Wild Delicate Seconds:
29 Wildlife Encounters, Black Bears to Bumble Bees
- by Charles Finn
Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2012
order online at http://osupress.oregonstate.edu
- review by Nowick Gray
This book, as small as a forest creature with 29 living legs, recalling Thoreau and tasting of the north woods in the frosty morning, transports us to the silent wise council of fellow beings. To say that Charles Finn is a master of metaphor underestimates the deep reach of each snapshot, both innocent and all-knowing in the manner of a salamander’s gaze.
To attempt homage to this treasure of a book I will reproduce here the first and last lines of each vignette, bridging the gap between wild and human, leaving the middle to be yet discovered:
I put my frying pan down.
The cougar in my yard is twenty paces away paused in mid-stride, its right foreleg stuck out in front.
The cougar fixes me with its wine-yellow eyes, the thick rope of its tail lashing once, twice.
In a series of ragged white orbs, each a stadium of upturned petals, curved and gently bent into a ball, clover covers the lawn.
I will not mow the lawn.
I hear the ravens before I see them, their wide corvid wings cuffing the still winter air.
The ravens plane down.
With cloud and cloud shadow, sun and then no sun, wind and then no wind, over soft pebbly sand then quickly in front of the green background of river, the fox came toward me.
I never uttered a word.
I come down to the river.
Still, these days, I simply come down to the river.
Coming up over a small rise, daydreaming, I was stunned.
But that does not bother me in the least.
There is a calmness birds bring to people, a steadiness they impart to even the most frenzied of lives.
Then I opened my hands.
All afternoon I watched the land.
A tightness between the shoulder blades.
One by one as the afternoon shadows stretched across the winter fields the parliament of snowy owls flew up to sit on the neighboring fence posts.
The boy turned four years old that day, my passenger said, and now goes by the name Snowy Owl.
Who loves the ugly things of this world?
They don’t even swerve.
Saturday afternoon and six ravens dive bomb a fir tree.
The ravens are in hot pursuit.
Where the river curves in a gentle oxbow a cottonwood log extends out over the slow-moving current, cantilevered five feet above the reflected images of mountains and clouds.
I could drop a valentine.
They are the size of dinner plates, poker chips, catcher’s mitts stacked up in the sun.
Crouched by that pond, I could not have told you who first came up with the idea of a turtle, or why - but I might have been able to guess.
Sunday morning and thirteen elk stand fifty paces away, each its own private and distinct mountain range.
This great hurrah.
A black-capped chickadee is two tablespoons of pluck and vigor in a tent of white and gray feathers, a matching chinstrap and skullcap of black.
Chicka dee dee dee.
Me, a man in need of such friends.
It was as great an act of faith as I will ever see.
I was ready to let everything go.
Imagine the sharp stab of the talons to the back of the head.
In the morning light the owl eats furiously, ravenously, a little madly it seems, and if I had not been born in a society that said black was white, that saw only death where there was life, I too, would have called it beautiful.
Both this morning and yesterday evening, while I was sitting outside eating my meals, in the exact quiet and soft light of those hours, a lone deer and two spotted fawns wandered into my yard.
I was left with a vision of their white tails raised on the wind and the idea that never had I had two more enjoyable guests to my table, but that in reality, I knew, it was I who was at theirs.
It is a gray December day and snow blows sideways.
Just ahead of me a tiny set of tracks disappear in the snow, to either side the brush marks of wings.
Three inches off the ground, clipped to the side of a fir tree, chiseling out a hole the size of a dime, a male three-toed woodpecker jackhammers a Morse code through the forest.
In his absence I’m left with a little sunshine, a little silence, a little snow drifting down - and the question: when, if not now, if not ever, will my life be deemed a success?
They are the epitome of bobbing and weaving.
The butterfly forges ahead, battling the invisible, and it all ... looks ... so ... familiar.
It is a good day - a great day.
You can have your TV.
It is easy to lose heart in the valleys.
I’m left to my own devises, stepping from rock to rock, center to center, all the way home.
January 1st and two trumpeter swans sit on their own reflections: preening, resting, dunking their faces into the glass-still water.
Watching the swans, it is hard to believe.
It seemed an act of unfaithfulness, to trick those birds out of the sky, teasing them down from their rivers of wind.
Since then I have read that, by touching a holy man, a sinner hopes for transference of the grace that he lacks.
It is mid-December and a loose flotilla of nearly a hundred geese gather at a bend in the river, boating back and forth, lazily upending themselves to pluck weeds from the river bottom.
Oracles on loan from the north, the geese pass above the deep green of the trees and I can’t help but think they are spelling something eternal, perhaps even vital, against the open fields of the sky.
The heron is in the world and I am in the world.
I see how I, awake for what seems like the first time in years, fit my skin and the skin of the morning; nothing without meaning; nothing without consequence, everything fitting everything wholly,
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