|An icy grotto along Indian Creek, Red River Gorge, Kentucky. (c) 1990, by RLMT (author).|
She has not eaten today. Her snarling belly is tucked up tight against her spine, too close for comfort. The ground is frozen, the sky hanging dull and heavy with promise of snow or ice that may prevent hunting food by morning. Gone are the blackberries that hung ripe in the thickets just a few scant weeks ago; they would have made a welcome nibble or two. She knows better than to look for pawpaws or even persimmons this time of year, as it is far, far too cold for the one, and the opossums have a virtual monopoly on the other as soon as it frosts and the fruit turns sweetly from its puckering tart pre-ripe state. Checking the farmer’s plowed ground for leftover edibles proves useless, searching out possible scraps tossed out only earns her the warning of the farm dogs, who do not like her scent on a good day. Only the faint remnant of bacon smell wafts in her direction, coming directly off the dogs themselves; they have eaten all the scraps tossed out, needing the calories themselves in this chilly weather.
In her desperation, she lunges into the woods again and runs until the sound of the dogs is at a safe distance. Slowing down to catch her steaming breath, she crosses a trail that makes her nose twitch with delight: rabbit. A long, careful sniff picks up the scent where it lingers, not on the ground in the double-accented physical track of the creature, but above it, threading like mist, clinging here to a tuft of hair caught on a blackberry brier, or there where a sandstone outcrop rises to block the wind somewhat. Raising her voice in yodeling joy, she sees a glimmer of hope for a hot meal close to fruition. Following the scent with her mouth watering, licking her nostrils carefully every so often to enhance the ability to trace her way along, the female loops around a small cliff-face, up and over the ridge top, past the ruins of an old tobacco barn abandoned in a field left to overgrow for years on end. A pile of slabs and rotting sawdust marks another round of human survival efforts, and it is in this heap of tangled waste that the hot track ends. Digging at the entrance to the rabbit’s snug warren, she burns precious fat, caloric output that cannot be gambled with too long. Finally, she has to abandon the search. She can smell the rabbit no longer; there must have been a rear entrance, or the tunneling inside curls around in some way that blocks the drift of scent. Hope no longer pulls at her to work on a wasted, futile effort.
The coyote is still hungry. The rabbit is safe. So are the farmer’s dogs. It has been an evening of mixed blessings.
This is life in its real, raw reality. The hungry struggle, the wise stay where it is safe, with a backup plan and a way out in mind. Those who stick close to friends and share their bounty survive. The coyote knows it, the rabbit knows it, the dogs know it, and so does a good farmer.
Why, then, does the path rise and drift like twining ghosts, confusing the way that should be traveled? That is the way of the wind, the way of the earth, and the way of all things ephemeral by simple complexity: life. Nothing is clear until it is seen in hindsight, though we humans struggle to anticipate and seek out prophets or foreknowledge of some sort without fail.
Hard times? They come, they go. The rabbit does not always get away, sometimes the coyote takes down an over-eager dog, and whether the meal is rabbit or pet species, the result is the same. The coyote does not every time go away hungry. Everything depends on how you look at it, perspective being an itchy, twitchy thing to try to grasp the full picture through.
Closing the outward eye and opening the inner vision gains what the coyote knows of the rabbit’s way. The scent is delicate, full, hot with blood and dreams, and it never lies down to be licked or snuggled against, but demands attention in a way that every cell of a hungry body cannot help but offer up to the best of its ability. The rabbit’s wisdom is in planning for the cold season with a warm den at the ready, and that den in the middle of a place full of late autumn’s wild harvest: standing food plants, curls of grass beneath brushy outcrops and protected from the chill of winter. The dogs do what the farmer leads them to, and it is his understanding of the whole picture that shows him how to proceed.
Wisdom is then an opalescent thing, shifting and changing with the wind. It tangles in briers, against rocks, in tufts of soft hair left casually behind. It is survival, hope, and blood lust on the hardest landscape. It can be found in the remains of a fallen barn, in a rotting heap of sawmill tailings, or in a farmer’s backyard.
Lift your nose to the heavens. Can you catch the scent? Wood smoke on the wind? Yes, that is home. Welcome – supper’s ready. I’m just taking a little time out to write down some thoughts.