“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
- Toni Morrison
At the stoplight before I hook the left up into the valley and ride the long road home, I watch last night’s light snow blowing across my path before I get there. The music is off now. On the way to the school I was playing some tunes, some Oliver Tree (Milla’s request) and some Grant Lee Buffalo (my pick), but now it’s only the quiet in here. The inside of Arle’s Honda minivan, because my Honda’s in the shop. I see the whipped snow acting like mist, like smoke or dust. Then I see it slam into a semi coming up from the south and it is gone. The big truck survives and the blowing snow does not. I smile at the sight of it all.
I sip my coffee and it’s cold and it sucks.
Nothing much has to happen most days. The story keeps unfolding no matter what. I slip the van into the turn and aim us east but that’s it, more or less. Out in space, stars are burning out as poisonous gases gradually turn into life. In Paris, a group of people are eating mussels and drinking wine. In Green Bay, there’s a couple fucking in a gas station bathroom. In LA, there are the familiar faces and in China there are none I know. A billion people or whatever/ and I don’t know any of them.
Up on the ridge over there, me passing by it far down on this road, up there there are deer. Whitetail. Bucks dropping their antlers. Does carrying young ones in their bodies. The unborn. Spring will see them into this world, but they have to make it there first. Or mama does, I guess. The fawns have no say in their own fates. They are at the mercy of the randomness of time and circumstance. Some will die before they ever live. Others will emerge from the long darkness to stand upon these very hills, same as their mama. And die in a lonesome grove some day. A bullet in their side or a tumor on their brain. There’s no saying what will bring these damn deer down. There’s just no saying at all what will come up next.
They walk separate mostly, the does and the bucks do, but sometimes they converge in the creepy quiet nervous that soundtracks their existence. Raising their heads to the faint morning breeze, the deer try to detect enemies: the tangy sourness of man/ the musky raw of a couple coyotes. They move like a single demon through the night, the coyotes do. They are smarter than humans. They are better than us too.
The deer survive by getting good at noticing danger before danger has any idea about the deer. Yet sometimes they are pleasantly surprised by what they detect instead of all the horrible drags. And on those occasions when it’s something as sweet as another deer that they end up smelling, well, I mean, I guess they still might feel strange or whatever; sometimes deer need to fight each other over this strange wild turf; sometimes they need to go at one another just because somebody likes to go a-wandering into places where he ain’t welcome. But as it happens on certain days, they catch another deer’s scent and they stop what they’re doing. Stop rooting around in the leaves, gently churning up acorns or moss. Then all is well. All is well and there is no big brawl feeling working its way through the body of any local deer that afternoon.
Under a clean blue sky, the old mountain side’s snake-y skin is covered with dry crackling leaves. The deer, they hear each other right before they smell each other. And sometimes it moves them in new directions.
They get a little happy.
They tilt their heads a tiny bit back and forth a few times, kind of like they are trying to thread their skulls through a Christmas wreath without touching the sides. They make connection with one anther in their own way right then. They talk with smells maybe. Or they make contact by touching open eyes/ by peeling apart the landscape until the shape of a fellow deer materializes out of the pickers and the brambles. Out of the thick shady pines that grow on the rough leaning slope. Out of the intimate solemnity of a winter woods, these fucking deer simply come together because anything less would be uncivilized.
It’s possible that they rub noses, I don’t know. But maybe they do. I don’t think deer are big on humanish affection but what do I know, really? It’s possible. Anything’s possible. Just because we are not around to witness things doesn’t mean that they don’t happen. You know that, right? I mean, in my opinion it’s very likely that deer do things in the forest that- if someone recorded footage of it on their iPhone or whatever- the entire world as we know it would be changed forever.
Like maybe two does lifting up off the dead leaves and moving their feet like they are trying to run but what they are doing is flying, up through the treetops, like balloons released by little kindergarten punks.
Or what if two or three deer are simply standing there in a small clearing high up the ridge and no one is around/ no people for a mile or so/ and then/ softly/ beautifully/ and intentionally/ they move toward each other and two them step gently into the other one and then the other one has three deer heads for a second before it cackles a hissy cough and bursts into a puff of stony-colored smoke and shazam.
What if rattlesnakes are really three or more deer that formed an alliance in the antiquated ways of The Enchantment and decided, for reasons we could never even begin to fathom, to abandon the independent deer life for a new collective existence as a single rattlesnake?
What would you say to that?
Some people wouldn’t bat an eyelash. They would see something mystical like that go down and they would just say something like, “Goddamn, Socialists.”
But not me.
I would love that snake so hard. I would love that rattlesnake so good knowing it had so much good inside of it. So much dark-eyed doe. So much doe-eyed dark.
I would hold a rattlesnake in my raw hands if I could, if only to understand this world.
This tale we are living in.
Everything is not what it seems.
And we are both wasting time.