able to keep hold of the rock face. Gravel and earth rolled beneath his feet, and the stone was carpeted with wet moss and grimy rotted leaves--no easy hold. He inched to the top, victorious in small steps. He was nearly there. The sound did not abate. This time it did not move. The eerie notes poured forth as he surmounted the crest of the bluff and found--the neighbor's dog.

Frankie was a large, protective golden retriever who had been a help to all the community, a friend of children, and the guardian of his house and yard. The fact that the dog had died three years ago did not seem to affect him as much as it should have. The great dog gazed at him with its deep yellow eyes and seemed to recognize him, then continued in a long, musical howl.

He noticed a bluish light in the valley on the side opposite the one he'd climbed--a steady glow as of the moonlight, yet softer. Musical notes now faded, now floated up out of its center.

Slowly his eyes accustomed. He began to see several forms taking shape. One was an old man in blue jeans and a wide brimmed hat. His fingers gripped a sweet, polished fiddle which he played devoutly. The second and third had flutes, a fourth held an old guitar. Three women played mellow mandolins. A drummer held his sticks in solemn silence, as though this song had no room for him. One very fat man in glasses played a jug, and two gaunt lads held jaw harps to their mouths. A little boy somberly coaxed the music out of his harmonica. A very wise looking woman wrestled a large accordion, and wielded it as though her strength were exceedingly great.

He wanted to retreat, but the force that drove him there refused to allow his feet to move. The dog nuzzled his hand, and its breath was warm. It stepped forward and then paused, looking at him as if to say, "Come on!"

"Well, look!" said the fat old man. They all stopped. He felt thirteen faces and a dog staring at him. He walked forward in a shuffling, half apprehensive fashion, convinced they were ghosts and not convinced they had good intentions.

"Play," said one of the lanky lads, and from somewhere he found a guitar thrust into his hands.

"I haven't played in years," he protested.

"Play!" they all repeated.

He found he had the rhythm of a rock star, and the agility of a classical musician. The strength of a dozen warriors coursed down his arms, and the attitude of a hundred winning teams sang in his voice. The guitar expressed every happy moment he'd ever had and a million he'd never known. The musicians began dancing wildly to its music, leaping from rock to rock and over tree stumps and bushes. He found he could not stop playing, and he played for a very long time.

When he finally felt the time to end was now approaching, the storm clouds had passed to the south with very little rain, and the sun's first blood red rays burned through them.

"Thank ye," said the fiddler as he took the guitar with a country sort of nod. "That'll do."

He now felt as weak as a newborn kitten. He found he was wrapped in a coat that clung to his shoulders, and he pulled it loose with a great amount of effort. It stuck to him as he fought to free himself. He gasped for air. The coat was not a coat, but a sheet, a sheet soaked with sweat. He threw it off and found he was at home in bed, with the remnants of a storm rumbling south, and blood red rays of sunlight peering through the window.

"Well," he said to himself, "I've sweated out the fever. I guess I'm going to make it."