Circles in the Grass
The late afternoon sun comes in mid-afternoon these days of the year when it sets earliest. “It doesn’t get any worse than this,” my mother would say in early December and, of course, she was right. While the mornings continue to devour the day into January, the sunsets have hit their nadir by the charts rounded to the minute. They stay in place for almost two weeks before beginning to inch back to five o’clock, unimaginable in summer, a gift in winter.
This low sun creates slight shadows on my neighbor’s hill, a sight to which I am unaccustomed. That lot, which has never in my memory been mowed — nor, oddly given that fact, been devoured by brush — was cut a week or two ago. The contours I am seeing are impressions left by the passage of heavy equipment, from a tractor with its sickle bar extended to a baler magically transforming grass to chunks of hay. The land looks shorn which surprises me because it never seemed to have much growth on it.
It is the hill that greens first in the spring. Then it has the look of fields of my childhood, brightly new a month after a still day and a burn, when burning was a safe(r) and more complete method of scouring the land, before so many houses were built. Fire got into the walls, said the older man who lived next door, it kept down the vermin who tried to hide amidst the stones.
There are no animals any longer and the barways can be left open, the gates pushed aside. It is the same over here; where there was always some barrier to the north lot there is an open space between the wall and the corner of the old shed foundation. We have begun to wear a path, Autumn and I, going out into that long one-time pasture.
Since she came to live with me, we have moved through a near rainless fall, watched milkweed pods dry and break, their silken insides tossed to the wind. There was no rain for so long, and the low spots where water collects in the spring stayed summer dry.
It has been two and a half months and I have gauged Autumn’s growth by that lot. The first time the little puppy dared venture through the empty gateway to the edges of the taller vegetation she ran back anxious and excited at the big world she had discovered just beyond her yard. We walked out there and she literally ran circles around me, always visible through the sparse grass. More recently, she has come through it bounding, grown tall enough to see over it with a little jump, all golden energy parting the brittle spikes.
The taller grass in the north lot is not that of a hay meadow running before a spring wind, verdant velvet gilded by the May sun. This is funny stuff that grows in little clumps. I do not know if it is ever green or if I only notice it when it fades. It changes, I realize walking early and late, this long lot that runs east and west, from pale wheat to burnished gold depending upon the direction of the sun.
It is another of those minor miracles of the land, there for the looking. While I miss the absurdity of the cows who would appear in my yard at night and startle me when I opened the door to see a white face not far away, the ones who would leave deposits where the grass grew greenest in the spring, I love the accessibility of the fields without them.
That north lot, too, was cut the other day. I realized it going out at night, seeing the deep imprint of wide tires in the beam of my flashlight. A few wet stalks lay on the ground, sadly fallen. The neighbor has been at this of late, squeezing whatever he can from his sister’s and my fields. He no longer has animals of his own to feed but he loves this process and late season hay worthless for feed has other practical uses. My north lot turns quickly to briar and brush even with animals roaming it and without them I am glad to have even a part of it cut.
Standing in the gateway, I watch Autumn spot the deer crossing the newly naked lot. She stops and looks at the bigger animal who also has stopped, not yet sure what is wrong, but seeming to sense something is not right. She — the deer has no antlers so it is easier just to call her a “she” although I know that may well not be the case — turns and looks our way, a wild creature turned toward one tame but curious.
Autumn does not move when the deer starts and runs across the lot to disappear into the brush; it is only a few long seconds later that she decides to bark and run a few yards in a weak imitation of pursuit. She is not interested in chase, only the possibility of a playmate.
My first golden was a dog gentle and sweet, a big male without an ounce of aggression in him. I watched him one day go after a deer, and saw that most domestic creature drop to a feral run, fast and low to the ground. His prey disappeared and with it his killer instincts; he quickly reverted to the pet I knew, trotting back to the stick he had been gnawing in the yard. It was a revelation.
Autumn is young, yet, and at least this time she did bark, if only to say “come back and play with me.” I’d rather she not go off into the heavy brush following a deer trail, nothing good can could come of it.
There is some grass, still, I realize over the wall, on the east facing slope of what we have always called the Pig Lot, despite the lack of pigs there. Funny puppy, it is not until she is within its cover that she again starts running circles in the grass, deer and other pursuits forgotten.