Face to Face with Nature

§  At age five, while visiting my grandmother’s, I noticed many flies and proceeded to swat. She warned me to leave the larger ones in the bathroom alone, but at some point, I began running out of the smaller. Finally I couldn’t resist and entered the bathroom. They were slower than the others, so I loosely cupped my hands around one and excitedly ran out to show her.

“Look what I caught,” as I opened my clasp; still there was nothing. Then grandmother let out a scream and I got nailed; it had been a hornet. That object of our fear may well have been itself sensitive to fear, to have inherited a fear of those frightened of it.

§  In 1953 at age about ten,  I had abdominal pains and was rushed to the hospital for the removal of my appendix. While being carted into the operating room, I begged the surgeons to let me stay awake and watch. They must have concurred because in a short time, I was still awake and they were working on me. I had wanted to see the incision and the blood. A feeling of being misunderstood came to me and would for decades be a pall over the reality that by witnessing them at work I was having the greater experience. Each disappointment had become a moan; each moan, a hastening of my being put under.

§  While passing through Italy in the Summer of 1968, I stopped in Pisa and visited its famous tower. There I excitedly climbed the stairs with visions of Galileo and his two-stone experiment bouncing around in my head. Finally I chose to check an opening and walked out on what was but a ledge. No railing, I resisted what would have been for me a normal urge to faint or turn around; instead I placed one foot slightly forward and used that leg to push myself  into a backwards walk. One can be too much into an experiment.

§  In the early 1980’s, I would drive to a starting point and take off on a 5, 10, or 15 mile run. One day children were lying on the road ahead, and a small dog stared at me from my lane. As I drew closer, I noticed something peculiar about the dog: it was not deferring to me to the right or to the left.

At the time, I didn’t know that it was a pit bull but had a new theory about barking dogs. I began talking to him just as though I were a member of the family. The children themselves began yelling at him which I believe for a dog is indistinguishable from yelling for help.

His growl became more intense while I set myself to the task of getting through between him and his wards. That day I was wearing long synthetic running pants, and with me running backwards, it approached and sank its teeth in. I continued, speaking as I had begun, “That’s a good boy. That’s a good boy.”

The children let out a unanimous howl of laughter, the likes of which confuse many people. It had waited until they realized that their dog had bitten into air inside my pant’s. The comedian clown, Red Skelton, also noticed such laughter came with his getting up, not with his falling down.

§  In 1996 my wife and I were heading for Thunder Bay, Ontario as our first stop on the way home to Massachusetts from Ely, Minnesota. Shortly after crossing into Canada, we came upon a light drizzle, and then, there it was, a rainbow off to our right. Pretty and far away, in a few minutes, it became clearer, and my mouth gaped open as I realized that it was actually a complete bow with its other end touching down ahead and closer to our ON-61 route.

As I drove, it stayed ahead of us until there it was on the opposite lane of the highway. It drifted slowly, effected perhaps only by our own motion. A momentary thought of driving through it was dismissed as ecstasy followed by impact. There were no cars on the road. We could have turned around and gone back; after all, this rainbow wasn’t trying to get away from us. Still more important things in life awaited: checking in at Thunder Bay for one.

§  One of our favorite walks is through Mount Auburn Cemetery on the border of Cambridge (MA) and Watertown. Doubling as an arboretum, it is glorious in its seasons as were those who, in a sense reside there, glorious in theirs.

On one such venture, we came upon a scene of total disbelief. Before us was a simple gravestone unlike many others that had been finely designed to highlight a deserved or undeserved veneration. However right before us, that simple site was being venerated. About four feet in front of and facing the stone was a squirrel, head down and front paws together, standing on its hind quarters: a stance indistinguishable from prayer.

A camera, a camera, my kingdom for a telescopic lens mounted on such a camera. The squirrel moved on as did we, now chuckling over how many acorns were involved in such devotion.

§  A mile from our home in Framingham is the beginning of a mile walk along the edge of the beautiful Farm Pond. At the time my wife arrived in town, we took up the four mile walk out and back; but in later years, less often. When she got a job not far from the pond segment, she took to waking up about 5 am, walking to the pond, out and back along its edge and then finishing instead at her job.

One morning the path by the pond was enshrouded in mist, and while walking she noticed a coyote staring at her. Eastern Coyotes are believed to have bred with wolves on their migration from the west and, in size, are about midway between their western counterparts and wolves.

My wife isn’t very large: a distinct disadvantage to bring to such a circumstance. So she raised both arms shaking them banshee-like above her. The coyote and she each turned away from the other but were in a moment looking back. Again her arms rose banshee-like, and this time the agreement held. She would never return to that trail. Months later several coyotes attacked a grandfather and grandson two towns away.

§ In August of 2009, Sharon and I were visiting the Cape and there discovered First Encounter Beach. Being on the bay side the slope is so gradual that we were still shin deep at a half mile out. I spoke to her of  a drop-off edge at some point out there without mentioning how quickly the tide would, once it turned, retrace itself.

Soon, I felt uncomfortable with having left my keys with things on the beach and told her that I would be right back; but, when I did return, she was nowhere to be seen. I walked toward each distant party, to no avail. I began shouting and walking still further out, to no avail. Finally a fleck appeared on the horizon toward which I headed. In time, it grew into a hint of being Sharon. She had walked way out in search of that edge and had finally given in to what she guessed to be my yelling.

In retrospect, she had cancer at the time; a month later, it was discovered. Three years later she was in hospice and, at 1 am, she told an attendant, “I’m walking to the edge.” On her request, I and a couple of friends were summoned to her bedside and remained there until daybreak.

A day or two later, while again heading to her bedside, this connection came to me. Hours before, was she enjoying a flashback to that earlier moment of unafflicted, pristine joy? I had just been notified of her death, or was it of her having reached the illusive edge.

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