December 30, 2012

North Cairn: When deer are a dream come true

For days after the doe arrived, I walked through my life as if in a dream, unable -- and unwilling -- to relinquish the fleeting hold my mind had on the memory.

It was well before midnight, on a cloudy night, when the vision emerged out of the dark. I was tired and intent on going to bed early, knowing that the frantic holidays were kicking into even higher gear, and that whatever fatigue I felt in that evening's moment before retiring was likely to be fierce by the following day. I still had hours of driving ahead before making it to the cottage I call home and the friends who over years of staying power through trouble and triumph alike have more than earned the status of "family."

I almost didn't want to go, had that feeling of preferring to stay in-state, being a Mainer now. I wanted to spend my first Christmas here, even if only with the dog and the evergreens all around to see me through the day. That seemed like peace on earth enough for the year in my world, and I found myself extinguishing the lights that evening as though I had nowhere else to be. I made the slow crawl to finish the day's end, climbing the hill of the bed and curled under the covers as though wrapping myself in a shroud of snow.

The dog was circling, too, her elliptical movements vertical before she threw herself down into a horizontal happiness of sleep. It all seemed routine, ritual and calm -- a perfect ending to the day -- until suddenly the dog erupted into a full-throated roar of territorial alarm.

She was looking out the long low window, which runs half the length of the bedroom and all the way up to meet the A-frame roof on its severe decline toward the side yard.

"What? What?" I kept repeating, craning to see over the mound of her in the dark, trying to make out whatever it was she was deciphering in the landscape.

And then I saw it, something like a big boulder, barely moving, in the patch of grass that we pretend is a back yard, before it gives way to woods.

It was not immediately evident to me what sort of mammal was making its visitation, and, of course, I was instantly hopeful and delusionary, praying for bear or moose or lynx, as if any of these would look like the other, even in rough outline, especially in the dark. I could not even be sure that the form wasn't human, though it struck me as unlikely, since there wasn't much to draw a thief or delinquent's interest back here in the woods in a modest cabin-like home.

But, because I now live in Maine, and more to the point abide in the woods, I had my necessary arsenal close at hand -- on the bedside table, in fact. There stood a flashlight, tall as a table lamp, equipped with some absurd, overbearing candlepower, because we are never certain just when the power might go out or for how long. I don't want to find myself in the dead of night, feeling along the pine walls for something helpful as Braille, while calculating where the stairs begin and end or what space the hutch occupies, or, for that matter, what obstacles have been created by the two or three bags or briefcases I tote around each day.

The dog was still barking and I was still trying to calm her as I grabbed the light and leapt like a bear out of bed and to the window. I pushed the reflector cone of the flashlight flush with the window, so the effect in the yard was enough illumination to be a spotlight on a stage.

(Continued on page 2)

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