We live in the palm of a mountain range, with the surrounding hills stretching like fur-covered fingers toward the sky, and the forest surrounding us has a voice. It is not a Loraxy voice full of reproach, but a layered, textured chorus; a swishing siren call to worship on sunny summer days, and a hypnotic drumbeat when the rain comes.
Beyond my bedroom window a strip of lawn separates the house from the front lines of the forest. Some nights I can hear the neighborhood bear ravaging our composter, but after the dog (and my car clicker) frighten her off, rushing water and swishing trees are the only sounds. And, even though I know the only open eyes belong to the trees and the wildlife, when dark divides my room from the world, I still close the curtains to dress for bed – just as I when I lived in the city.
A few nights ago the bear visited another house down the mountain, a fact confirmed by gunfire echoing through the hills. I’ve gotten used to that sound now, but the first time let to an unpleasant revival of a self I thought I had killed but was only hibernating.
It was a swishing summer evening when a coyote stopped to sample a nearby neighbor’s garbage cans. Like many Vermonters, this neighbor was armed, and one too many morning garbage can clean-ups had prompted an evening vigil. Had I known this before the shots rang out that soft summer night, my old self – an urban self, reckless and given to frequent fits of terrified catatonia – might have been allowed to expire.
The first crack-crack of rifle fire rang out just as I was starting to doze. A third crack echoed back and forth against the mountains, and I was one with the old me, cowering face-down on a filthy gold and mustard shag rug, praying that I would not be able later to identify the boy standing over me with a gun whose size and color were the only features I’d noticed. Crack! and I was cursing this hell of being own making, a torment I invited by knowingly being in a place that was always wrong at any time. Crack! I raced to the window, wondering if I should call 911. Where were the sirens? In the city, I’d hear them by now. Would the constable be faster? The cracks stopped, and I berated myself for panicking. Chilling sweat soaked my nightgown.
Watching my slumbering hound dog on the rug next to me, I waited for another crack. Surely she would have warned us of an apporaching serial killer. I giggled, and she acknowledged me. Once assured that I wouldn’t disturb her again, she yawned, and I feel my clenched muscles relax.
Then I saw it. A white blur darted across the yard. I knew it had to be a coyote, and the pup’s ferocious and vocal reaction attested to it. My old self refused to be dismissed, however. And even as my perverse pondering subsided, lingering fear nurtured her, reminding me how easily she could control – and possibly derail – the life I don’t curse.