Yesterday I walked with a friend and our dogs in the southern part of Wendell State Forest, beginning with a wide, flat meadow. We could hear the sound of two heavy riding mowers behind us.
Leeann pointed out a stick standing upright in the ground, and next to it, a box turtle. She was a beauty, black with yellow rings. She’d dug up a hole in the meadow and was getting ready to jettison her eggs. We watched as she rose up like a flatbed truck, front part up in the air while the back tilted down to unload cargo into the ground.
“Not a great survival strategy,” Leeann said as we both heard the relentless chugging of the big riding mowers coming our way.
When we returned later mama was gone and the hole was covered up neatly. As yet, the earth hadn’t been turned up.
And then came last night. In the zendo we’d done a Renewal of Vows ceremony, in which we renewed our vows to the Buddhist precepts, confessed where we’d fallen short, and asked for forgiveness. Driving home, I saw deer everywhere. A narrow, white trail of clouds seemed to stretch out of the moon in the dark blue sky like an umbilical cord and then disappeared, and I thought of the trails of dust, some hundreds of light-years in length, that connect galaxies.
As soon as I came home I knew this had all the makings of a wild summer night. The dogs ran from one end of the yard to another, barking shrilly. Fireflies blinked on and off at the far end by the tall birches, where it’s especially dark, and I recalled a story I’d heard that fireflies are often accompanied by porcupines.
“Harry! Aussie!” They barely listened. It was a night of hunt and prowl; everybody who was anybody was out, and they weren’t going to miss it. They’d come indoors to lie down, then jump up and run out the dog door again and again, barking madly. Who wastes a gorgeous summer night on sleeping? Finally they stayed in and I fell asleep.
At quarter to three in the morning I opened my eyes. Both had shot like a cannonball down the stairs and out again, Aussie with her longer sentry warnings, Harry’s barks more shrill and clipped, two of his to every one of hers. I closed my eyes: When will this stop?
Something shrieked. I lay still. The cry started low and rough, then became a scream that pierced the air, and then silence again.
I grabbed my robe and ran downstairs, put on lights. “Harry! Aussie!”
Harry ran towards me from the very end of the yard where laundry lines hang. Aussie, as usual, was nowhere to be seen. I looked for light. Where’s my flashlight? Where’s my phone?
Found it, hurried out quickly but carefully. Were there sounds of chewing? Of a satisfied growl? Where’s Aussie?
She came running, not a mark on her, and I remembered that I hadn’t heard any snarls of struggle, just barking.
In the morning I went out and searched. Not a sign of anything anywhere. I looked out beyond the fence for a carcass, for crows landing on flat, bloodied fur. Nothing. But I knew that something had lost its light in the early hours.
“Comings and goings, comings and goings,” Bernie used to say sleepily on these occasions, if he even heard them. He often talked like that, as if he had death handled.
For me, nothing is handled. I couldn’t sleep for hours after that, the sound of horror and desperation ricocheting in my mind long after I’d returned to bed, while the dogs slept deeply.