I am writing out in the sun-porch of the Rancho. The Rancho is the most beautiful place, now, in the fall. I've never been in the Rancho in the autumn before. I’ve only been here in high summer, when the light is aggressive, and you hid from the sun and the noon day heat.
But now, here, in the dim and golden light of autumn, the Carolina woods come alive.
And I have a front seat to it all in the wide, warm sunporch. Instead of hiding from the sun inside in the cool basement or the shaded screened-in porch, I spread out on the wicker furniture in the sun-porch, and watch the quiet backyard.
I am far south enough that the desolate grey of November has not yet arrived. The world is still rusty and warm. There is still a thrill of green undercurrent in the midst of the dun, and the crusty brown leaves carpeting the forest floor. The pine needles weave a carpet of burnt and faded scarlet on the floor of the woods.
You can see right through to the creek. All the trees that hide the water from the house have lost their foliage. The forest looks bare, and the yard looks bigger, without the hard border of the dark woods on the green grass. The yard is covered with the shimmering neutral tones of the dead deciduous leaves. The topography is hidden under this thick seasonal blanket. And quiet descends upon the garden and the pond. The wood seems desolate and dead. No deer slice through the shadows, just several squirrels scamper through the leaves, kicking up a flurry of noise and movement.
Yesterday, on my run, I saw two kinds of road kill.
I was watching the road beneath me, because I was on the look-out for snakes. Although it's November, it's warm, and you can never be too careful.
So I was watching the road beneath me, and I saw a squished spider. A very sad form of road kill. It was so small, and so close to the safety of the grass. Then, I passed the deer. I saw it, and gasped. Its empty eye sockets looked like something out of a Western--definitely not like something that belonged near the entryway to the nouveau-riche subdivision outside of which lay its final resting place.
As I passed it, the stench of decaying organs hit me full in the face. It was morbid and stagnant, turbid and rotting in the soft pine needles on the side of the road.
A crow cawed from a telephone wire.
On my way back, I saw a crew of vultures crowded around something on the side of the road. I realized that their meal was the deer. There were two vultures picking at the carcass, and two of them on the other side, waiting their turn. I shuddered. There was something so repellant about the heartlessness with which the vultures pecked away at the eyeless, life-less animal.
And yet, this is a part of their nature. It is a part of the design of nature. Nature's roadkill removal service. The vultures do not know anything else other than scavenging at whatever dead things they encounter. I wonder how that happened. When did the vulture evolve from the first bird, and what made it develop a taste towards congealing blood? Why does death whet its appetite?
I imagined, as I passed them, and they nervously looked up, that the vultures felt gauche, for they stopped pecking and watched me warily as I ran by. But, perhaps, I thought, they were waiting for me to drop dead, so they could have a dessert after their deer dinner. Or maybe they were embarrassed about their feasting on death in the presence of something living. Actually, they felt none of these things. That was all just my imagination. They were feeding, and stopped to make sure I wasn't a threat who could turn them into lifeless carcasses themselves.
I had never gotten such a close glimpse of vultures before--it felt odd to get such an intimate view of these winged memento moris--and they looked strange and silly. They were shaped like gargantuan crows. But instead streamlined heads and elegant black beaks, they had rough, bare black skin hooding their heads. Their sharp beaks were curved, measly-looking affairs.
One of the those vultures looked at me and waved his wing, a gesture that looked uncannily like a casual greeting between friends, between comrades. I was affronted by the gesture of bonhomie--that he would try to include me in their fraternity of death. I felt traitor to the poor deer, as I simply, watched them chew its dead boy. I felt that it was only a great deal of chance and grace that I was not beside the deer, roadkill myself, being picked at by vultures. It seemed arbitrary grace that I was alive and running, as the deer ought to be, and that animal was decaying on the roadside.
We were out by the pond, after my walk. Skinny the cat darts around in the leaves, and leaps up on the stone slab seat, grooming himself. And my grandmother took the net, and started combing through the garden pond, choke with leaves. She pulled out a small tree's worth of leaves. And one tadpole. The tadpole is so fat around the middle. It looks swollen, with the charm that roly-poly babies possess. She sweeps through the water once again and picks up a salamander. The salamander's tail is translucent and spotted. It squirms and squiggles in the net.
We throw the salamander back into the pond and go in for dinner, with Skinny the cat following behind, after lapping up a quick drink of pond water.
I am now sharing the sun-porch with Skinny. I have my legs thrown about unlady-like on the wicker loveseat. Skinny is curled up in the strong-backed chair in the sunlight, napping in the golden afternoon rays.