Four in the morning in my mind is a blank page, until the dogs insist that something unusual is taking place outside. On the night of the full moon, their ruckus brought me downstairs, peering out the front door at the long-tailed shadow dancing around on the crusty blank sheet of snow.
The dancer was a fox, and it was enjoying the seed-scatter under the bird feeder, digging and nibbling on sunflower kernels left by the brash, greedy blue jays. Or was it pouncing on unsuspecting mice and moles that had tunneled to the same spot for their share of kernels?
A poem was surfacing in my mind. I had read this scene before.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow
These lines from “The Thought-Fox” by Ted Hughes were playing out for real in the forest of my sleeplessness and the tense alert of our dogs. For Hughes, the poem was the fox, pawing and sniffing around the corners of his imagination until it finally jumped from the verge into verse.
Isn’t that just like March, to lurk beneath the bird feeder where the clutter of chickadees has spent all winter, and then suddenly wake the dogs? This soft-furred, sharp-toothed month is an interloper between winter and spring, caramelizing the mud and then stiffening the puddles back to solid winter; loosening up the sap on warm afternoons, and then hardening the arteries with a sudden Arctic night; snow days followed by shirtsleeve weather; and constantly nipping at our heels. March preys on our yearnings.
The wild things have been on the move for the last week. The dogs and I hold vigil with our chins on the windowsills waiting for something, anything, to appear out of the woods. The deer, skunks, and squirrels oblige, and even a fisher cat cruises through our field, piquing the extrasensory perception of Gus, the big dog. Even if he can’t see, smell, or hear them, he knows they are lurking, attending to the wild business of spring. I can at least sense the atmospheric charge.
When the thought-fox moves on “the page is printed.” What comes next? Bears are still slumbering. But if maple trees are making sugar, can the thought-bear, and her cubs, be far behind, ambling across this page toward summer berries?
Todd R. Nelson is principal of the Adams School in Castine.