Posted by: Dan | July 15, 2019

I Went Up to the Woods

I went up to the woods, or what’s left of them—little more than a copse of trees—and I brought a magnifying lens with me. A Bausch and Lomb fifteen times magnification. I looked at the mosquitos that dined on my left forearm while I sat under a tree that still remembers what life was like before colonization. There were two different species of mosquito. One with a furry round brown thorax. One with a black abdomen with silver stripes. The antennae that appeared to sprout from their ears were fractaled like TV antennae from the 1950s. Some sunk their proboscis so deep into my skin that their ommatidia were nearly touching me. Others supped with one back lag thrust up into the air, like a dog at a fire hydrant. I guessed that this leg served as an early warning system pertaining to any threats in the environment. But I don’t know. One expelled a few drops of water from its abdomen while it drank. Tiny silver balls, so small that they clung to individual hairs on my arm. Another appeared to have trouble getting what it wanted. It moved its proboscis in and out of me. In and out, in and out, now deep, now shallow, now at a slightly different angle. This tiny wound did not swell up any faster or larger or itchier than any of the others, although I thought it might. My people have been doing such a good job of indiscriminately killing everything since we came to these lands that I figured the least I can do is permit the mosquitos to suck my blood unhindered.

The next day I went down to the river and sat among the trees on the narrow floodplain beneath a steep embankment of earth and a toad hopped by me, three adolescent ducks swam away, and I was struck by how many different species of butterflies live here that I never seem to notice. I came across at least three campsites where people deprived of housing and driven from public spaces had slept. Here a sticker book, there a half-burned blanket. Were it not for the constant drone of cars, the rumble of trucks, and the smell of fermentation coming from the brewery, I could have imagined myself far from the city. I sang my sorrows to the river, just as the day before I sang them to the White Oak. Concentration camps south of the border, genocide and the extermination of sovereign Indigenous nations on this side, pipelines and tar sands, wars and rumours of wars, fortress Europe, austerity fascism and the war on the poor, not to mention one percenters openly engaging in rampant sexual abuse of children—these things have been getting me down. So I sang my sorrows and then I sat and waited. It’s okay that I didn’t get a response. I have learned the art of waiting a long time. I sat on a log and read a book. There were no mosquitos down by the river.

Lately I have very much enjoyed listening to the voice of the wind in the leaves of the trees. Or is it the trees talking when the wind moves them? I’m not sure. I have been trying to listen and learn how different trees sound when the wind moves through them. The swish of a maple, the rustle of an oak, the hiss of a pine. I’m not very good at this. I like to think that one day I’ll be able to stand in the woods with my eyes closed and tell you what trees are around based on the sound of the wind. That would be fun.

I have been talking to the wind for a few years now. There is a playfulness to it. A mischievousness. A kindness. Near the end of the school year, my daughter told me that she, too, talks to the wind and plays games with it. Ain’t that something?

Up in the woods, the spiders were greyish-brown, with flattened bodies, much like the soil and the bark of the tree, and they seemed to like to roam. Up my leg. Over my hair. Down by the river, the spiders had large round bodies and they were busy constructing webs to capture the little things that flit and fly and hover on the surface of the water. We are all so intra-connected and busy moving in and out and through one another, that I’m not always sure that the framework of eating and being eaten is the best one to deploy here—although the midge (let’s call him Steve) who has been paralyzed and whose insides are in the process of being liquefied by digestive juices injected by a medium-sized Bridge Orb Weaver (let’s call her Mabel) may feel otherwise. But, I mean, yeah, life goes on. Even if Steve does not.

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