If A Tree Falls In The Woods
Before me lies a fallen tree. Broken branches mimicking compound fractures. Pieces of bark scattered in a distinct spray pattern like the blood from a gunshot wound. The scene reminds me of nothing so much as a KFC box of gnawed-over bones and extra-crispy crumbs.
I have come here, to the back of the field, to the place where cultivation meets woods, wooed outside by the balminess of the first day of what passes for spring, because I can stand the imprisonment no longer. I am parched and starving for light and warmth. I am done with winter and its endless rains. I am craving signs of life.
And what I find is death.
I have walked along the edge of the field, the place where it meets the pond like the rolled-up cuff on a pair of pants, straddling the washed out places that were not there in the fall and not caring that my shoestrings are collecting cockleburs, to get to the woods. To the place where the cell coverage is bad and the traffic noises are no louder than the hum of a bee. Where I am more likely to meet a deer than a person. Where I will find nothing has changed.
Except it has.
I stare at the tree, its needles already brown, and wonder which storm, exactly, it was that felled something so old, so rugged and stout. Was it the storm that woke me from my sleep and kept me awake wondering about the leak in the living room ceiling? Or the one that knocked out the power until nearly morning when I was abruptly brought to life by all the lights in the house coming on at once? Or some other storm, one I slept through, the result of which was a tree falling without a sound?
There is no fence at the spot where the tree has fallen. In fact, there is very little fence left anywhere on the fencerow, only a couple of stretches of rusty, square-holed wire no more than three or four feet long, attached by equally rusty staples to splintered gray stobs that lean at precariously acute angles, old and tired.
Yet, we still call it a fencerow. It still is a fencerow. It still represents the separation of field from woods, cultivation from wildness, one man’s land from another’s.
Eventually I leave the tree, keep walking, find a couple of gopher tortoise burrows and a whole series of anthills that look like those stamped Christmas cookies – sandy domes imprinted with the hooves of deer. I see a handful of early wildflowers, tiny purple faces pushing up through the dirt, and just enough yellow jessamine to make me think that I will probably survive until t-shirt weather.
And as I walk, I think about the fencerows in my life, the people and things, the memories and dreams that have changed form. That started out with a name or purpose which, upon close inspection, probably no longer fits, but which will always be that to me. Favorite food. Lifelong dream. Best friend.
One of the things I like best about words is that sometimes we get to define them for ourselves. I can’t eat shrimp anymore because I developed an allergy, but it is still my favorite food. Some of my lifelong dreams haven’t lasted my life long. And best is a superlative that, I’ve learned, puts way too much pressure on creatures who are, at best, just human.
Someone will probably put up a new fence one day, unroll a shiny bale of wire and weave it through the broom sedge and palmetto scrubs. A new fence, but the same fencerow. Always.