The Natural Order

Yesterday afternoon, I was standing on the back deck, taking in the spectacular sky, the glorious sounds of song birds, and the sheer magnificence of the afternoon, when I heard a rustling in the leaves behind the house. I walked to the deck railing and looked down; a large white-tailed deer plodded slowly through the leaves, her neck stretched up so she could reach the low-hanging leaves of the trees at the edge of the clearing. Suddenly, she became conscious of my presence, turning her head and locking me in a frozen gaze. We looked at one another for a full minute, at least, before her statue-like stance changed just slightly. She looked away from me, then back toward me. Finally, she lifted her left front leg and held it up for a good ten seconds. Then, she stamped it, forcefully, onto the ground. This stamping continued, every few seconds, for a minute or two. She turned away from me and reached up for more leaves, but the stamping continued. And, then, she snorted or, as I’ve learned through Google, “blew.” The sound from her mouth was surprisingly loud. Accompanied by the forceful stamping of her hoof into the ground, the noise suggested to me she was fiercely angry, ready to charge (she would have been unsuccessful in reaching me, of course, as I was a good seventeen feet above ground and she was at least forty feet away from the deck). Ultimately, with no warning, she turned and raced off through the woods. I think our encounter must have lasted at least three or four minutes, perhaps longer.

During my “interaction” with the deer, I could hear the new neighbors, two doors down, engaging in a rather loud conversation among themselves and with their dog. “C’mon, now, little girl, come over here. C’mon! C’mon!” The deer seemed to pay them no heed; I was the one upon whom her attention was focused. The sound of neighbors was underway before she saw me; she must have been aware they were distant. I, on the other hand, was a visible “threat.”

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Earlier in the day, I had been out with my electric blower, ridding the deck of leaves and twigs and other residue of a couple of days of occasionally high winds. Pollen continues to coat all exposed surfaces with its dirty yellow dust, making any thoughts of attempting to deep-clean, and then paint, the deck exercises in futility. The endeavor will just have to wait. In the meantime, the heavy wrought-iron furniture clogging the enclosed porch will remain in the way and it, too, will remain coated with pollen. And the porch screen will remain hideously clotted with gritty yellow and black evidence that we live in the forest.

Too much maintenance work is required on our house for me to do it all (or much of it, for that matter) myself. I would begrudgingly pay to have it done, to a point, if I could find a reliable, dependable team of maintenance people whose work I find acceptable. But such people are rare and in high demand. Even the ones recommended as “excellent,” I often have found, do work I consider inadequate and completely unacceptable. I need a place that requires less maintenance. I won’t be getting such a place soon, I’m afraid. I’ll have to deal with what I have. I cannot seem to marshal the stamina, or the discipline, of late to do even the simple stuff. Months ago, I bought two new switches to control ceiling fans in a couple of rooms; I cannot seem to get myself sufficiently motivated even to install them. Sometimes, I’m completely and utterly useless; even when I know how to do something and am completely capable of doing it, I just let it slide. I bitch and moan about not doing the work, yet I stay on course, not doing the work. If I were that deer behind the house, I would starve or be slain. I would not have sufficient motivation to reach for food in the trees nor to flee in the presence of danger (like hunters carrying crossbows).

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Arkansas restaurants are permitted to re-open today for dine-in service, albeit with restrictions such as distance between tables, requirements for masks of restaurant staff, requirements for masks for guests until their food and beverage is served, etc. I think it’s a mistake to open early. I expect we will see a significant spike in reported cases of COVID-19 within two or three weeks, thanks to the loosening of restrictions. I plan on maintaining our isolation to the extent possible until I have very good reasons (and healthcare professionals’ advice) to do otherwise.

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Isolation in the absence of Facebook and Nextdoor takes on an entirely new dimension. Until I deactivated the former and cancelled the latter accounts a couple of days ago, I must have been engaged in commenting or reacting to comments and photos and the like with incredible frequency. Since I cut off those channels, my interactions with the outside world have radically diminished. For some reason, even my email in-box, normally the recipient of a constant flood of messages (mostly marketing, I acknowledge), has all but dried up. It’s almost as if most of the rest of the world assumes I died and, therefore, am no longer capable of receiving communication.

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Speaking of dying, I think most of us assume our deaths, when they come, will cause massive ripples in the fabric of life on Earth. We know, of course, those ripples will be limited to a relatively small sphere of people, but we assume the results of our demise will be traumatic, cataclysmic, earth-shattering, upending, etc. In reality, most of that little sphere will quickly return to a slightly different but perfectly comfortable routine. Perhaps a few people will feel the impact with greater consequence, but the likelihood is high that they, too, will adjust, given a little time. The death of people who have a large circle of close friends and family, or who have a significant impact on the larger world of business or art (for example) may be felt more widely. But the departure of those of us who have very small circles of influence or consequence will have brief, insignificant effects. None of this is new; none of this is news; all of it, though, is emotionally challenging. It acknowledges that we are far more important in our own heads than we are in the heads of those around us. Just something on my mind this morning. This mourning. Mourning Becomes Electra. What an awfully depressing play. Lavinia becomes Electra. Mourning Becomes her. A modern Greek tragedy. Really. Oresteia. I would have to read some Greek tragedies before attempting to write a modern-day version. I vaguely remember Agamemnon from high school. I forget which O’Neill character was Agamemnon; Ezra? I’ll have to read it again, but I remember thinking at the time it was terribly long and boring, although intriguing once I got through it. There it is again. Wandering through a rabbit warren, but somehow ending up collecting seashells along the banks of a drying riverbed in Nebraska.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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