Standing in the sun, watching the leaves scuttling, skittering over the grass, listening to the trees, their dry tongues, chittering autumnal rumors of geese preparing to fly, their movements, as they gather, in accord with patterns hard-wired genetically into their minds.
Animate, they are, and more than that they are animated by ancestral spirits that grace grass and water, walking, delicate, between stark trees, calling, always calling ‘away, away’.
We too are called, called to follow the geese on their sky-way high-ways, where their arrow-heads point us all along the star paths of their migrant nocturnal ways.
“I left her by the gate to the Beaver Pond at 2:38. It takes her twenty minutes to walk around the circuit. I always check my watch. Then I know when I can expect her back. In exactly eight minutes, she comes out of the woods and I can see her at the end of the boardwalk. I park the car in a spot from which I can watch her and wave to her. Today, I didn’t see her come out of the woods. It’s the radiation for prostate cancer … it’s left my bowels weak. I had to go to the bathroom … so I turned the car engine on … it was 2:44 … about two minutes before she was due to appear on the boardwalk … yesterday, a Great Blue Heron stood fishing in the pond … he flew when he saw her … a great crack of the wings … but today, the heron wasn’t there … just ducks … they flapped their wings, stood on the water, you know, the way they do, and scattered from the spot where she should have appeared … she walks very quietly, tip-toe, you know … she likes watching the heron and the ducks … she doesn’t like to frighten them … I don’t know what to think … I had to go … it was urgent … so I turned the car around and drove to the nearest bathroom … about one hundred yards away … I was in there … I don’t know … about five minutes … I didn’t check my watch … it’s dark in there … no electricity …besides, between hobbling on my sticks, praying to God to help me to hold on, opening and closing the door, struggling to get my pants down without soiling them …and then I drove back to the picnic tables … and waited … and waited …and she never appeared. I haven’t seen her since … she’s gone missing … I fear the worst … “
On the other end of the phone, a long silence, some heavy breathing, then:
“We’ll file a missing person’s report.”
“You will find her, won’t you? I love her, you know. I must find her. I want to know what’s happened … ” the old man wiped the corner of his right eye with the knuckle of the index finger of his left hand. He coughed and cleared his throat.
“Twenty years younger than you, you said?”
“Yes,” the old man nodded.
“Well, sir: we’ve already started our investigation. We’ll do our best to find her. We’ll contact you as soon as anything turns up.”
The police officer put down the phone and the circuit clicked out.
“What the hell you gonna do?”
“Not me … us.”
“Okay … us then … well … what the hell we gonna do?”
“You tell me. We got her on video. She walked out the other exit, by the park HQ, straight into the arms of the Deputy Police Commissioner. She’s twenty years younger than her husband and her husband’s got the sort of cancer that’s killed his sex life. Cancer? And the Deputy Commissioner’s the one who’s waiting for her? What the hell do you think we’re gonna do?”
Comment The Beaver Pond at Mactaquac is a beautiful place to be, all year round. We love it in summer and fall and Anne Stillwell-Leblanc (< click on link for website) has captured the stillness and silence of the place in the above engraving. As I have become less mobile, so I have sent Clare cantering around the pond to enjoy the beauty we used to enjoy together. Meanwhile, I sit in the car and watch for Clare’s regular appearances through the trees and on the footbridge. As I sit, I write. Sometimes it is journal style, sometimes poetry, and occasionally a short story, like this one.
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Painting the School Outing Beaver Pond, Mactaquac
The yellow of the school bus is easy, but what colors do you give the rain of school kids descending? And how do you portray their energy, their noise, the tones of French and English? What colors are their vowels, their consonants, their high-pitched voices?
You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks. But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans, the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips released from packets and popped into mouths.
Running round after lunch, they drive the wild birds wild with their unorganized games of tag, their impromptu dances, their three-legged races, their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows. Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls, boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey: incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?
Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup. The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence. Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back, of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.
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A Farewell to Charms
Early tomorrow, my love, you’ll fly away. Today, you’ll walk around the Beaver Pond where red and yellow leaves abound. A thin grey
webbing garlands one dead tree. I’m not too fond of tent worms. I hate them when they swing from low branches. Give me a fresh green frond
caught by the morning sun in early spring or else bright autumn leaves so soon to fall. I love American Goldfinches when they sing
that last departing song. I love most of all those occasional visitors: do you recall that bright blue Indigo Bunting with his “I’m-a-lost-bird” call?
The hunting hawks give everyone a fright. They perch on top of a garden tree then step off into space to claw-first alight
on some poor songbird trilling away, quite free from fear, his unfinished symphony of song. It’s getting late, my love. You walk towards me out of the woods. I’ll end this poem with a plea: don’t forget me … and don’t stay away too long.
Red leaves multiply on maple trees. Bright berries staining a mountain ash.
One flower survives on the hollyhock, its blaze of glorious blooms lost, faded in a silence of dried seeds, absent bees.
Hummingbirds are now long gone. Geese gather in great gaggles feasting on grass before taking flight and soaring south.
I want to ask questions about their journey but they mouth denial and waddle away to paddle on grey waves when I approach.
Comment: With a temperature yesterday of 21 C (that’s plus 21 C) rafts of geese are still around. These photos are from earlier in the fall. I love the way several stand erect, looking at and for possible intruders, while others feed. Shared responsibilities. I guess we humans could learn a great deal from the geese, if only ‘we were not full of care / and had some time to stop, and stare’ (W. H. Davies, one of my favorite Welsh poets, the verses changed slightly and adapted to Mactaquac). Roedd hi’n y tywydd heulog a cynnes yfory / the weather was sunny and warm yesterday. What a joy to be able to write that in Welsh after so many years without the language.
… and the wind a presence, sudden, rustling dusty reeds and leaves, the pond no longer a mirror, its troubled surface twinkling, sparking fall sunshine, fragmenting it into shiny patches.
It’s warm in the car, windows raised and the fall heat trapped in glass. Outside, walkers walk hooded now, gloved, heads battened down beneath woollen thatches.
A wet dog emerges from the pond, shakes its rainbow spray soon to be a tinkle of trembling sparks when the mercury sinks and cold weather closes the pond to all but skaters. Then fall frost will turn noses blue and winter will start to bite.
Oh-oh, wrong Beaver Pond. That’s the Beaver Pond in Fundy National Park. Naughty, naughty! So, if you want to see the REAL Beaver Pond at Mactaquac, you’ll have to click on one of the links and see where it leads. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” … except this isn’t the first time I have made a mistake, and no, I wasn’t trying to deceive anyone. This is fun, though. I’ll be interested to see what you think of this little sequence. Let me know.