Sunday, November 8, 2015

into the gully (with josie) (& a bird named woody)

One day Josie and I were walking back from the river when Josie dashed off the trail toward the gully stopping just short of the big naked maple rooted there on the edge of the bank that drops into the gully. Josie stood there with left front paw raised, tail straight up, body all a’quiver staring up into that big naked maple so I thought OK, maybe there is something there. It took a minute to see but then a most impressive bird, a pileated woodpecker, showed himself midway up the tree, checking it out, cocking his cocky red head this way and that, hopping here, hopping there, all the while making little squeaky-talky noises, sharing news with that other pileated woodpecker that was nearby in a tree rooted down in the gully.

the many trunks of the maple on the edge of the gully

Josie stood taut and still staring at the bird, growling at the bird, and I stood on the trail watching. Then, I walked over to Josie and the big bird flew off, towards the other bird, so into the gully, and Josie, oh yes, he wanted to follow, chase after those big birds flapping their wings, flying from tree to tree, eyeing one branch then another, pecking here, pecking there, moving on, moving away, through the gully, but he waited at the precipice for I have never let Josie go into the gully. It’s an overgrown, often soggy mess. But that day took a turn, seemed a good day for an adventure, so I descended the bank saying “come on” and that was all Josie needed to tumble helter skelter through the layers of seasons and leaves that line the gully’s belly, and he did not stop running and exploring and shouting “Hallelujah!” until, well, I’m not sure he has stopped yet. He lays sleeping next to me now, whiskers twitching, legs jerking.

little dog in the big gully

The gully is an enchanted forest and a nest of hobgoblins. It is a place of neglect growing wild. Fallen and leaning and decaying trees caught in each other’s branches, branches covered in moss and lichen giving birth to mushrooms and shedding bark in long looping strips. Of course many of the trees are alive—the gully is rife with life—but only God or the porcupines or badgers or deer or woodpeckers and crows know what all actually lives and dies in the gully.

mushrooms live in the gully

Autumn is the best time to go into the gully. It is relatively dry and its three-foot-tall ferns and whatnot have died back, so one can get through, and there are no bugs, the leaves are down, one can see. In the summer the growth is too thick, it catches at your legs and arms and wraps you up and ties you down, and the mosquitoes are rampant. In the spring, the gully is wet, full of pools; in the heart of winter, deep in snow.

you can see the cabin from the gully

The gully may be about as big as a football field pulled and prodded and misshapen as a child’s first bowl of clay, and the trail from the river to the cabin runs just west of it. My neighbors live just east of it. My driveway runs along its south rim. You can tumble down into the gully from its south, west, or eastern bank, or walk in from the north, wading through waist-high brambles and branches and dogwood and wild raspberry canes, chest-high stalks of goldenrod, who knows what all, and this is why in summer, nigh impossible. But in the fall, an adventure.

many have their roots in the gully

I first explored the gully with a bit of snow on the ground, and I discovered two deer skulls, though I’m not sure how as they were partially buried, and why was I digging around down there? It was a bit macabre. Probably my first winter here, so late 2011. I remember exploring and seeing something that looked like teeth, big teeth, and with a stick pushing snow and dead leaves away until the skulls became apparent. I’m thinking about that this day with Josie, his first time in the gully, and I want to find those skulls again, but the leaves are so thick and anyway, I don’t find the skulls. What I do find is all those tires, all those discarded rubber tires.

when was it that rubber was valuable?

Throughout the U.P.—and maybe where you live too—there are places that collect old junk like this, abandoned cars and tires and TV sets and kitchen tables and rusty old bed springs and sofa springs and chair springs, springs that pop up amid the ferns and duff like wicked twisted wildflowers, and stoves and chairs and side tables and mounds and mounds of broken glass and rusted tin. All kinds of things. Crumbling foundations. Tumbling walls grown thick with moss. Clocks. A spatula. A baby buggy. The detritus of humanity. But in the gully, mostly tires and just a few springs from maybe old car seats.

the old rambler come to rest

So Josie and I traipse around the gully, the pileated woodpeckers disappear, and now just about every day Josie and I go back to the gully to traipse some more. Some days we walk along the river and then back through the gully, other days we just ramble around the gully, but every time we walk into or stumble down into the gully we scare up a partridge—it thrums and takes flight—and we see downy woodpeckers flying this way and that, going from tree to tree, a rat-at-tat here, a rat-a-tat there, and for every careful step I take Josie runs a hundred, zigging and zagging, jumping over stumps, ducking under branches, somehow avoiding tire traps, and I picture his brain exploding as it takes in multiple streams of information, and yet he is so focused, he must be, because the ground is uneven, buried beneath three or four inches of leaves, full of pitfalls and high jumps and low jumps and he navigates it all at top speed, his eyes, his nose, his ears just inches from the ground, and I cannot imagine how to him it looks, or smells, or feels, or sounds, but, as I take another careful step, I wish I did.

an abandoned shed spills into the gully

And for some reason I can’t quite fathom I think how the gully obliterates the need for concepts, human concepts like fairness, justice, retribution, for what would any of that mean to the gully? What use does the gully have for right and wrong? For good or bad? Here things just live and die and all that stuff between, and it’s all at once, everything at once and forever, and I may walk through and Josie may bound through, but who stays? We climb out, find footholds in roots and I hang onto branches, and old tires and seat cushions are left behind and the gully stays itself every day, every night, growing wild, going wild with neglect, wild with falling in on itself, with burying itself, resurrecting itself, there, then, every day, magical, mystical, real. The kind of place, I suppose, that some big and crazy black-and-white and red-headed bird can lead one to, then disappear.