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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Thursday, February 10, 2011


An escarpment runs along the front of the house these days, a sharp, 2-foot-tall ridgeline of snow. There's only a couple of inches of snow elsewhere on the lawn, and indeed directly in front of the house, between it and the escarp, there is none, just the bare grass and moss. The wind has been playing at geology, making a miniature mountain range, or a glacier, manufacturing a perfect ridgeline unbroken except by one or two crevasses, whose flanks are white and pure but for the tracks left by rabbits, chickadees, those annoying little red squirrels, and deer.

I stand by the big windows and look more closely. At the base of the escarp the bare grass bears clumps of brown pellets, the strangely small scat produced by deer. The deer must be getting enough to eat, I think, even though the snow in the woods out back is deep. Is that why they are coming down to the house, to graze for a dessert of grass and moss and use the facilities? I haven't been in Maine for a couple of weeks; they must feel emboldened to ignore this human version of a deer yard - glass and siding and propane tanks, not to mention the deck, constructed solely for a purpose unknown to them: sitting around, drinking and eating and viewing for fun. Once or twice we've seen them this close to the house, but that was on August evenings and they were eating crabapples from the tree that brushes the house.

I'd love to see them this close in the winter, to see them standing behind the little barrier of snow, pawing at the ground, defecating. I won't, of course; now that I'm back, they will be frightened off by the lights and noise coming out of the human yard - the incandescence, the computer screen, the TV, the muffled voices of NPR announcing revolutions and realities. I wouldn't see them even if they did come. At night the windows are a deep black blank barrier separating our worlds.

But this morning they came anyway, three of them, not to the front of the house but wandering in back next to the car and the garage, perhaps wondering at the freshly shoveled driveway. A surge of joy jolted me. Magical things just appear in Maine, and this is true not just for the real things of deer and surf and loons in the cove, but also for the stream of ideas and images racing by and through and around my rocking chair. The elements are so much more accessible here even though we construct our houses and our psyches to protect us from them. It's as if I can dip in and out of a stream of life and maybe even capture a bit of it every once in a while in a word or a sentence. It's a feeling of being inside and outside at the same time, and that is especially useful in winter.

I realize those deer were hungry, wary, cold, unaware and undeserving of my joy, in fact completely unconcerned with the likes of me except as a danger. They exist in no way for me, but yet they are a blessing. Seeing them this morning makes it easier to bear this thing that humans do: climb up barriers and escarpments, fall down in rejection, get back up for another try.

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