“Yet, ever at the back of his thoughts, lay that other aspect of the wilderness: the indifference to human life, the merciless spirit of desolation which took no note of man.” — Algernon Blackwood, The Wendigo
When my family and I moved into a new house last year, we were greeted by wildlife that had been around far longer than we had.
The house had been on sale for at least a year before we bought it, and when we toured it I hadn’t noticed the colorful assortment of critters scuttling through the backyard. The space was overgrown and lush with vegetation. At first, it was really difficult to see beyond the rocks there because the trees weer so thick.
It was relatively removed and surrounded by forest, but it didn’t appear so busy. It was quiet. Or maybe I hadn’t noticed, in the short amount of time that we were there.
After moving in, over the next week I was treated to a real view of the wildlife. Deer moved with the rise and set of the sun, eating the grass and weeds in the backyard. Birds chirped during the day, frogs belched at night, and fireflies lit up the dark silhouettes of the trees when it was night out. One of the most unusual among them were the turkeys, which appeared during the fall.
As trees were cut down and the leaves thinned from the wealth of summer, it became easy to spot them any time the sun was up or down. They didn’t appear very often though. It seemed more that this was a stop among their migration rather than a destination, always pecking through the area quickly, maybe in a rush. Turkeys are said to thrive well in areas that are a mix of forest and open land, which was pretty fitting. But it’s still dangerous for easy prey to be out there.
They never appeared alone. They were always in groups.
My parents had the area really cleared out and cut down of the different plants immediately surrounding the house where it was common. I wondered then as I do now if that made a significant difference in the long run for any of them. Soon after, I got used to the nature surrounding us and didn’t think about it as much. I was preoccupied with my own thoughts about summer classes I would soon be taking, what I would have to prepare for tomorrow, the next day, the anxiousness I felt over future obligations and semesters, and a lot of other stressful things that carried a large amount of weight over small periods of time.
Time that passed so achingly when I dealt with it, and time that felt so compressed with all things in nature, at the end of the long day.
The vultures came with winter, and they stood watch over a land of dead things, circling the still nature of the cold and waiting for something new to catch their eye.
I first noticed them one day when taking the dog outside and saw one of them far off, very quietly sitting on one of the branches. I was told they had been hanging around the house for months, and sometimes flew around freely when the dog was out, occasionally getting close. Not long after, the (somewhat) paranoid notion that they might act began to settle in.
Even though the notion might have sounded ridiculous, my parents kept a BB gun by the outside door. They shot at them. The sound seemed to scare them. Several times, they didn’t miss. It was a gift from when I was eleven years old, and I shot at trees out in the woods by my old house with nothing to aim at. In the span of a month, they used it more than I ever did.
The vultures seemed to learn their lesson, and kept their distance for as long as the snow filled the trees and the ground. Vultures are known to find wintering grounds they can dominate and scavenge for food, as little scraps as they might be able to come by during the season. Maybe they were attracted to this spot because of all the wildlife, maybe by taking down some trees and vegetation we changed it in some way.
Really though, the only difference I think our presence made was in the very active attempt we made to keep them away from it. And more so than before, I really began to feel the passage of time. Past troubles came and melted with the snow, but persisting ones carried more weight.
Soon after the weather began to warm up, they disappeared as quickly as they first appeared. But their presence was still felt after they were gone.
Later that same year the deer returned with sprouts from the ground, filling the spaces they shared before.
There were a few times when the deer would appear briefly during the winter, far off in the distance and often moving at a brisk speed, but they never seemed to feel safe in one spot until there was warmth again.
One day I was told that a deer gave birth right behind the bushes in our backyard. The story is that she was walking, started stumbling around, almost falling over, and then dropped out a baby deer onto the ground out of nowhere. Then a minute later, a second one came out. Just dropped onto the ground right in our backyard.
After a mother deer gives birth, the babies are able to stand after ten minutes, and able to fully walk only several hours later. During this delicate time period, the mother has to bring them food and teach them how to feed. We hadn’t cut down the bushes at the time but did afterwards. Vegetation was still there, but not as much as before. Several days later, we spotted a pack of them passing through during sunset, two more deer than there there before winter. Soon after they resumed to eating there too. I still see them frequently.
The birds and frogs make sounds again, the groundhogs keep pushing through new holes in the ground, and not much seems to have changed, but it’s so easy to forget how things are when you aren’t experiencing them.
I had witnessed a lot of little strange things happen in our backyard, watching the seasons pass, life and death happen, literally, and as small as they might appear, their actions carry larger meaning across time.
Having seen a year here gone by, I find myself both calmed and upset by the passage of time, with this place acting as a measurement. I still find myself worrying about smaller responsibilities and brooding about larger ones. This time it’s different, I tell myself, and in a lot of ways it is.
Life’s responsibilities grow more by the year, but I’ve felt this way before.
I will feel this way again.
And in the future, I will try remind myself the same.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson