Sunday, October 27, 2013

How I'd Like To Die

I had been invited to one of those who-done-it theme dinners at a neighbor's house across the hollow.  I was cast as a dissipated and louche Spanish aristocrat with central European lineage who had been having an affair with the murder victim.  I can't recall if the game played like Clue but I know I wasn't the killer.  I knew it was July. I remember how I was dressed, and most of all I recall the walk back home.

The tree-lined road linking my house and my neighbor's is pre-Revolutionary and dirt, forming a nearly symmetrical soft U-shape in the landscape.  It runs through a true Appalachian woodland hollow passing all hollow specifications topographically and, as someone who grew up off the fabled Sleepy Hollow, I can say it carries the distinction of  mystery be it day or night.  At the hollow's bottom is a simple earthen bridge above a giant culvert guiding what in the early twentieth century was called the Wallygumpus and in the nineteenth century called Cheeseborough Brook. It is sizable and rocky, yet owing to the symmetry of the hills at that juncture, nearly flat for about thirty yards.  There are no other dwellings between me and my neighbor, only hundreds and hundreds of acres of forest, glades and wetlands.

My costume for the evening was set: A pair of black Capezio Mary Jane patent leather dance shoes with  stacked heels, a French Provincial tiered and flounced skirt fitted snugly and flamenco-like; the lowest tier reaching mid calf then yielding to a longer black lace sixties hippy underskirt.  My bodice was a corset of hot pink Ibizan silk beneath a short-sleeved blood red bolero tied at the mid-riff.  My hair was piled loosely on my head and held upright by a mantilla comb over which draped a large black lace veil that reached down to the small of my back.  But the centerpiece of the outfit was to be an exuberantly out-of-date stole of six stoats.  A stole of six chestnut stoats in series, one biting the tail of the next.  It was my attempt at communicating serious dissipation.

I decided to walk to the dinner party which is a distance of about half a mile.  It was early evening.  My hosts greeted me in their costumes and I met the other guests who all introduced themselves in character.  During the dinner-game my host was so earnest in his executing the who-done-it accurately even if it meant reading the instructions aloud to all of us from the pamphlet at jarring intervals.  That is about all I remember about it.  

The host's mother is an accountant and prone to anxiety so when at the dinner's conclusion later that evening I informed her that I had not driven there and would walk back home in the dark she was perplexed and mildly agitated.  Not wanting any fuss I refused her flashlight or a lift from her son.  She continued to express concern as she put on all the exterior lights while I set off along a short plateau of dirt road which preceded the descent of the hollow's soft ravine.

Sometimes in summer months, temperature inversion causes mists to develop in the lowlands and this July evening happened to present such an occasion. As I descended into the hollow and the lukewarm mist I could see the shafts of the house's exterior light cut and shaped by both moisture and topography.   Had the mother of my host continued to look upon me leaving she probably would have eventually only seen a highlighted spiral of stoats appearing to drill into the ground.  My own experience was initially less dramatic.  The lit mist very gradually turned to taupe until I reached a critically low altitude when all became shockingly onyx.  Now a pure city dweller may have panicked yet I have been in the country's heart of darkness many times and since I knew this road was fairly straight and walked it often I was not alarmed.  Besides, I thought I could see an emerging bit of light above me which I briefly concluded must be the light of my own house.  Only it wasn't.

It was a firefly.  Then came another and another until I was suddenly immersed in a pulsating cloud of bioluminescence.  I could tell I was near the brook as it provided its churning white noise but each step forward seemed to increase the number of blinking lights by an order of magnitude.  Being drawn to looking at each blinking light I was insidiously disoriented.  My vision was so foreshortened that I could not tell whether the strobing was before me or inside my mind; similar to the sensation of pressing against the lids of one's eyes and seeing the phosphenes of the brain's electrical discharge... only much more intensely. As my consciousness flattened into  swirling scrims of light my mind managed to escape to think that this had to mark my seduction into helplessness. So I voluntarily submitted to the inevitable loss of bearing and began to spin into the throbbing gestalt of the landscape. Looking down, looking up, it made no difference. There was no figure, no ground, only luminous resonance. The polarity of my body, what was head and what were feet began to dissolve and obliterate.   I reeled and teetered. I started to rejoice.  I was blanketed only in a euphoria of soft warm mist and blinking lights of uncertain location feeling nothing of the corporeal inside me or against me. I felt not one body of a misdirected or similarly disoriented firefly .  

I stood motionlessly spinning in this undulating world of corpuscles, in my Ibizan courtesan's outfit now further bedecked in spun luciferin, appearing like some fantasma who had lost her way, when I heard the howl of a nearby coyote. Then another and another until I understood they were in a pack and somewhere truly not far beyond this place.  From their perspective they must have seen me-- a frozen and odd prey in a snow globe of flickering light.   And so my trance was pierced.  I instinctively plunged my toe into the dirt to make sure I was still on the road.  Then using each foot I painstakingly slithered in pre-panic, advancing on the dirt only until I felt something that felt too much like either sedge or cattail, then repositioning and sliding my foot to secure the grit of plain road.

The incessant flickering now paralleled floods of thought as I began to foretell : Imagining this seduction of nature only to be the prequel to my death by a pack of wild dogs, perhaps exacting revenge for this stoat stole around my neck and shoulders.  They knew I was guilty and foolish, vain and trifling and in their final assault upon me in this bioluminescent theater, I imagined how the stoats would in fact too reanimate themselves and join the coydogs in my final ravishing.  My veil shredded, bolero bloodied.  Should I throw the stoats at them in desperate but mock contrition really only meaning to confuse them?  Or should I hysterically just run blindly through the pulsing scrim and risk falling into the Wallygumpus? My mind time-rippled to the future, to after my body was found,  with the accountant-mother piously recounting her concerns to the authorities maybe even alluding to the irony of the preceding who-done-it dinner.

Yet some third eye prevailed.  That and perhaps my indignantly hollering "NO!". Although I had not heard any more coyotes caterwauling after their initial salvo my pathetic yelp and startled yet sincere movements may have quieted the wolves while also ejecting me into the climb of the hollow's U and beyond my flickering cell.  I lifted my skirts as soon as I could and ran all the way up the rest of the hollow, through the stonewall barway, up  to my pond, up through the proscenium of white paper birches above the lawn and into my unlit vernacular farmhouse.  Away from view with my stoats in tow now I wondered whether the stoats may have indeed saved me, whether I may have been observed by the coyotes as a kindly stewardess of pups in the night.  I thought "Well that's how. That is how I would like to die":  As a fantasma wrenched from one world into another by the introductory, sweet, blinding disorientation of fireflies and the sudden final revenge of ravenous wolves. Only some other time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wild Cucumber

My first encounter with this native annual came at the edge of a wood one late August a time when all the energy of Summer had maxed out.  This springy rapacious vine has tendrils like slender tentacles grasping onto anything that it meets.  As an annual, it is not woody so can be easily coaxed to configure to what you wish provided you stay on top of it.  Otherwise it will mischievously set about clambering upon all with its pleasing light green maple-shaped leaves.

Echinocystis lobata, so called because of the spinulose fruits that develop in late summer often alongside its flowers, especially likes moist swales and can often be seen alongside roadsides making plumy creamy undulations as it sweeps atop the hedgerows.  However, it probably can grow in less than optimal conditions although not as voluminously.

wild cucumber climbing upon a spirea bush and close up of the flowers

the fruit with tendril in the background

This year was a banner year for wild cucumber in the Northeast.  Just recently I tore up all the vines (very easy to do) and placed them at the base of a large fence so their watermelon-like seeds can sprout next spring and cover it.

a transplant from my garden last May