My Summer of Talking to Foxes.

It was 3:00 a.m.  And it was the third night in a row.  The scream (for there was nothing else to call it) came from nearby, and woke me from a sound sleep again.  It was not human – definitely animal – but not cat or dog or rabbit or bird.  Nothing in pain.  It sounded intentional, yet not frightened or even angry.

It screamed again – long and shrill and primitive.  And it echoed around the hollow stillness of the neighborhood.  Everything else was absolute silence.  My windows were open to the night, but I could see nothing in the moon shadows.  Nothing but the shadows.  

And so, without consideration, compelled by another wild scream, and something more than simple curiosity, something more like instinct, I ran out into the street, without shoes on my feet, but with a flashlight in my hand.

And there she stood.  Not half a block away.  Alone and alert.  A beautiful fox, screaming.

It was only a matter of seconds that we stood and watched each other.  My flashlight upset her, so I switched it off.  Her outline was clear in the moon-glow and streetlamp anyway.  And somehow we spoke to each other across a narrowed separation of species in those few suspended moments of shared night.

“Hello,” we both said.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you here?”

“Because I am.”

“Why are you screaming?”

“Because this place is mine.”

“And does this night belong to you, too?”

“Yes.”

“Should I go away?”

“Yes, please.”

It was she who ran away then.  Not directly away from me, but off to the side – to someplace where I was not, where she felt hidden.  And the screaming stopped.

It was the first time I have heard a fox in the night.  I hope it won’t be the last, although I am glad to know the startling sound is perfectly natural and without pain or fear.  I keep waiting for her to return.

Perhaps I will declare this my summer of authentic listening – not just for foxes, but for listening to the earth.  My summer for sitting beneath birds’ nests and hearing their hunger for life.  My summer for walking into the woods and listening for the heartbeat of trees.  For catching out the voices of wind and water, the scrabble of bugs and snap of seed pods.  Listening to the way the dog’s paws squish in mud, and how my own bare feet sound walking out into the night on slick wet grass to talk to foxes.

Perhaps by doing so, I will be able to experience firsthand more exquisite earthbound conversations, which, according to philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, allows for wonderfully compelling and absolute connections:  “Unlike seeing, where one can look away, one cannot ‘hear away’ but must listen … hearing implies already belonging together in such a manner that one is claimed by what is being said.”

Perhaps by such hearing, and being claimed by the voices of the earth and her inhabitants, we can all understand how utterly we do belong to each other.  Perhaps we might all run barefoot into the night and talk to foxes under the moon.

Waiting to fly.

Their pitch is loud and quick and insistent.  Their voices tumble together through my door and windows that are open wide to Spring.  Over and over again, their chattering starts suddenly with a burst of excitement, and ends just as suddenly with a sense of secrecy.  They are tiny and newborn and nesting in the far northwest corner of my carport-turned-sitting-porch-called-veranda.  They are Carolina wrens.

Every year, the parents return to build their family nest inside a tired old birdhouse that perches on a ledge under the roof and seems to suit their requirements just so.  I suspect it may look familiar and smell of home, like a favored family cabin on a lake or at the beach.  It is very high up, safe and secure to begin the family, but without mercy for the young until they’ve learned to fly.  This year, one little bit of a thing got pushed out far too soon, and lost his chance to fully fledge and learn to live.  And when I found him, I held his fragile, barely feathered body in the palm of my hand until his small warmth flew softly into the wind instead of his wings; he is buried beneath the Camellia bushes.  But more babies remain safely in the nest, and the parents are diligent in their care and feeding and protection.

Although this is nearly the 17th year the small house has been nested in, it is the first time I have been able to fully witness the wrens’ presence and activity – the first Spring since I converted the carport from storage space into a living space, and the first year my busy-ness slowed down and became still enough to be truly observent.  And so, I read everything I could find about Carolina wrens and learned their life patterns and habits, and I’ve come to believe that it may be the same bonded pair returning to this nesting spot – at least for the last few years.  It makes me feel quite “chosen,” very fortunate to be hosting them (or at least some version of them) season after season.

At first I tried to take pictures to share; and I waited until the parents brought food and the tiny beaks from inside peeked out and shrieked and squealed and shrilled over it.  But these moments came and went so quickly, I could never even get the camera aimed in time.  And then I set the phone/camera down and turned away for just a minute – and turned back to find one of the wren parents perched on the phone itself, as if it were waiting there to tell me to just stop please. Even one of the most famous of all photographers, Ansel Adams, once observed:  “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images beome inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

And so, now when I am out working in the plant beds or sweeping the porch or reading or writing in a chair in the shade nearby, and I hear the conversations between my Carolina wren family begin again, I simply stop and watch and eperience the moments with them in silence. (I did put soft cushions on the ground at the base of that corner, just in case.)   

I have become compellinglly in tune with their life sounds, embracing their noise, their frenzy of movement, their palpable anticipation.  I seem to be waiting with these young life forms with as much thrill and sense of urgency as their own, waiting for that one moment that will come very soon now.  That first trembling step into the world, the breathless exhultation of being lifted onto a passing bit of perfect breeze.  

Perhaps I envy them.  I know I am in awe of them.  When, with nothing more than faith and instinct and thin air, they will fly.

Oh, wow!

“Oh, wow!” she kept saying, in that breathless sort of wonder that can be heard only in the voice of youth and innocence.  “Oh, wow!” Her tiny nose and hands pressed against one store window and then another.  She pointed to counter after counter filled with candy.  And then several displays of plastic eggs.  And scenes of stuffed bunnies and yellow chicks and woven baskets of every size.  Even a stack of nothing more than colorful socks caused her to express delight.  “Oh, wow!” she said, again and again, as her tiptoes carried her from place to place, store to store, joy to joy.

She is only two-and-a-half years old, perhaps a bit closer to three.  But she is brilliantly new to the world; fresh with quickened senses and anticipation.  Her name is Jane.  And she was visiting my neighbor – her grandmother – just before Easter.  I was delighted when Jane and her mother and grandmother invited me to come with them to explore downtown Aiken for their first time. more “Oh, wow!”

Walking with Ghosts.

I frequently walk with dead people.  I don’t see them – like in the popular movie – but I do hear their voices, their words.  I listen to their wisdom and insight and observations.  And they typically fall into step with me when I’m walking alone with dog Quincy in the silence of the woods, or down muted dirt roads in the horse district, or along deserted early morning neighborhood streets.

My ghost companions are writers and poets, wise women and prophets.  Their presence is carried on the wind and comes alive inside its whispers.  They put snippets of essays behind my eyes and scraps of poetry and songs into my ears.  And we talk about the meaning of their words.  And I am astounded at the connections they offer me between their generations and my own.  From their distant and so different lives, flow such familiar feelings. more “Walking with Ghosts.”

Dogs riding in cars.

I suspect it may be the reason most dogs keep us around.  We can drive cars … and trucks and motorhomes and motorcycles.  And, as a result, we can seemingly create the very wind itself.  

To the senses of dogs riding in cars, I suspect it seems we can also somehow make all the best smells float on the air at once, with a cacophony of new and familiar sounds intertwined and changing every few seconds.  We magically bring farms with fields of horses into view before they dash past us with glorious speed.  We find new people to watch walking and riding bikes, and other dogs to call out to playing in yards.  And we can rush past and beyond them all with great authority and intentionality. more “Dogs riding in cars.”

What if the earth loved you back?

Seated in a classroom, surrounded by environmentally devoted students in a graduate writing class, “What if the earth loves you back?” was a question posed by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology, member of the Potawatomi Nation, and my personal favorite wise-woman writer.  She describes the scene in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass.

“What if the earth loves you back?” she said.  But it was not really a question.  It is not really a question to me, either.  I only have to walk among the thick-set trees in Hitchcock Woods, or along the sandy edges of Edisto Island, or run my hands across the velvet side of a magnolia leaf in my own backyard to know the answer.  We are all reminded of it in the morning songs of birds and with the warmth of the afternoon sun; evidence of it can be found on the pollen-laden backsides of bees and in the brilliant faces of dandelions.

more “What if the earth loved you back?”

More power to your elbows.

It’s more British than American.  And it likely originated as a toast.  The phrase “more power to your elbows” meant you lifted your comrades up to continued good fortune, with many more celebrations to come (so their elbows would therefore be bent in many more celebratory toasts).  But now, “more power to your elbows” is most often just said in recognition of a thing well done, with hope for even more successes.  A sort of quirky wish for “good luck.” more “More power to your elbows.”

Taking care of each other, one tribe at a time.

I like the balance of it.  The reciprocity of it.  For more than a year, our children and grandchildren, our young people and youth, have had the responsibility of keeping the elders of our human “tribe” safe.  They’ve separated themselves and left their jobs and schools, they’ve stayed at home and kept their distance – initially, primarily, and poignantly to protect the vulnerability of the older generations.  Now, it’s the grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ turn to protect the young. more “Taking care of each other, one tribe at a time.”

Scraps of Love

It is a rather small scrap of simple cotton cloth.  It is faded cream in color with a pattern of soft blue leaves printed across it.  And it is fastened onto a large page of paper, along with half-a-dozen other small lengths of different bits of cloth and folds of ribbon.  The page is one of many pages, bound into a very large, very old, book.  And there are rows and rows of books just like it.  And they are shelved and preserved within the Foundling Museum in London, England. more “Scraps of Love”

Mending with gold.

It is known as Kintsugi.  And its origin is based on legend, centuries old, Japanese.  It’s the technique of mending broken items – especially pottery – with gold.  And in this way, the broken thing becomes something transformed – a work of art.  

Kintsugi causes the brokenness and scars of an item, its cracks and missing bits, to become its points of focus and value, its visible vulnerability and history and eloquence. more “Mending with gold.”