December 22, 2011
He was moving right along when I caught up with him. When he trundled by earlier, the night sky was giving it up and the last star fading. I hurried to get my britches on, but when I’m in a hurry the simplest of things go wrong. Day in and day out I but britches on and never have a problem, but the day I’m in a hurry I shove my foot into the pant leg, forget to point my foot, and next thing I know, I’m stuck halfway down the leg. Then I’m on my butt, pulling my leg out, shoving it back in and finally, finally! am able to stand up and pull my britches up. The whole process doesn’t take a lot of time, but I’m red faced and feel as if it took forever
Now running to catch up, the faded morning color said it was but a moment before sunrise. Sure enough, sunlight grazed the ridge top just as I turned at the red oak. Up ahead I saw him out in the wheatgrass.
Mornings have their own frame of time. The final minutes of dark on a cold winter morning last forever, but once the sun rises it seems in such a hurry. Now it appeared as if the sun jumped higher with every step I took. As the sun went higher, its light flowed down the ridge—faster than I could walk to catch up with him. Then, it was just weird…I was maybe thirty feet from him when sunlight hit and then flashed across the valley floor. The grasses, still encased in ice from yesterdays fog grabbed sunlight, multiplied it, and threw it across the valley. For a moment I became sparkle blind. As I came closer, he looked back and walked on. Maybe it was because I was breathless, maybe because of sparkle embedded in my eyes, but in that moment it looked as if he walked on light.
He didn’t say a thing. Arnie seldom does.
Armadillo’s are known for their slow moving being. For the most part they aren’t a chatty bunch. But they are conversive when life matters. This morning there was no talking as he turned and continued.
I didn’t know where he was heading, but Arnie is ancient and I figured something might be up. No one knows how long Arnie’s been around. This is probably because no one knows when he came. For as far back as anyone remembers, even the old folk, Arnie’s been here. You’d think such age would set him aside from others. You know, a respect that moves folk aside when he walks by. But that has never been the case. His name says it all. No title, no last name, just Arnie. Just the same, there has always been something about Arnie. You see, things happen when Arnie is around.
I tried to stay awake last night. The old stories tell about ancients walking about on Solstice morning. They are up and about other mornings, but the morning of the shortest day tweaks creation in such a way, they are easier to see. The stories say when the ancients walk, the trees talk and the fish dance. But it is also said, you must see the ancients before you encounter trees talking and fish dancing. So, I made it my lot in life—yesterday—to stay up and see the ancients today! Problem was, last night, being the second to longest night of the year; well, it went on and on. Sometime, I’m not sure when, but sometime after the big dipper entered the northeastern sky, I fell asleep.
I remember dreaming of springtime. Sun filled blue sky and a hint of warmth. I sat next to a stream watching the ice break up. One Ice chunk after another floated by. When they ran into each other there was a scrapping crunching sound. Rhythm rose up—scrap, scrap; crunch, crunch; scrap, crunch, scrap. Then a large chunk of ice ran into the others, crunch, cruNCH, CRUNCH! I woke up and Arnie walked by—feet crunching frozen grass below. Now following Arnie, I can see the frozen grass laying flat to the ground with each footstep.
I looked down and watched my own feet laying footsteps in the frozen grass and I could kick myself. Dreaming of floating ice and missing the walk of the ancients! Why couldn’t I just stay awake a little longer! Now here I am following Arnie to who knows where? And then, it hits me, there are no armadillo footsteps in front of my own! Dadgumit, I lost Arnie!
I looked around. The place is familiar. The creek, a stone’s throw, is where we picnic Sunday summer afternoons when a respite from the heat allows for a lazy afternoon. Aspens dot the land, some in bunches, others standoffish. I turned round and round again. Sure enough, no Arnie. I walked up to the creek, looked upstream then downstream, and all there was was the dam the beaver has been working on since last spring. Dangit! I turned around, went over to the closest tree and sat down.
Why didn’t I pay attention? First I went to sleep last night, gave up any chance of seeing the ancients, and then followed Arnie to see something different, and I lose him! One would think they could keep up with an old armadillo!
As I sat, the sun crested the tall grasses and settled in around the base of the tree. I closed my eyes, partially from the suns glare, partially from little sleep. With eyes closed, the air warming around me, I settled down.
The water flowing in and through the beaver’s dam raised a tumbling sound into the air. At first it was one sound, but slowly it blossomed. The soprano of the reeds at dam edge folded with the baritone rising from dam center. In their caressing they welcomed the tenor of water playing with stones at the dam’s foot. Soon the melting frost from tree leaves above fell to dammed water bringing an alto to the chorus. The choir played on, the melody flowed, the alto’s slowed and then departed. I’m not sure how long the song played, but when I opened my eyes, the frost, like the alto’s, had left and the Aspen leaves were dry.
Few leaves remained on the trees. Frosty mornings and strong fall winds had bedded the ground with them long ago. But even on winter’s morning there were those who held tight and golden in the sunlight. Lightened from frost, they move as the lightest of breeze travels down creek. They turn, flip, sway, and waddle about. First one, then the next, and again another until leaves from branch scraping creek to top of tree waltz. Every now and again the breeze would spin a leaf and let go—leaf swooping, looping, plunging, floating, light on their stem moving from heaven to earth.
Water, breeze, and leaves filled space and time emptied.
Short days are short days, certainly in a ridged valley. As quick as the sun had entered the valley, it left. Color entered evening sky. The morning’s journey now ancient. I arose from the tree. Walking away, I noticed grass without its ice blanket had risen. Morning footsteps had long disappeared and only a meadow of short and tall grasses communing remained.
As I walked I thought about the stories of the ancients. One day, maybe, I would see the ancients and hear the trees talk and watch fish dance. But until then, a day of water singing and leaves dancing ain’t all that bad.
As I reached the meadows end and turned toward home, I looked back to the tree of song and dance and noticed a shape in the limbs that looked oddly armadilloish. Must be a bunch of mistletoe, I thought as I left the meadow, after all armadillo’s don’t climb trees.
© David B. Bell 2011
For someone like me, so fully a part of the scientific-historical world view as I, talk of the ancients, and all of the rest, is beyond the realm of possibility. Yet, the vast majority of people the world over have lived in the confidence that reports on the ancient ones are trustworthy. Despite my secular mindset, I can’t dismiss the ancients and other spirits. Thank you for your sympathetic reminder.
The stories keep me wondering! Thanks for your insight1