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Deer Life: Anecdotes & Legends from the Deep Woods, PART TWO

January 11, 2017

Deer Life: Anecdotes and Legends from the Deep Woods, PART TWO

The fawn’s grandmother was already grazing in this part of the woods where winter fodder was plentiful and fresh water gurgled, where deer were less disturbed by the hunters.

In the spring, the vast Northern snow-trap dissolves, and deer are free to roam all green summer. During the season of leaves and freedom their wanderings cover three hundred acres.

But winter snow layered with ice often adds up to six feet in the deep woods, and that reduces deer roaming space by nine tenths. With other kin in the winter they trample down the snow in their deeryard haunt, eat the cedar and grow a little leaner, holding out for greener days.
Now, with a dozen does and fawns already there in that refuge with granny, the fawn felt welcome, safe and sound. The time of the stuck leg and terrified heartbeats had passed.

Immediately granny saw the little scratch on the fawn’s shin, sniffed it, licked it. The whiskers around her mouth took turns at dancing as she chewed her cud and listened.

Grandmama had given birth to many fawns. Her first was a single birth. Then she had a series of twins. Twice she had three. One time she had four–a rarity. Her last delivery was small but he grew to a twe lve point buck. Now she gave birth no more. Now she led the offspring of her offspring, slower now, but full of the rhythms of endurance, full of patience and strength.

A sheer veil of snow was now covering her.

A wet snow drop or a drip of crystally rain touched her nose and she saw that soon it would be raining. Before long the snow that filled the air was so wet that it splashed when it hit. The dark sky was soon sending down strange waves of rain. The deer took shelter under a couple of tall thick fir trees. Their thick winter coats of hollow hairs kept out the damp chill.

Grandmama kept her ears cocked and sniffed in the direction of a stiff wind which had come up and was now dumping cold water drops from the cedar boughs above. She knew another change was coming, a freeze.

The rigors of winter are tests for deer. One slip-up and survival becomes grimmer and slimmer. They fly through jewelweed-meadowed summer, feasting on bittersweet leaves after giving birth in the densest thickets, with new buds and berries, flowers, seeds and fruits all opening, ripening each in its own time, smelling fine, tasting delightful. The warm sun and cool night make for easy sleeping, and there’s plenty of water, and even salt sometimes.
The does timidly approach the salt lick in spring; then the bucks do, their antlers “in velvet.” In summer the does grow more timid, but you still might see them, there in the moonlight. In summer their fulvous color, clay or bark toned, is a speedy streak, if seen at all.
Leaves and stems are in easy reach and the pad of bony gum tissue in deers’ upper jaws can break twigs off to chew in the sunshine. But winter is the bitter killer — snow-covered food, hooves slowed down by layers of ice, slender legs poking riskily through deep snow. For deer it is a constant struggle in North woods winters, to stay out of harm’s way.

In the rain a fox barked. The air began to feel colder; still raining slush the night passed and the deer slept together shivering beneath firs.
In the morning the fawn creaked awake. It had turned very cold, and everything was covered with a layer of ice, including her coat. Trees were popping even though the sun was brightening up all the icy surfaces, and when the wind blew, the trees would crack and crinkle ice. Snow and ice squeaked and crunched harshly beneath hooves; a warning bluejay called.
Grandmama had a worried look. An airplane scraped across the sky, harshly breaking the cold air where no clouds were scudding. The bluejay returned, screaming his warning in a raspy harsh cry again, and then was gone.
The fawn tried to shake off the night’s ice. Two does looked toward her, then stole away with tails and heads down. In a moment they burst into a full run, white danger-signal flag-tails now high, springing away.

The fawn turned, smelling a new scent. There, bristling with ice that seemed to spark like fire in the dawn sun, stood a moose. His horns were like the roots of two overturned trees, and he was tall as a hill-moose can get. Whitetail deer protect their lives by hightailing it. A moose can come into deers’ winter browsing grounds and bully them away, charging the bucks. Then they eat the higher branches as well as the lower ones, no whitetails to compete with.
Granny was leading, and the fawn sprang like she was trying to run in a dream, higher, farther, gone; but the snow crunched painfully, being glazed on top by the layer of crusty ice.
The bluejay screamed and squalled some more. They stopped when they felt safe, and chewed some icy hardwood twigs and a hemlock sprig or two which a squirrel had dropped in his work of getting hemlock cones for himself.

A dog-like or wolf-like howl faintly rose in the distance, then faded to nothing.
The two came to higher ground, the sun warming them a little, and ate whatever twigs and little branches they could find.
The bluejay cried again and they half-expected to have to run from the moose again, but instead they heard a wolf now. Granny led through a hardwood slope away from the sound; and the deer stopped to listen again. The hardwood trees, farther apart than the softwood, let more sun in. A cold wind was blowing hard. When they had just about forgotten the wolves they heard one again, closer than before.
They moved fast; dusk was coming. But when they stopped in low lying land by a brook, wolf voices sounded nearer yet, this time mingling with the water’s stern icy gurgle and under-ice bubble sounds.
Soon a fierce grey-black wolf was upon them. They ran harum-scarum and granny put herself in the way. Like a mother partridge feigning a broken wing to distract attention from her escaping brood, she caught the wolf’s eye, offering herself as easy prey. The wolf slanted his head quizzically, as if wondering what more-than-met-the-eye might be going on.

Sometimes the ravens act as advance scouts, they call out and alert the wolves to the fact that the deer are near, and later get their cut– the clean up the scraps of meat on the bones the wolves leave behind. (Wolves eat the entrails first, soft tissue organs—heart, kidneys, intestines, lungs and spleen.) But this time it seems the ravens made a commotion with wings and squawks alerting the white deer that the wolves were on the coming up on the fawn and the grandmother deer. The white deer took their clue and arrived to disturb the plans of the wolves.

The fawn leapt and ran and then was alone after bounding and bounding until she could not go on — the ice cut at her legs, her lungs were exhausted. She had to catch her breath.
As she slowly paced the ridge above an old logging road near huge snow-capped boulders she thought of her grandmother. A partridge under ice-covered snow moved then at her hooves. She’d been imprisoned there since the freezing rain and was trapped where she slept. Then a noise downhill scared the fawn, who stood still beneath a beechnut tree.
The fawn saw a local hunter, Azro Whipple, Jr., as a blast of wind bent the branches of the beech tree and cracked the ice, and the fawn slipped over to the huge stones. She fit perfectly between two of these beeches, nestling there, chewing her cud. There was nothing else to do.

Around a fire Azro Whipple Jr. the Fifth and two other hunters, Al Peet and Norman Nordlinger, sat and talked. Al asked Azro “Do you think there’s any truth to the stories I heard that there’s a white stag here in these woods?”
“No. Well, maybe. I mean, I heard the story from my grandpa about how he found his land when he first got to Vermont– and it started with a white stag. Yah, a white stag appeared up on the crest of a hill when my great great great grandpa was out in the wilderness hunting. A stag white as the driven snow from the highest cloud, bigger by far than any stag you ever did see. The story goes, he stood there till grampa was so close to him that he felt like he could just reach out and touch his antlers with his hand. Just then the white stag spun and leaped off, light as sunlight flashing in brook water. Legs long and slim and limber and full of spring like white birch branches, fast. That buck he ran off through the forests and valleys, up over mountains, almost getting out of sight up ahead, again and again. Grampa followed him on horseback, galloping after the deer with more determination than he ever had felt before, following the deer all night long in the moonlight in fact. When morning dawned he saw the white stag a few hundred feet away, standing there stopped by a big blue lake with swirls of white mist slowly rising up from the surface. Grampa said when he tried to get his horse to go closer the horse just balked, too tired to go any further. The white stag stood hoofing the wet ground there, and shook his head from side to side, with his tree-branch antlers making you dizzy, then vanished into that strange mist. Grampa rode the horse out into the water, but the deer was gone. He noticed back on the shore that the place where the deer had hoofed at the ground had big grooves dug there. Grampa saw there were lots of fish the lake, and partridges in the woods there. There were apple trees and blueberries, fiddlehead ferns and wildflowers all over the place. He rested for a while, then decided to go home. The white deer led him to that lake in a few hours, and it took a long time — several days at least — to get back to land he recognized. He never could figure that out. And I never saw a white stag, though I used to look for him, when I was a kid. So I just stopped believing there was a white deer in the mountains. I guess. Anyway what’s the big deal about an albino deer? Even if it’s one in a million.”
“Azro, are you sure that was your grandfather told you that story? It sounds like a story I had read to me before I went to sleep at night when I was a kid.” Al Peet said.
Azro Jr. said, “That’s what grampa told me. Are you calling me a liar?”
“No, no. But I heard that story read to me from a book,” Al Peet said.
“Well maybe somebody wrote down grampa’s story. He told it to me time and again. And he told me that in the old days Siberians had a ritual where they’d sit on the back of a reindeer—they said the reindeer could fly to the sun with you on his back, and you’d receive a blessing there, and then the deer would fly you back to earth. Siberians have a drink called ‘Deer Antler Vodka, it infuses the drinker with the spirit of the deer.”
Al Peet said, “Jeez, I never heard that one. And I’ve never been to Siberia, or flown to the sun on the back of a reindeer for that matter. But who knows, maybe it’s not just pigs that can fly!” They all laughed, relieved that a fight about lying wasn’t about to break out after all.
“I guess none of us has flown to the sun,” said Azro Jr. philosophically. He spit some tobacco juice on the snow. “Those old stories are kinda fanciful. Tales you tell to kids.”
Norman Nordlinger said, “I know a guy so dumb, he tracked a deer backwards, to where it was comin’ from, instead of where it was goin’ to. Stupid.” And everybody laughed again.
Al Peet said, “My uncle Delbert was the biggest liar I ever knew. He used to say one time he was out huntin’ deer, and in his lunch he had a piece of cherry pie. He ate it and spit out the seeds, and just then a big buck came along. His gun wasn’t loaded and the bullets were not nearby, so he loaded the gun with those cherry pits and shot the deer as he grazed. The deer seemed stunned but then ran off. He said a few years later he saw the same buck, and there was a cherry tree growing up outta his head, along with the two big antlers? Uncle Delbert was the biggest liar I ever knew! When we were kids we believed anything he said, almost.”
“That was a sorry story in the news last week– about that 17 year old kid,” Al Peet said.
“What story was that?” Azro asked.

Al Peet said, “My folks came from down in Virginia. They tell the story there about the first settlers in Roanoke– summer of 1587 was when they arrived. Those folks know their history down there. Remember how Elenor Dare, one of the settlers soon gave birth to a daughter– first Christian born in this land. She named her daughter ‘Virginia.’ Indians called the mother ‘White Doe,’ ‘cause she was pale and elegant, and called her daughter ‘White Fawn.’”
“Man, You got a good history memory, Al. That was a long time ago.”
“I have a book. Ever so often I read it. Anyway, life was hard in those days and Virginia died. Whether it was in infancy, or as a young lady, whether in some accident, or famine or a terrible tragedy– no one knows. The records show that some hostile Indians massacred the settlers and that six males and one maid escaped– maybe that maid was Virginia. In that case she grew up to be a young lady. In some stories they say an Indian named Wanchese fell in love with her before she died. But in any case there was a legend that after Virginia died– however it happened– she became a ‘spritely white fawn,’ ‘an elfin spirit’ in the body of a beautiful white fawn who was often seen frisking around where Virginia was born, or looking out to sea with a thoughtful stare. And sometime around 1615 or 1620 the Indian hunters on Roanoke Island kept seeing that white doe, the fastest of all the deer there, and it seemed to taunt them. Even the best archers in the tribe couldn’t slay her. She sprang over the sand hills near where Virginia Dare had once lived, and seemed to live a charmed life– no one could bring her down. Some said it was a good omen, others that it was a harmful ghost haunting the land. They’d see her in the swamps, on the hills, in the cranberry bogs, always beautiful and seeming sorrowful. The chiefs had a council and decided to have a hunt late in the year when the leaves were all fallen. All the hunters took part, determined that together they would take down the white doe. Manteo, the first Indian baptized there, took part; he tried but couldn’t kill the deer. Another hunter, Wanchese, who had fallen in love with Virginia while she was still alive, was told by somebody that if the white doe was really the spirit of Virginia, she would turn back into a woman if he could pierce her heart. Wanchese had been to England and had received from the Queen there a unique gift– a solid silver arrowhead. Now all the other hunters had chased the white doe and aimed their arrows and missed, but when Wanchese aimed his silver arrow it pierced the white doe’s heart. Some say when Wanchese went to the fallen doe he seemed to hear a sound like ‘Virginia Dare’ in the last gurgling blood that whispered through the white doe’s throat.”
Azro said, “That’s some tall tale, Al. Maybe you’re a reincarnation of Wanchese, for all I know. You do ever so often seem to ‘want’ some ‘cheese,’ the way you order those grilled cheese sandwiches down at the Miss Vermont Diner. I want cheese, I want cheese!” The men laughed.
Azro spit again and said. “OK, enough! Now I’m going in that direction. West. You go that way and that way.” He motioned with hand signals East and South and they agreed.
The full moon was bright in the clear sky and soon its light was the only light there was. Stars play their part — they tickle deers’ eyes and guide them, and they demarcate seasons, but their delicate light will not make for a clear walk for humans in the dark winter woods.
Azro Jr. walked West with his gun ready to shoot. He walked West for a long time, and then he saw a lean buck on a hillside.
Azro Jr. killed the big lean buck who had not long before challenged the White Stag. He knew the deer, though lean, was too big for him to lug out, and Azro also knew that it was too dark to find his way out of the woods.
He cleaned the warm deer with his Bowie knife and as he emptied the stomach of its intestines and unfroze his own hands in its red-blooded flesh, the large space of the cavity gave him an idea. Maybe he could stay warm that night by crawling inside the hollowed carcass, since he had no blanket and he was freezing. He finished opening up the buck, and cleaned it to the brisket, so it could better accommodate his own lean frame. Then he crawled inside to sleep. The fawn by the boulders watched with curiosity and wonder, chewing her cud.
By morning the cold wind had frozen Azro inside the icy carcass. Only his arms and legs were free. The deer carcass had frozen so solid that Azro could not extricate himself. He started crawling on his fleece-gloved hands and icy-pantsed knees along the old logging road toward home. From a distance human could barely see Azro’s legs, if at all; one could only see the noble head and stately rack and the back of the buck moving slowly along with a strange steadiness, as Azro crawled.
An out-of-state hunter in red flannel was taking aim at this slow-moving in-season deer.
Then, from the corner of his eye, Azro saw the hunter and said “O moy Gawd! No you don’t!” Just then he also saw the white stag appear from nowhere, bounding gracefully between the gun and the target, distracting the hunter. In the commotion, Azro yelled out some more and fell over, and the amazed hunter ran toward him to investigate. “This is the damnest thing I’ve ever seen in my life! I thought you were a deer! Do you realize you’re inside a dead deer?”
“I can explain. Help me. Get me out of this thing and I’ll tell you,” Azro said.

Seven years later stubbly-faced Azro Whipple was jacking deer late one night. He shot at one who was so white it seemed dreamlike. He fired, and like a streak of milk it dashed away from the beam. “Jeezum Crow! How could I have missed him? He was so bright and white!” Then he remembered: “That was the buck that saved my life.”
He felt happy and sad. Azro remembered the first deer he’d ever killed. Azro liked to act like he never felt sad or sorry at any time in his life. “Sentimental stuff is for whine-baby sissies,” he said. But now he felt sadness, the same sadness that flowed into the empty space around him after he shot his first buck with a twelve gage shotgun. He’d wounded that buck in the back and the deer had tried to drag himself into the forest. Azro had used a big rock to finish the deer off, making a bloody mess. The sadness he had felt and banished that day was back.
Azro always scorned those who said it took guts to kill a big beautiful animal. “What are you talkin’ about? You just pull the trigger. It’s no big deal—it’s just the life of some dumb animal. What are you talking about? We’re just harvesting the surplus!” But now somehow the feelings of sadness, and even thoughts of his own eventual death came flooding in on him.
Azro remembered the story his mother had told him long ago. How her father had found a fawn once. The fawn was starving one winter when there was too much ice and snow, so weak she could barely move. Azro’s mother’s father had fed that little deer some moss from under the snow, and she gradually gained more strength. Eventually she was able to bound off into the woods to freedom. Azro’s mother had said that when her father was old and sick he went out and got more of that same kind of moss and ate it himself, and went on to live a long long life.
Azro thought again of the bright white buck’s sudden appearance and disappearance, and sighed after it flashed in his memory. He could not understand the sadness, but he could not quickly kill it, either. He wished he could remember what kind of moss was so damn healthy it gave you a long long life.
When he told his friends about the white buck one of their wives seemed very curious.
“Were the white buck’s antlers brown, tan, or white?” she asked.
“Why?” he asked, “Are you gonna paint it for a Christmas card?”
“Because the whole thing is a mystery of nature.”
“How do you figure?”
“Maybe the antlers of a great buck should make us a little more modest, if we stopped and thought about it. I read that when those horns are lost new ones just like them grow right back. Other mammals can’t regenerate a lost organ like that, and antlers are complicated and big. Did you know the antlers of a 440-pound red buck, can weigh as much as 66 pounds, and they grow that big in about three months?”
“No. And with all due respect, except for Ripley’s, who has time to care about that kind of statistic anyway?”
When Azro went into the hardware store, a Candian hunter was standing at the counter telling the cashier a tale about the white buck. “I saw him off in the distance, while I stretched my legs and took a leak, ay. And ever so quiet I crept, to get my gun where I left it. An’ when I looked back, there the damn thing was—gone!”

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Deer Life: Anecdotes & Legends from the Deep Woods

January 9, 2017

PART ONE.

Deer hunting season in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

“Where are all the deer?” asked Red Plaid Flannel.

“Must be they’re on the ridges,” said Green Wool with Neon Orange Hat.

Red Plaid sighed and climbed up to the ridge…

Another hunter entirely in Day-glo Orange with a little gray beard was sitting atop it peering out.

“Where are all the deer?” asked Red Plaid.

“Must be they’re in the swamps, Oy guess. Here, try some of this,” said Orange man.

“What is it?” “Old Stinky Skunk Scent,” Orange man said, handing him the little bottle. “It’s fool- proof– drip some on your shirt. It covers the smell of human beings. When deer smell humans it makes them stay away. Deer can smell a lot better than humans can, ya know.”

“I already got some Red Fox Urine Scent drizzled on my pants– the deer don’t run away from it, the ads say.”

“Suit yourself,” Orange man said. “Try grunting like a deer does– like this… Or get a couple of antler racks and crash them together, rattle ‘em like two bucks fightin’.”

“Ever try ‘Doe in Heat’ scent? They say you smear that in your hair it’ll bring the big bucks right to you.”

“Maybe right on top of you and into you.” “Man, we sure got a bag o’ tricks, don’t we?”

“Well sure—outsmartin’ the deer’s half the fun, you know that.”

“But where are they?”

“Figurin’ that out’s the other half.”

“Maybe I oughta go huntin’ for beaver, instead.”

“Well there’s plenty of beaver around. Need to be patient in any case. And alert, too. The deer and the beaver and the bear never went to school, but you can’t outsmart them unless they’re havin’ a really bad day.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

“Hell, every damn hedgehog snout has a better sense of smell than any person can. Or so I’m told.”

“Well, Oy guess…” Red Plaid drank coffee from his thermos, and ate a granola bar, and a ham sandwich with mustard. Orange man had a cozy meal of spicy beef jerky. They both thought fondly of drinking Wild Turkey in the cabin after nightfall.

That fall, apples had been plentiful at first. Then freezing rain one sunset and an early deep snow at night kept deers’ pointy muzzles and sharp hooves from reaching the apples in the orchards. Twigs of logged hardwood in clearings were all the munchables they could find.

From the Southern part of the state, hunters crept up into the North woods of the Green Mountains and haunted old well-worn trails, still discernible logging roads, and unpaved roads no longer maintained by towns. Hunters came to the North Country seeking signs: quivering branches, tracks in snow—hoof prints and leg marks—and deer eyes watching from afar. And the deer retreated ever deeper into the virgin forest.

Many hunters will never leave the path, or go too far from the road. If they shoot a deer far from the road the carcass is hard to carry back. They also fear that they might get lost.

Vermont brother-in-law in old clothes said to out-of-state-brother-in-law in new L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer apparel: “My ol’ pal Jack, he saw a buck all a sudden right there in front of him. He was far away from the road and he got Buck Fever– his heart was beating twice as fast as normal, and he thought he’d have a heart attack. That adrenaline raced through him, like a crazy buck running through the woods, and it just about scared him to death. So let’s take it easy, OK? We’re not spring chickens anymore, ya know!”

Meanwhile silent flakes were wafting down. Snow had gathered on boughs of spruce, and breezes made clumps of it fall, startling deers’ “third ears” sonar sensitivity between the two toes of their front hooves, which they keep tuned to the ground.

Any strange sound or earth vibration sends them bounding. The snow would fall with a thud and the deer would dash in flight, beyond the range of snow machines which can run them to death in the vast open fields.

Two female deer, one big and one little, nimbly skittered down a slope of thick-trunked firs, leaping across a rippling brook, through cedars. Cedar fronds are good to eat any time of year, and some trees here had low branches. Sun was shining through the light green lacy cedar fronds. The deer, smelling the sweet resinous cedar branch odor, wanted to taste the green.

The fawn raised her head up to break a small branch off — on the ground it would be easier to nibble. It was just out of reach so she reared up on her hind legs to get a mouthful, and to pull with a twist of her neck. The older deer turned. She was surprised, angry to catch the little one stopping.

The fawn dropped her front legs back to the snowy ground and unexpectedly one of them kept right on going — down through the snow, beyond the supporting earth — into a hole.

Try as hard as she might the fawn could not withdraw it. Cedar grows in wet land and here and there the wet land is honeycombed with holes where earth is washed away from between root and rock. The fawn’s hoof, like the barb of an arrow, was wedged in one of these holes and she could not free it.

As the fawn pulled with all her strength, trying to unloose the fast-stuck hoof, the loggers’ chainsaws hummed like insects in the distance. The saw’s drone and whine mixed and melted in the rush of the brook nearby. As she strained to pull her leg out, the fawn felt the two bones beginning to separate at the joint and stopped.

In the distance a pack of dogs barked. The foamy gurgle and splash sounds of the brook flooded over the dogs’ yelps, then their voices emerged again; and again were submerged.

The older deer sniffed the wind and the smells of dogs and hunters vibrated in her nose, and she cocked her ears again and looked toward the noise with her large and dark eyes lustrous with concern. She stamped her shiny black hooves, then looked up at the cedar bough which the fawn had been trying to reach. The fawn strained some more to get free but again failed.

The dogs yelped nearer than before, then there was a metallic noise, the click of a rifle trigger. Snow clumps fell with thuds and plops from the fir boughs every so often. As the noises came closer and rang in the fawn’s ears with the rush of the brook and the harsh silence of cold air, a snowy whirlwind with umber antlers sprang into sight, coming right up to the two.

Now the three deer stood with ears leaning back, communicating in silence. He was a stag in his prime –the most rare kind– pure white. He sized up the situation instantly, gave the mother deer the idea to set her neck and shoulders under the fawn’s brisket and nudge upward. Then the stag snorted, and, confident and smooth, leaped out of sight in two bounds, heading straight for the dog pack. The mother deer had bent her neck down to position it underneath the throat and now she pushed, pushed upward. Something budged where the hoof was stuck. She let up, stopped pushing, and the fawn lost balance — her hoof sank a little lower in, hurting the dewclaw. She pulled up, and her hoof came back to the tight spot where it had been before.

Excitement flashed and showered up over a hill upstream, leaping high over fallen trees, antlers blending with the tree trunks’ grey tan, coat blending with snow. White stag was leading the pack of dogs away from the mother and her fawn, but they were so close at that moment that the breeze which followed the brook brought the dogs’ acidic saliva scent to the fawn and deer.

They stood motionless until the dogs were out of sight, then began their pulling and nudging motions anew.

The metallic click heard before came again to the two. Now their ears pricked up in total alertness as another noise came—men talking.

The buck knew the men were there and he kept leading the dogs that way. The white buck ran toward the men until they wondered what the approaching noise was; then he bounded back toward the dogs on a zigzag path.

He circumvented the dogs and left the hunters far behind, and keeping them distracted from the deer and the fawn for a little extra time.

Suddenly the white buck appeared before the two again. He had circled round and now without hesitating, he tenderly set his strong neck under the fawn’s brisket, careful of his sharp horns, and where mother had failed he soon succeeded. Limping a little, the fawn’s legs were moving along through the snow again.

The dogs began barking nearer. The white buck stamped and snorted, like a storm getting ready. The mother deer and the fawn sprang downstream along the brook, then hopped lightly, up, up a hill and away.

The hungry dogs, determined in their pursuit, incited by the insult of having been tricked, raced on and reached the white stag now, but his sharp hooves were ready to respond as the dogs’ teeth tried to hamstring him. At first he feigned fear and turned as if to run from them; and then he abruptly reared up and whirled in attack, hurling a sharp hoof into the skull of one snarling dog who yipped a cry and fell, splattering the snow with blood.

The other bloodthirsty dogs barked menacingly around the buck and advanced on him slyly with their vengeful sharp teeth bared. He stood his ground, held them at bay and fought them hoof and horn.

The buck stunned one mutt with his hoof and jolted another with an up-jut of his rack, and then he was off, bounding diagonally up a slope, and gone.

 

The deer and the fawn sniffed the wind and knew men were nearby. They bounced away.

The hunters came running, panting, muttering to each other. Finding the bloody dogs they angrily cursed.

As the two deer raced farther toward their winter browsing ground they came upon some cerise berries glowing against the snow, and the mother deer stopped. Looking around and listening often, they chewed the berries and munched on the square twigs of the wahoo and swallowed this partly chewed food into their paunches, their “first stomachs,” where it would soak and soften. Later, at ease, out of danger, they would bring it back up to chew some more.

And as it began to snow, the white buck re-joined the two. The tip of his highest tine was broken where it had been hit by a bullet or an arrow. Dog blood was on another tine tip. Aside from this and a natural weariness in his dark eyes the white stag seemed fit as he could be, and it was all they could do to keep up with him.

Before they reached the deeryard they stopped to chomp on some brambles and red partridge berries. As the fawn chewed the red seeds a raven cried “Kahhkk!” overhead and the fawn jumped in surprise. The white stag thought that was funny.

But soon he sniffed, and then he twitched his ears and snorted and stamped. The deer went on up toward the deer yard, where, in the snowy winter, deer congregate after a summer of more or less solitary meandering and undisturbed feasting.

The buck did not move, but waited, sniffing more, listening with the “ears” in his front hooves. When they had reached the last pitch of the rise of hill, the fawn looked back to see another stag. This one was younger, with six-point antlers, and leaner than the white buck.

The young buck’s eyes were crazed. He pawed the snow, head down, and then took off, to circle back and charge, ramming the older buck. Their thick necks were angled distinctively, braced for clashing.

The ground seemed to shake with the force of their head-on collisions. They stepped back and rushed hard, trying to gore and blind each other.

The older buck smashed into his opponent now with such fierce force that a tine broke off and the other one’s scalp bled. Dizzily the attacker retreated, went dashing through a rattling thicket and swamp sending dry cattail fur flying in little puffs which dissolved into smaller puffs which floated and fell. During rutting season after mating with that young buck, a doe might squat down and let the unwanted seed drip out; no doe ever let the white buck’s seed be lost.

The three moved on toward the browsing grounds of winter, and reached there before night fell. The mother deer and the big white stag went off together. The heavy gray sky began to snow and the flakes fell more and more thickly.

[End of Part One.]

Source: Deer Life: Anecdotes & Legends from the Deep Woods

Haiku on the Pelicans of Frigate Bay in St. Kitts

January 3, 2017

I enjoyed spending some time with friends on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts in February. The pelicans at Frigate Bay were fascinating to watch.

I  tried to capture some of their maneuvers with my cell phone camera and wrote a couple of haiku.

Pelicans fall like dead weight

straight down into the ocean, diving

beak first, swallowed up

*****

three pelicans dive,

rise up, swoop in formation,

dive again into the sea

The way they dive in formation is so graceful and neat, but with my cell phone camera I can’t keep up with their maneuvers, I lose them.

I try & I try

no–too hard to capture

freedom on the wing

Source: Haiku on the Pelicans of Frigate Bay in St. Kitts

Appreciating Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractalist & Nomad-by-choice

December 21, 2016

I suppose it was fitting that I heard of Benoit Mandelbrot’s death while taking part in a panel discussion about fractals in New York City. The panel was in conjunction with a new opera, “Cracked Orlando,” with music composed by Jonathon Dawes, and libretto (by Terry Marks-Tarlow), a work which was partly structured by fractal patterns. I was invited to the panel because I’d written a book, “Heaven’s Fractal Net,” about fractal patterns in cultures. It was Benoit Mandelbrot who coined the term and introduced the concepts of fractals, a new geometry of self-similar shapes on various scales. It shocked me that day to hear of his death–his mind was ever-youthful and exploratory.

I became interested in fractals gradually. First, in the ‘60s, in the sunshine up in Vermont’s Green Mountains in the autumn, I became fascinated with experiencing the inherent structure of the eyes. I was visiting Vermont after living in the New York slums for a few years. As brilliant leaves fell curlicuing down against a vivid blue sky, I watched the light dancing in the field of my eyesight, making spirals in patterns like square-dancers doing allemande left, or interlocking quilt patches tessellated together. Psychedelic entheogens reveal vision’s wonders structured in our human physiology. And for several years I tried to create art works—collages, drawings and paintings to capture the orderly interplaying swirls of tiny lights pin-wheeling like dancing comets in colors and subtle geometry. I still have some of the collages. M. C. Escher fascinated me with his fields of transforming shapes, like variations on themes of tessellated tiles.

While studying at Harvard on a Danforth grad school fellowship ten years later, I saw in the Harvard newspaper a piece about Mandelbrot’s fractal research and was fascinated by the order and exuberance, the patterns of self-similarities, and the spirals and shapes suggesting infinity. Too busy to follow up on it I stashed the paper in a folder. I earned my PhD degree and a job in Indiana, and worked extremely hard learning to teach and being a new father. I had no time to spare in my busy life teaching courses, researching and publishing, going to conferences and doing committee work to keep my job.

Then on my sabbatical year I rediscovered Mandelbrot’s fractal research, and read more about it in Mandelbrot’s own writings and in books like James Gleick’s “Chaos.” I recalled the mystery of the structure of vision that intrigued me in Vermont, and caught a sense of the excitement in new kinds of research on chaos, fractals, strange attractors, nonlinear systems. I began to get ideas about explored these areas of thinking, examining these dynamics not only in nature, but also in cultures. There were fractals in temple architecture, and archetypes were strange attractors; there were self-similarities in stories.

Mandelbrot developed the first “theory of roughness,” to mathematically describe structures like tree bark, mountains, plants, blood vessels and lungs, clouds and galaxy clusters. Rivers and tree branches. He sought and developed a formula to measure the roughness in nature, geometrically visualizing principles of order, wholeness, infinity.

Fractals are whole shapes made up of different sized versions of the overall shape itself. For example, a large triangle composed of various scaled smaller ones, or a tree branch made of increasingly smaller similar branches. Mandelbrot was my kind of maverick. Not a typical specialist, he contributed original thinking to diverse fields. This made him an interloper, a rebel, someone who broke the usual rules. He explored geography—the coastlines, and economics—Wall Street patterns. He didn’t look at boundaries the way most people do. He wrote, “Science would be ruined if (like sports) it were to put competition above everything else, and if it were to clarify the rules of competition by withdrawing entirely into narrowly defined specialities. The rare scholars who are nomads-by-choice are essential to the intellectual welfare of the settled disciplines.” A nomad or pioneer has a wide horizon to explore.

Mandelbrot was a refugee in Europe eluding the Nazis during WWII. Stories about him intrigued me. He found a clue to one of his discoveries in a wastebasket. He never learned the alphabet in the usual ABC sequence. In France he had trouble with math as it was being taught there at the time, but was bright and could solve problems no one else could, in his own way. He worked at IBM and explored a variety of interests by experimenting, and taught at Yale. “He used the geometry of fractals to explain how galaxies cluster, how wheat prices change over time and how mammalian brains folds as they grow, among other phenomena,” as Jascha Hoffman wrote in Mandelbrot’s New York Times obituary. He didn’t fit the usual mold of an academic, but influenced many fields. I thought (and still think) he should win the Nobel Prize for his original fractal theory.

Like Benjamin Franklin, Mandelbrot followed his inquisitiveness, and was happy to study as an amateur in areas where he was not an authority, pursuing ideas from sheer interest, curiosity, and the wonderment of exploration. Mandelbrot didn’t confine himself to himself, as the Tao Te Ching describes the character of the sage, but he took an active interest in the work of others, sharing his reflections, and contributing to various fields, consciously playing parts in the vast community of human learning. He was not exactly “re-inventing” himself, but was learning new things, exploring new aspects of the world around him, retooling, seeing the same world the experts see, but with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.

Thanks to Mandelbrot I explored patterns in religious artifacts, from Hindu temple architecture to daily Rangoli patterns—rice-powder designs which housewives in India make on their thresholds each dawn. I explored fractals in poetry and philosophy, mythology and music. I thoroughly enjoyed thinking about fractal patterns and making art works with them, seeing self-similarities in great art works and in nature—clouds, trees, nervous systems, and so on. And I experienced first-hand how difficult it is to get a new idea across, the sacrifices it takes to try something new, when I wrote a book, Heaven’s Fractal Net. (“Heaven” in the title referrs to Lao Tzu’s line in the Tao Te Ching: “The net of heaven (Tao) has large meshes, but nothing escapes from it.” (Chapter 73) Probably a better title for my book would have been Fractals in Cultures.

Some thinkers are painful to encounter. They seem to want to punish you for thinking differently from them. Others are stimulating, encouraging, sharing and liberating. They nourish you and impel you on your path. Mandelbrot, for me, was the second kind. As a Spanish poet wrote, “There are no paths; paths are made by walking.” Mandelbrot made his own path by walking, and his example has been a great inspiration. The term fractals appears all over the world now. The song from the Disney movie “Frozen” won an Oscar in 2014—The words “frozen fractals” are sung in the lyrics to call to mind the shapes of snowflakes. So useful and beautiful, ubiquitous fractals provide many images of natural order and wholeness. My thanks go to Benoit Mandelbrot for providing the means for developing what I call “a fractal sensibility.” That skill is something basic which human beings can develop—identifying and appreciating the beauty of fractals all over the place. It’s an honor to have known Benoit, a privilege to have spoken with him on the phone a couple of times. Did you know that the antennas in cell phones are configured in a fractal structure? That mountains in Hollywood films are created with fractal formulas? That fractals still have many more potential uses and beauties to be discovered?

A Cutie in the Kudzu

December 16, 2016

A Cutie in the Kudzu

Fawna wanted to quit the showgirl life. Fawna was her stage name. Her heart just wasn’t in it.
She kept thinking of vines climbing the tall trees in the rural town where she grew up.

So, she fled one day from dancing in the spotlight at the Dancing Bears Gentlemen’s Club on the outskirts of a rust-belt northern town, hoping to find the gloomy shade under thick-flowing networks of kudzu leaves back in her hometown down south. She had played in that shade in North Carolina in her childhood.

She had threatened so often, “I’m goin’ there to find my way out of life’s disappointments.” And finally she got the chance to seize the opportunity, to run away from the “Gentleman’s Club.”

A bouncer/assistant manager named Wulf at Dancing Bears, was a prime reason she wanted to go. He was a wiseguy, a pushy know-it-all, always harassing her, she couldn’t stand him.

So, one day in late summer, Fawna hitched a ride with a customer, a big hairy bear of a truck driver named Mack Chester (or Chester Mack, she wasn’t sure which), who told her that night in the club he was driving his empty truck South before dawn next day, all the way to New Orleans. He said he’d be glad to drop her off in North Carolina where her folks lived. So, she packed a few things in her backpack, some clothes, a small tent, a hammock, a little food, and escaped before dawn.

On the way, while speeding down a long hill, Mack found he had no brakes and so he steered to the right and rolled his big truck up the runaway truck ramp built there to stop 18-wheelers when all else failed.

Fawna asked Mack, “Did you ever read The Runaway Rabbit?”
He said, “No, why would I read that? I don’t have any children.”
“Well you have a runaway truck, and… I don’t know.”
“Did you read The Runaway Rabbit?”
“Yes. And I was a runaway teenager too. I ran away from home three years ago. And now I feel like a runaway again, except I’m headed back home.”
“So that makes you a ‘run-back-to’ not a runaway.”
“I guess it does.”

Mack called a local garage and a skinny young grease monkey agreed to fix his brakes. All elbows and knees, squinting and scowling, the freckly kid fixed the brakes.
When Mack paid him, and gave him ten dollars extra, he grinned and said, “You’re a gentleman and a scholar, I don’t care what anybody says!” as he climbed back into his pickup truck.

Then they continued on… “Highway Vagabond,” sung by Miranda Lambert came on the radio as they got to the part of North Carolina where the thick kudzu covered the many tall trees lining the highway.

“I can get out anywhere here,” Fawna said, thanking Mack for the ride.
“You ran away from the kudzu, and now you’re going back to it?” Mack asked.
“No, I just want to stop here before I go back to see my sister and the others. Collect my thoughts.”
Mack stopped and she stepped down from the cab, and as she was going toward the kudzu, Mack said, “Fawna, I’m going to park down the road a tad. You’re all alone. I need to rest a while. This Indian summer feels nice. I’ll leave my window open. Holler if you need me.”
“Aw that’s nice of you, Mack!”

Fawna hid inside the gloom of immense kudzu cover near that state highway. The spot was conveniently located near Patel’s Oasis, a gas station and a fastfood franchise. The kudzu was thriving, and covering the various tree shapes it made a spectacular structure, hogging the sunshine and creating thick shade within.

Fawna had feathery platinum blonde hair with pink tips. She set up her little camp in the kudzu, opening up her backpack and changing her clothes. She wore a silk kimono there, sheltered in the kudzu, and when she stretched out her arms the sleeves were like a great bird of paradise’s wings. Her bra felt tight and so Fawna took it off, put it in her backpack. She wore a yellow bikini bottom and skin-tight shiny black boots. She had a firebird tattooed on her right wrist. And she had a sweet old-fashioned smile, a lot like her grandmother’s. Both she and her grandmother were charming generous ladies, graceful and kind. She had sent her grandma postcards every so often. With no return address, her grandmother could not write back.

Fawna unpacked her hammock and tent, both flimsy and easy to put up, and she lit a joint and relaxed.

She played solitaire in the kudzu, and used her cell phone to call Vireo, also a dancer, and other friends.

Fawna’s sister named Shawna lived somewhere in the vicinity. But Fawna didn’t call Shawna just yet.

Fawna was just taking it easy, living in a kudzu palace just off the main highway. If you stopped and gazed a while it seemed like exotic scenery, with pavilions and palaces of jade green kudzu leaves, pleasantly curved archways and turrets, as if designed for daydreamy dramas like Romeo and Juliet.

The long lines of roadside trees thereabouts looked like series of wonderlands where various episodes were being played out. Cinderella. The Beauty and the Beast. Lush green realms, flowing leafy kudzu mansions, walls with windows where faces might appear, all natural, yet architectural, the way vines climbed up and flowed down the majestic trees. It looked like it was built by elves.

In some of her daydreams Fawna was the lost Fairytale Princess who lived there, hoping her prince would find her. She gathered kindling and made a small campfire and cooked the marshmallows she brought in her backpack, making s’mores with graham crackers.

The kudzu realm she had chosen happened also to be a perfect arena for office retreats in which managers and employees used Paintgun Games to foster team spirit. Their wars were played out by personnel divided into two groups, then reshuffled so groupthink animosity would not develop. In the excitement someone who took part in a Paintgun exercise left a loaded paintball gun behind. So Fawna had a paintball gun to defend herself with if need be. She kept it nearby, just in case.

Trees hate kudzu. Kudzu covers and smothers them, spreading like a green shroud. For human beings, kudzu has been the foundation for a number of herbal remedies, a folk panacea for all of America’s ills. Really! Not many know that kudzu can be used for many remedies—for obesity, alcoholism, and prostate troubles, to give a few examples! And kudzu can be harvested for tea, and the root is used for starch, and the vine’s fibres can be used for making those noble time-honored useful containers—baskets. It is also a metaphor for something that came from outside America and took over the land. It was introduced from Japan by farmers, and it got out of hand.

Fawna saw the kudzu-covered landscape reminding her of furniture covered by sheets draped over shapes in a furnished home where no one is living at the moment. Look closely at a nice healthy green-leafed tree, the one nearest you wherever you are. You were likely to discover it is really a dead desiccated tree still standing but covered with wind-shimmying green kudzu leaves or some other vine pretending to be a tree.

Fawna revealed where she was by accident when she called her friend Vireo from her cell phone. Vireo told her coworkers at Dancing Bears: “She said she’s near Patel’s Oasis in North Carolina.”

In the afternoon, Wulf, the obnoxious employee Fawna couldn’t stand ay Dancing Bears, arrived on his motorcycle, looking for Fawna, searching around in the kudzu not far from Patel’s Oasis. He needed a shave and he wore a fedora. He was wearing sunglasses, a crisscross multicolor harlequin shirt and skinny jeans. He had on snakeskin cowboy boots and a smirk he couldn’t control.

Alarmed when she saw him, Fawna dropped the ‘smore she was eating, and picked up the paintball gun.
Wulf saw her and called to her. She fired a few paintballs at Wulf but only hit him once on the shoulder.

“Fawna, haha, wait, listen, honeybunch. You need to go back with me to Dancing Bears. You turn me on. I need you in the worst way. Don’t forget, you owe me a thousand bucks.”
“I’ll pay. But not now. I’m not going back. Won’t happen. Don’t trust you. You lied to me when we met.”
“How so?”
“You said you were the Prince of Wales, and like a fool I believed you.”
“No, I said I was ‘the prince of whales.’ When I said that I had just left a Las Vegas casino I worked in. There, when you say ‘whale’ it means a big spender, a gambler who goes for big stakes impulsively, and my job was to blend in and encourage them to keep spending. They called me ‘prince of whales.’ It’s true. Because I hung out with big spenders, I encouraged the high rollers.” He reached out to grab her.

She stepped away. “Who you voting for?” she asked. “I mean politically.”
“I’m voting for Donald, he’s a businessman and so am I. It would be interesting to watch the world burn and then pick up the pieces and start a whole new world for all I care, build it from the cinders and ashes right up to the mountaintops. If he can drain the swamp, well that’s a job for Hercules. But Trump could do that, with enough deregulations, and so could I. Creative destruction at your service, mam. First off I’d hire illegal workers to clean shit up, and order some huge construction projects to commence.”
“So your fantasy is being a sidekick of Trump?”
“Fawna girl, we live in a capitalist country. Casinos, hotels, beauty salons, beauty pageants, luxury products, fast food joints, cheap stolen goods, carny barkers, dice games… What was I saying? Oh yeah, ties, cowboy boots, beefsteaks and caviar sell themselves up in this capitalist bitch. We’d clean up. Come with me, sit by my side! You be my partner in crime.”

“Thanks but no thanks. I want to get away from everything for a while. I left town because I had a premonition your Donald will be president. A bad dream. He’s a total con man.”
“What are you talking about? He’s going to remodel America.”
“You’ll see. You all take his bait every time. Y’all just cotton to him like he’s a trustworthy good old boy. He’s the most selfish unwise ‘big shot’ ever. It’s scary how tired I am tired of it all. I’m out.”
“But I came all the way here on my motorcycle for you. You look great by the way, all silvery pink and like a bird. We can fly off together.” He reached out to grab for her.
“Sorry but I’ve got previous commitments,” she said, dodging his grab.
“You think you’re smart doncha? Well if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

Fawna took a tiny bottle of bourbon from her backpack, offered it, and Wulf guzzled it down.
In the heat of the afternoon, Wulf grew tired and took a nap. A yellow warbler flew arabesques through the dark recesses of the kudzu palace draped over the bones of the big dead trees.

While Wulf snoozed, Fawna flew the coop. She changed into jeans and T-shirt, quietly left the kudzu.
Wulf woke up and called her name but she didn’t answer. He realized he’d lost her again.
Fawna was running through the kudzu, flustered, trying to get away from Wulf.
Wulf, the harlequin man she owed a thousand of dollars, was hot on her trail.

Mack the truckdriver who’d parked up the road a bit now saw that Fawna was being chased, and he jumped out of his truck. He ran toward the commotion, chasing after Wulf, running deeper into the kudzu to rescue Fawna. They were huffing and puffing through the kudzu palace, along ridges, up into giant tree limbs.
Eventually the truck driver caught up to and tackled the harlequin Wulf, and wrestled with him.
Fawna climbed up a tree and watched from up there.

“What’s the big idea, kid?” Mack asked, pinning down Wulf. (Mack was 40 and Wulf was 30.)
“I heard Fawna came here to North Carolina. Some of her relatives live here. She owes me a thousand dollars, you know that, right, Mack? I wanted to talk with her. She started running. Now let go of me.”

It just so happened that at that time a bus full of “Raging Grannies” got out at Patel’s gas station/fast food joint near the kudzu oasis where Fawna the exotic dancer was lounging.

The bus driver said, “Have a snack, take a walk. Be at this bus in ninety minutes. One and a half hours.”

The Raging Grannies are nonviolent activists, popular in other parts of the world too. It’s a worldwide movement. They do all kinds of events in public, even in China. They agreed to meet him in ninety.

The grannies bought a big basket of hot dogs to go, and took a walk. They saw Fawna up in a tree, and Mack and Wulf wrestling nearby. They opened their hot dogs, ate them and cheered the wrestlers.
And they sang: “Look out! ‘Cause we’re growing bolder! / We’re gaining strength as we grow older! / Our steps they might be slow, / And though our boobs are hanging low, / We are Raging Grannies strong!”

Mack stopped pinning Wulf to the ground. And the raging grannies heard Wulf say, “If you’re driving to New Orleans, Mack, maybe I’ll hitch a ride with you.”
Mack said, “Sure, we can put your motorcycle my truck if you want to go to New Orleans.”
Fawna did not expect the situation to clear up so easily. The Raging Grannies sat and sang a song.

After Mack and Wulf were gone, Fawna and the Raging Grannies all sat around the campfire, roasting marshmallows and eating s’mores. The grannies subtly tried to offer advice to Fawna:
“Living here by the road alone can’t be a good life, honey, these days creeps are out lookin’ for trouble.”
“This is only for a few days,” Fawna said. “Don’t worry about me. I just quit my job. Sick of it.”
“Sweety, tell you a little story,” one of the Raging Grannies said. “I knew a kid when he was ten years old, the grandson of a hardworking farmer. He worked for 10 cents a day. This was long ago of course. And then one day he worked a day for a farmer down the road, who paid him 50 cents. He asked for more from grandpa after that. Grandpa said, ‘OK, but you have to pay for rent and food.’ It’s a hard world. Don’t get cheated.”
“So who are you going home to visit?” one asked Fawna.
“My sister Shawna, my mother and grandmother.”
“Your father’s gone?”
“Right. And my stepfather works on the Peacock Farm.”
“Say what? A literal peacock farm?”
“No, he’s a senator. The in-crowd call the senate the ‘Peacock Farm,’ where election winners preen themselves, proudly showing off their plumage, show-offs up in the fancy capitol building.”
“Haha. And you, you like to hang out in the kudzu! Girl, you’re comical. What a family!”

One granny craned her neck, looking up. “These canopies of kudzu are like free-form circus tents. Or sheikhs’ tents in the Arabian deserts—bulging up and spiring high here and there, with windowy openings for birds to fly through. What a place!”
Her friend said, “Yes, You could get lost inside here easy. Look over there, how some places rise up high, like castle towers with graceful green shapes, leafy surfaces of green leaf and sunshine beams like camouflage. Look how the sun shines through dark cavern kudzu gateways at ground level as bluebirds and yellow warblers fly through.”

“So many vines thrive in America,” a granny who was a botanist said. “Drive most highways and look carefully; you’ll see the climbing weeds. Kudzu, wild grapes. Strangler fig, hanging dangling vines of bittersweet berries, clinging wild ivy vines, beautiful invasive creepers with blossoms. Arboretum climbers, creepers, invasives. So many clingers and climbers, voracious and insatiable, forever taking more space in the sunshine and more water to soak up. The parasite vine, kudzu, is good at pretending it’s a respectable tree, ordinary leaf guy like everyone else.”

“In dire emergencies kudzu can feed animals, keep sheep, goats, cattle strong, help us survive a famine.”
“But do they? No. Not so far, never happened. It just grows and grows, and doesn’t get used.”

When the marshmallows were eaten up and the advice dried up, the bus honked down at Patel’s gas station, all the Raging Grannies scurried off to catch it before it was too late.

Fawna relaxed in her hammock, elegantly strung up between two tree trunks under a canopy of kudzu.
The three-tiered kudzu landscape was like a delirious dream, with mysteriously flowing green-leaf blankets and curtains hanging over the hillside of trees, a larger scale than ordinary blankets and curtains.

A car slowly drove into the kudzu. The automatic window on the driver’s side smoothly opened. The bearded driver looked up and asked Fawna. “Why are you here?”
She explained, “Just having a little picnic.”
The man talked about conspiracies, aliens from space, FBI, CIA—and 9/11 theory websites “if you wanna go down the rabbit hole.”
“Where is this rabbit hole, if I do want to?” Fawna asked. Not laughing, he drove further into the kudzu.

Fawna called Shawna and said, “I’m in the neighborhood. Can you pick me up at Patel’s Oasis?”

“Welcome home!” Fawna’s sister said when she pulled into Patel’s to pick her sister up. They hugged and laughed. “Let me carry that. What are you going to do back here?”
“I don’t know. I feel like I’m leaning in to something more. Maybe we all have some recalibratin’ to do!”
“Fawna, There’s a hot spring we discovered last year, it’s on the way home. If you want to soak a while, wash off the past, we can stop there. It’s the real thing.” Fawna smiled and said yes.

Santa’s Harsh Helper Krampus

December 12, 2016

Krampus is a frightening devil-like figure with horns who shows up each winter. He is always found in association with festivities of St. Nicholas, as part of the folk-imagination and popular Christmas customs of Austria, southern Germany, and some Eastern European countries. Krampus is a shadow alter-ego of St. Nick, an enforcer type whose threats cause fear and can keep people in line. Krampus is like a trait of Nicholas—he keeps strict track of who’s naughty and nice, and punishes the deserving. Just as St. Nick can bring gifts for those who have been good, Krampus can also bring humiliation and pain that is sure to cramp the transgressors’ style.

Santa is all sweetness and light, kindness and generosity, the positive nice old white haired grandfatherly man in a vivid life-red suit. He’s jolly and beneficent, generous to good children. He’s got a swarm of elves to help him accomplish his tasks.
But Santa’s buddy Krampus is a bad trip, dressed in mussed fur, with scary horns, and his long, lolling red tongue makes his face repulsive. Krampus is nasty and grotesque, and he settles old scores. Each Christmastime he trips up those who expect good fortune when they have been acting in a shameful manner, being mean toward others, behaving cruelly or selfishly. He humbles arrogant bullies, bringing justice to reprobates who otherwise get away scot free with horrible offenses.

Grumpy old Krampus is sometimes portrayed in chains to show he is on a leash under Saint Nick’s’s control and would not be able to harm people except for Saint Nick’s command. Just the sight of Krampus can scare the bejesus out of kids, keeping them on their toes. Saint Nick uses the power of Krampus for his purposes of morality – Krampus is Santa’s muscle, his enforcer. He gives teeth to Santa’s demand for good behavior. He has the punitive force to persuade human beings, who are a weak and tempted lot, to be good, better and the best they can be. Thus, Krampus makes Kris Kringle more than a kindly grandpa figure. “You do wrong and I’ll break your leg,” is a serious threat. Krampus is the bummer, a nightmare for those who presume they are beyond the rules, who have forgotten their own conscience. In some places there are very frightening Krampus visits, and the practice of having group runs, stampedes incited by someone dressed up as a frightening horned Krampus striking passersby and onlookers, including children, with long whiplike sticks, completely terrorizing them. Krampus rudely awakens semiconscious people, causing them to duck, dodge, and run away to avoid the pain he inflicts.
The horrific “Krampus run” is like a stampede of cattle. The crowd of kids may panic, chased over terrifying terrain where it is hard to keep balance. The old and young runners are in danger of falling, being trampled in a stampede, and scared to death almost. It is a frightening time that creates conditions for heart attacks. No matter how fast and far the terrified people in the crowd run, they cannot get away. They run on the verge of stumbling, falling and breaking a limb. The horrified people look back, and there is Krampus, still pursuing them, indefatigable, with his long red lolling tongue and scary staring eyes shining red with rage, waving his switch and rattling his chain, relentlessly running after the herd of kids, laughing as they cry.

“When you are running from Santa’s angry helper you know the fear of God in your heart. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?” Krampus asks. On the one hand, to have the taint of sin scared out of you as you run screaming, is a terrible thing because it is so frightening. But on the other hand, well, you really know you’re alive at such times—there’s no question about that, your heart beats fast and you are thrilled and you thank heaven for your good fortune, vowing to avoid doing bad deeds in the future. That is the normal response. But in life things don’t always go that smoothly. Imagine that in one small Austrian town a group of kids get tired of old man Krampus herding them around, running them into a panic on his big day, December 5, each year. He has always seemed so vicious in calling them “bad girls and rotten boys” and he’s gotten so much pleasure from seeing them screaming and running in tears, one year they said “enough is enough.”
“He is so much bigger than us, we can’t help but feel helpless! Don’t you resent his meanness, and silently curse him? You know that old man who plays Krampus here every year is not faultless himself. He was a mean-hearted skinflint. Don’t you resent the old man’s hypocrisy? So, let’s teach him a harsh lesson,” the tallest kid said.

“How shall we get him?” the shortest kid asked, seething with resentment at remembering the rough treatment Krampus dealt him the year before.

“While we’re running from him, once the momentum builds up, let’s lead him into a trap, and trip him up,” the tallest one said. All agreed that would be a good plan.

And so, it was resolved in their minds. They would turn against the Krampus, and turn against the system that shunted them like dumb cattle down a narrow lane on a hurried chase. “We’re just kids, why should we be treated like dumb animals?”

Next Christmastime, the kids were ready. Using a tripwire stretched on the ground across the path, they caused the old man dressed as Krampus to fall when he reached that spot, while he was viciously chasing and harassing them.

Their plan worked. Old Krampus stumbled headlong, fell and skinned his knees and hands, and cracked his skull on a curbstone. Naturally, seeing him lying there, they felt mercy for him, but it was too late.

Krampus lay there dying, and the tallest and shortest of the kids taunted him a while, he spoke his last words to the tallest one: “Here, Stretch, take this switch, and this chain, too. You can have these horns and this furry mask. You are the new Krampus now. Take them. I got them the same way you are getting them—I taunted the old Krampus, made him fall and die. Now it will be your turn. You must keep running the children down this narrow lane on Christmas! Run them ragged and keep them frightened out of their minds, until you find the next Krampus to pass the job on to, at the time of your death. Congratulations. It is your job now, you will find no escape from it.” Then the old man died.

The shortest kid took the switch and chain, horns and furry mask. “Just for fun, I’ll keep these for you,” he told the tall kid. “Who knows, we may have fun with them.”

The tall kid felt sick to his stomach, and after that he kept going back to the doctor because he felt like he had a fever, maybe caused by an infection. But the doctor who examined him and gave him blood tests could find nothing wrong with his health.
Although mean old Krampus was dead, the tallest youth continued to rail against his memory, cursing him, even though his mother always told him, “Forgive and forget.”
Something deep inside him was still irked by the thought of that vindictive old man. “I still hate him! He got what he deserved! Why did he love to punish kids so much? The memory of that horned rat sticks in my craw!”

The shortest kid sometimes fooled around with the switch and the horns. He put the costume on and looked in the mirror and laughed while wagging his tongue and rattling the chain. And he showed the tallest kid how easy it was to scare people with the Krampus costume. Finally the tallest kid gave in and tried it out, too.

It was a big shock. The tallest kid found that by dressing up as horrible old Krampus and tormenting the children at Christmastime festivities, he felt cool, healthy and happy. At those special times he was relieved of all his ills and woes. He felt like a new man, like king, and wished every day was December 5.

Oddly enough, the shortest kid became heavier and heavier and his hair turned white as the years went on. In time he volunteered to take on the role of kind old Saint Nicholas in the annual yuletide celebrations. He liked to give gifts to kids. Being a sought-after accountant in town, he enjoyed keeping exact records, long lists of who was good and who was bad.

Though some say, “Krampus is the worst thing in Austria, a horrible figure for any country to feature in its customs. A scourge, terrifying tender children. Why is he allowed to return each year? He’s a menace! We should outlaw him.” Nevertheless, regardless of public opinion, Krampus is very popular. He re-appears as if by clockwork every December 5, and there is a flurry of excitement every year when he appears. Some hurry toward him and some hurry away.

People anticipate the Christmas season with enthusiasm. When Santa and his shadow reappear, kids are thrilled to see them, eager to receive gifts, excited to try to escape from Krampus’s clutches. And old Krampus enjoys this annual moment of greatness too. He doesn’t want to die, and has no intention of calling the whole thing off. He will not go peacefully. He is there to stay, every year he shows up again on December 5, plays his role, terrorizing people, every generation, every century. He is Austria’s scary shadow of Santa Claus, the ogre everyone runs from and loves to hate. And Krampus is ever on the lookout for the next one to take over the role.

The Snow Man, by Manfred Kyber, translated from German by William J. Jackson

December 9, 2016

Once upon a time there was a snowman who stood in the middle of the deep snow-covered forest, and he was made entirely of snow. He had no legs, and his eyes were made of coal—that’s all he had, and that’s not much. And he was cold, terribly cold. That’s what the grumbling old icicle that hung nearby said too, though he himself was even colder.
“You are cold,” he said reproachfully to the snowman.The snowman was hurt.
“Well, you’re cold too,” he answered.“Yes, but that’s something else again entirely,” said the icicle with a superior tone.The snowman was so offended that he would have gone away if he had had any legs. But he had no legs and so he remained standing there, though he did decide to speak no more with the unfriendly icicle.

Meanwhile, the icicle had discovered something else to be irritated about and to criticize: a weasel ran along the path and with a hurried greeting passed the two of them. “You are long, much too long!” the icicle shouted after him. “And if I were as long as you are I wouldn’t even go out on the street!”
“Look who’s talking!” growled the weasel, surprised and offended.
“That’s something else again entirely. I’m above you and beyond reproach,” said the icicle with impudent smugness, and he crackled too, in the sheer chill of the frosty air.
The snowman was furious to hear this rude manner of treating the folks who passed through the forest, and he turned himself as far as possible from the icicle.
Then someone laughed high above the snowman in the branches of the snow-laden fir tree, and when the snowman looked up, there sat a beautiful, soft, white snow-elf; and she shook her long flowing hair, so that a thousand little snow-stars fell straight downwards onto the poor snowman’s head.
Then the little snow-elf laughed all the more loudly and heartily. The snowman, however, felt a very strange mood coming over him, and he did not know what he should say, and then finally he said: “I do not know what this is.”
“That is something else again entirely,” sneered the nearby icicle.But the snowman was in such a strange mood that he didn’t even hear the icicle. He just looked high above himself into the fir tree, where, up in the crown of the tree the snow-elf swayed, and shook her long flowing hair so that a thousand tiny snow-stars descended.
The snowman wanted very much to say something to that little one up there above him, about whom he knew nothing, and he wanted to say something about the feelings he had, which he didn’t know how to understand or describe, and which the icicle had said were something else again entirely.
The snowman thought for a terribly long time, until his coal eyes were actually almost popping out of his head just from his thinking.
And finally he knew what he wanted to say, and so he said:
“Snow-elf in silver moonlight,
You shall be my heart’s delight!”
Then he said no more, for he had the feeling that the little snow-elf must say something, and to be sure that too was not wrong. The little snow-elf, however, said nothing, but laughed so loudly and heartily that the old fir tree, which was not prepared for such a commotion, was startled and became cross when the branch shook, and even noisily creaked.Then it happened that the poor cold snowman became so burning hot around his heart that he actually began to melt, and that was not good. First his head melted, and that is the most unpleasant part—after that the going gets a little easier.
But the little snow-elf sat silently high above in the white crown of the fir tree, and she rocked and swayed and laughed and shook her long flowing hair, so that a thousand little stars of snow drifted down. The poor snowman melted more and more, and became smaller and more wretched, and all this was happening because of his burning heart. And so it continued, and before long the snowman was barely a snowman anymore, and then Christmas Eve came, and the little angels polished the golden and the silver stars in heaven so that they would shine brilliantly in the holy night.
And then something wonderful happened.
When the little snow-elf saw all the stars on that holy night she got into a strange mood, and she looked to where the snowman stood below, now nearly melted away. Then it was that the snow-elf also began to burn hotly around the heart, and she scurried down from the high treetop and kissed the snowman on the mouth—as much of it as there was left. And as the two burning hearts came together both of them quickly melted, so that even the icicle had to wonder about it— so distasteful and incomprehensible did the whole affair seem to him.
So, only the two burning hearts remained, and the snow queen had them brought to the crystal palace which is so beautiful and everlasting, never melting away. And for those two all the bells rang that holy night.
But as the bells rang, the weasel came out again, because he liked the sound of the bells, and then he saw that the couple was gone. “The couple has indeed vanished,” he said. “That must be Christmas magic.”
“Oh, that’s something else again entirely,” said the icicle thoughtlessly, and the weasel indignantly went back inside his home.
On that spot however, where the two had melted, there fell thousands upon thousands of tiny soft white flakes, so that nothing more could be seen or said about them. Only the icicle remained hanging there just as tightly as it had hung in the first place, and it will never melt from a burning heart; nor will it come into the crystal palace of the snow queen. For it is something else again entirely.

(The German original of this story, “Der Schneemann” was first published in Manfred Kyber’s book, “Märchen,” Stuttgart/Heilbronn: Walter Seifert Verlag, 1922.

Source: The Snow Man, by Manfred Kyber, tr. WmJackson

The Little Fir Tree: a fairy tale by Manfred Kyber (tr. Wm. J. Jackson)

December 6, 2016

Once upon a time, deep in a forest of firs, there was a little fir tree who yearned to be a Christmas tree. But that is not as easy as most things in the community of trees, because Saint Nicholas is very firm in regard to his policies, and allows only those trees which have been duly recorded in his book to go into towns and cities as Christmas trees. The book is frightfully thick, as is proper for a good old saint, and Saint Nicholas takes it with him into the woods on clear cold winter nights and records which trees are to be chosen for the Christmas celebrations. And the trees, thrilled that they have been chosen for Christmas Eve festivities, bow before him in gladness to thank him, and then the saint’s halo glows, and that is very beautiful, and very solemn.

Now this little fir tree deep in the forest of firs yearned to be a Christmas tree. But for many years Saint Nicholas, when passing by the little fir tree in the clear cold winter nights, had said nothing, absolutely nothing. The poor little fir tree had not been noticed, and so he became very, very sad, and began weeping and weeping, and all his branches trickled with tears. When someone weeps so much that he begins trickling, someone is bound to hear it. Indeed, this weeping could be heard by a small gnome. He wore a green moss cloak, had a grey beard, and a flame-red snout, and he lived in a dark hole. This little fellow ate hazel nuts, preferably whole, and read books, preferably thick, and he was quite a curmudgeonly little creature. But he wanted to be nice to the fir tree because it often gave him a pair of green needles for his glass pipe, from which he always blew ringlets of smoke-clouds in the golden sunlight. And for that reason when he heard the fir tree weeping miserably the little creature immediately came out and asked: “Why do you cry so much that you trickle?”

Then the fir tree stopped weeping and told the little fellow his heartache. The creature became quite serious, and his red nose glowed so much that you would have thought that his moss cloak might catch fire, but it was really the fire of sympathy that was glowing, and that is not dangerous.The gnome was inspired by the little fir tree deep in the forest of firs desiring so deeply to become a Christmas tree. The gnome stood upright, gulped importantly several times, and choosing his words carefully said, “My dear little fir tree, it is quite impossible for just anyone to help you. But I am who I am, and so, maybe it is possible for me to help you! I just happen to be acquainted with some candles, one of which is nicely colored, and I shall ask them to come see you. Also, I know a great big gingerbread heart, who certainly is fickle, but anyway, I shall see what might be possible. Before anything else though, please don’t weep so terribly that you trickle!”

Thereupon the little creature took an icicle in his hand as a walking stick and hiked off through the deep white snow-covered forest towards the distant town. He continued on, walking far, vary far, and before long the first stars of the holy night of Christmas Eve looked down from heaven through the wintry grey twilight to the earth below. And the little fir tree was already quite sad again, saying that once more it would not be a Christmas tree.

But then, quite quickly, a small party plodded through the snow—it was the gnome with the icicle in his hand, and behind him seven candles, and a matchstick case was nearby, too, upon which a fancy design was impressed. The matchstick case had such tiny little legs that it could only stagger through the snow with immense difficulty.

Now as they all stood before the little fir tree, the gnome in the moss cloak cleared his throat, noisily gulped several times quite importantly, and then said: “I am who I am, and so all of my acquaintances have come with me. They are seven little candles, all of excellent wax, among whom there is even a colored one; and also this matchstick case, which is from quite a good and distinguished family—for it strikes up warm relationships exclusively by making contact only with the right striking surfaces. And so, now you will be a Christmas tree! But what the big gingerbread heart intends to do I don’t know exactly, even though he has also promised to come. You see, he wants to buy himself a pair of warm felt boots, because it’s quite cold out here in the forest. He’ll be along soon, I expect. He has made a condition though: he must be eaten, for all gingerbread hearts must, and that is the case with this one too. I have already informed a badger whom I know quite well (and once gave advice to in some family affairs). He’s asleep now, hibernating, but he promised me when I woke him up that he would eat the gingerbread heart. I sure do hope he doesn’t sleep his chance away.”

As soon as the little fellow had said all this he cleared his throat again noisily and gulped quite importantly, and then he disappeared into his cave.

The candles hopped up onto the little fir tree. And the matchstick case, which had come from such a good family, pulled one matchstick after another from its stomach, struck them on the brown striking surface, and lit all the candles, one after another.

And as the lights burned and illuminated the deep forest there was a gasping and wheezing that could be heard. Huffing and puffing, breathless from hurrying, the gingerbread heart arrived and attached himself very happily and contentedly halfway up the green fir tree, despite the fact that now his felt boots had been lost along the way and it was terribly cold.

The little fir tree had yearned to be a Christmas tree, but didn’t know how it all had happened that now he actually was a Christmas tree.

On the next day, in the morning, the badger crept out from his hole to fetch the gingerbread heart. But when he got there to eat it, the little angels had already eaten it up. They are permitted to spend time on earth on the holy night of Christmas Eve, and so with great pleasure they had consumed the gingerbread heart. Then the badger became very angry, and he insulted the little fir tree quite meanly. But to the little fir tree it was all one and the same, for someone who has truly celebrated his holy Christmas Eve even once in his life is no more disturbed by insolent badgering.

_________

[The German original of this story, “Der Kleine Tannenbaum”, was published in Märchen, by Manfred Kyber (Stuttgart/Heilbronn: Walter Seifert Verlag, 1922). The painting of Santa is by Thomas C. Jackson.]

 

Source: The Little Fir Tree: a fairy tale by Manfred Kyber (tr. Wm. J. Jackson)

Haiku about Animals

October 27, 2009

Vermont Haiku

newborn colt dazzled
by this old mountain pasture
— starburst on forehead

no mother partridge
sits on the nine off-white eggs
at the logged tree’s roots

spring morning air– sweet…
Then, my wife cries when I say
goodbye to our dog

fleckt earth-colored leaves
clothe the bird who swims and flies
with a skilful fire

small liquid fish drift
in the shady lake shallows
each near his own rock

the whir of insects
sizzle of summer — even
on Bald Mountain’s pate

a million big feet
stride here– but that cat’s feet
in wet cement stayed

oops! Forgot the wing
of a butterfly in that
borrowed haiku book

big eyes made bigger
black as tarantulas, rayed
like black suns shining

pregnant male sea horse
his tail wrapped around a twig
swallows a small fry

scruff-chest scavenger-
sentries posted on fence poles
watching traffic, still

__________________

Washington DC Haiku

busy grey squirrels chew
on a grey day lawn; senators talk
inside the capital

____________________

mother mouse and babe
hide behind paperback books
peep through cabin’s dark

cardinals in love
close together on the wire
beak to beak seed gifts

roadside dead hawk: sun
glows through big up-pointed wings
orange-tan with brown spots

there you go again
turtle, leaving me with your signs:
“plp” sound, spreading rings

eternity’s whirr
in cricket fiddle fern night
:everlasting peace

along the canal
small turtles sunning themselves
plop! as I approach

tilted webbed duck feet
skid-land, splashing water
“like a 747”

then “return, return”
whirr-of-eternity crickets
sing “return return”

In this cooling night
August’s ground fog brings up
the reservoir trout

silent canary
arabesques down through sunlight
first autumn leaf falls

sugar molecules
rise from the pepsi I open –
bees come in no time

strung on the trellis
milkweed pods on leafless vines
like seven green parrots

milkweed pods open;
show silk seeds shingle-layered
perfect white fish scales

butterfly stripes and
the shadows of grass stalks paint
tiger’s fierce glory

scampering squirrels
in late August’s lush green leaves
crickets whirring on…

wild forest shadows
are shadings of wolf fur
and vice versa

Trickster sparrow dumps
the locust; upsidedown, dry
wings buzz on cement

Miniature spiders
rappell down my monitor;
I’ve been gone two days

Falling mist. Five wrens
pluck mulberries, fluttering
leaves with their free wings

the serpent sheds old
skin–it is translucent a while
then it becomes dust

small hometown wild grapes
sad as geese flying south, but
a heartening wine

fenced-in dogs yelping
at far sounds: kids play, leaves fall
worried threatened barks

oil-slick elephant
of peacock eyes made up of
yet smaller peacocks

pup runs like wobbly
ferris wheel– chomps cigarette
butt, trots on to play

wolf’s haunting howl– wild
wolf eyes; but funny little
grandson dog now barks

elk stags butting heads
near hurrying river waters
far from busy eyes

O fly, wearing your
iridescent fur cape, aren’t
you hot in the sun

Falling mist. Five wrens
pluck mulberries, fluttering
leaves with their free wings

rattly buzz flying…
sparrows play with locust
like handshake buzz joke

swallows boomerang
out over the river before
thunderstorms fire up

miniature spiders
rappell down my monitor
I’ve been gone two days
__________________

Tiruvannamalai/Arunachala Dec. 1999-2000

peacock trails long tail
in dust; thunder laughs
gloomy winds of grit

The whole hill’s humming
with brooks of bird song for a
silent yellow dog

even truck and bus
horns in the distance sound like
bird song on this hill

the bats are busy
as Arunachala dims
swooping in the dusk

philosophic monkey
holds his own elusive tail
wondering what’s up

crunched by my door
depressed lizard loses his tail,
is eaten by ants

searching dreams and
mountains for my inner path
the hill cave of light

4AM fairyland
far off cassette shops
temple loudspeakers

floating on a raft
of music sabha platform
currents of ragas

______________

Mumbai haiku Jan. 2000

shantytown kites fly–
yesterday purple paper
today cellophane

______________

highway traffic jam
so slow a bored fly hitchhikes
on the mirror, primping

spider’s sheer thread shines
from telephone lines to the ground
fragile and ancient

elegant flowers
purple-blue, snow white, peach–all
have pussy whiskers

steam hovers over
the river: ghosts of bears, reeds
and ripples, rising

A.M.’s glowing wisps,
mist veiling curved White river’s
sky-silver surface

The debarked dog scrapes
together a voice almost
from nothing, alarmed

The happy fir tree,
like a big green dog shaking
the water off, (gr)owls

small robin steals a
worm from the same-size bird
with a black breast

at stoplight after
bridge, two geese eat sidewalk mul-
berries, one by one

wide-wing hawks — a pair —
hover high in windy air
above wedding vows

Each time I open
the door the dog chases squirrels
he has been watching

old jack-o-lantern’s
face collapsed today when
squirrels leaned on it

Mice and weeds have life
we and weeds and mice have death
life and death share us

male squirrel chases
spiralling path up orange
maple after her

black and white butter-
fly (mostly black) pausing in
the forest sunlight

garter-snake coiled
so carefully around it-
self, in warm sun beams

woodpecker rat-tat-
tat — like big creaking of
collapsing outhouse

a cow walking backwards?
no; two others walking forward
past that still one

Our car passes, turns
chained dogs into firecrackers
of exploding barks

US flag flutters
zebra stripes running wild, all
redneck blue-sky day

fly does a headstand
– a busy little yogi
rubbing his back legs

Ladybug hurries
higher out on the window-
frame, five tall flights up

pairs of penguins
on rough boulders in blue waters
breasts like milkweed silk

South Africa Haiku

a hyena trotting
off smartly with a stripped back-
bone like a looter

entangled turtle
in a kelp forest– legs trapped
in nylon knots

red winged starlings up
on Tabletop Mountain– thieves
skillful in the wind

Jack the one-eyed cat
lies flat in restaurant courtyard
relaxed at day’s end

scaly anteater
a big long pinecone with legs and tail
a shingled reptile

bottle head dolphins
arcing over waves, wheeling,
mating, tails up in ecstacy

secretary bird–
in the fynbos stalks snakes,
stomps, white neck black suit

jackal buzzard stands
on top of a utility pole,
scans for field mice, moles

4 hippos immersed
in cool pond water, resting,
bush buck springs nearby

baboon on highway
shoulder, waiting , watching all
the busy traffic

Snow leopard stalks, back
paws stepping in front paws’ prints
so cool, quiet and neat

Hello world!

October 19, 2009

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