Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ticked Off

The night is interesting. It is not simply an inside-out day, showing the stitching on the seams. It is another world.

At 4:45 a.m., the whippoorwill starts calling. It is imperative, his call, and loud. For hours, it seems, he calls nonstop--or is it she?--rhythmically, insistently (whippoorWILL, whippoorWILL) and then, for a passage, speeds it up doubletime as in a frustration I know well: Answer me, please!

This is the way life starts: the day, the warming weather, the season of nest-building and life-giving. Is this why they made Mother's Day tomorrow, in the spring? The world is now greening at headlong speed, as if it cannot wait to be born.

A bird has made a nest in the back of the newspaper box; at first I thought a prankster had been at work, stuffing the box with dried moss and grass. It would come out with the paper every time I pulled. But it wasn't. It was instead a life-giving force that persisted, against the incessant destruction of the human hand, until one day it was a bird that suddenly flew out into my face when I reached in for the day's news (or "news").

This urge to build a nest and to live will continue in all things until it is finally impossible--the big human hand reaching into the box!--for it to go on. It's that simple. Even in me. It is why I woke at 3 in the morning, tossing in bed, finally to turn on the light and work for a half hour, then turn it off and toss some more, then to go at last what the hell downstairs, work spread out on the kitchen table, third cup of coffee by 5:00, a banana, and the thick dark and the whippoorwill outside the big plate glass window. There are things happening out there that I do not know. Things that I should not know.

I have the need to build a new nest for myself and for my young. But it feels (cue the violins) as though a hand keeps reaching in my box and pulling out my hard-won collection of material, strewing it on the shoulder of the road. I keep collecting more.

This is maudlin stuff, created in my head by the dark and the sleeplessness and the fear of change. That's elemental, the fear that rises when you don't know where you will go, what it will look like and feel like and be made of. It's frightening, though I hasten to add (for those who will kindly rush to tell me how much better it will be) that I also know it will be better. Even as I remain frightened. How's that for duplicity? Or human nature? I only hope that I do not have to wait yet another year for my life to begin. Or for my new nest to be built. I do not like living in the middle of transitoriness. Some people find it exciting to live in borrowed places, out of suitcases; to me, it's the definition of hell. A place where I never fully arrive because I know I must soon leave.

The light, at 5:20, is now coloring the sky a royal blue, the exact color of silk in a skirt I bought for a special occasion four years ago this week. I always thought of that skirt as a piece of night I could wear.

The coyotes are probably beginning to stir, to scratch at the places where the ticks are firmly attached. While the house was being shown yet again this morning, and I thus had to disappear yet again, a friend and I walked with Nelly into the back field and across the neighbor's property (once the realm of this old farm) to the woods. There is the melody of the stream rushing over the little falls made by the beavers' work. We trespassed on the moss-covered trails created by the custodian (obviously someone who deeply respects their magisterial quiet and insularity) of these woods. Occasionally we passed cairns, sculptures of rock balanced impossibly but precisely into towers, marking the turns, and we walked and talked, stopping before a bright green inchworm suspended on his invisible trapeze at nose height, or an orange salamander frozen at our feet, or a small purple wildflower like a violet but not. And when we came home, we were crawling with ticks.

I've since had a shower and changed clothes twice. And still I picked one off my back just before throwing in that towel on sleep at 3 a.m. I had taken three from my hair this afternoon, and a small one that had already dug into the soft place just behind the knee. Nelly, of course, was a veritable tick mop, sweeping all that lay in her path onto her long white hair, so they could get going and play hide and seek along her spine, rushing to the neck, ears, eyes. I took maybe twenty off her today, as she, not a patient dog, sat patiently--she seems to know what I am doing, and after the detachment (when some hair is inevitably included), she demands to see the proof that the pain was not in vain. I hold the moving thing out and she stretches her nose toward it, watches, then seems satisfied. I can go on.

She herself will do what work I cannot, because it's impossible to find them all. What I find difficult to do with my clumsy fingers she uses her lips to accomplish, and she then rolls it around in her mouth and finally expels it, dead. Do you know how tough it is to kill a tick? This leads me to think it is some kind of knowledge lodged deep in the canine DNA: "How to Kill Ticks: Remember, They Are Special." I hope so, anyway, for the sake of the coyotes, who do not have the assistance of a primate in tick removal. Are they covered, slowly sucked dry by hundreds of them? How do they cope? Perhaps they help one another, carefully pulling them off and rolling them around in the mouth. Maybe it's their bedtime ritual, like toothbrushing.

At 6 now the colors outside are separating themselves out from the uniform black: there is the pale green, and the gray-brown of bark, the chrome on my car. Things look like they are coming to life, but it is really a second life, just the one we are used to calling our own. The first life goes on at night, without us. I may have just broken my own record on sleeplessness, which is saying a lot considering the nighttime torture (I don't use that word lightly) I've gone through in the past eight months. It is what it is. Anyway, there had been, until this last few days, a great improvement: See? All loss is eventually survived! But this fretful waking now is testimony to the importance of nest-building. Until I make a new one, I will not sleep, transitory and afraid, and will look out onto night until it gets light.


Anonymous said...

Ticks: Back when everyone smoked and so had matches handy, the way my mother used to remove ticks from ourselves and dogs was to light a match, blow it out, and quickly apply the match head to the tick,which would cause it to extract its fangs from us or the dog. Insomnia: the night my mother died (it was early April in CT), I didn't know how I'd sleep. The next thing I knew, birds were chirping and I felt more than thought, "I'm not dead."

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yes, like I said (and need to hear myself say again): All loss is survived. Unless it isn't, of course. And I also try to project myself into the future, as if looking back from a great distance: so many things that felt cataclysmic then are barely remembered now. Time is what it takes. And that's what I'm giving it.

As for ticks, we could indeed go into some removal techniques that would curl your hair. But most of them are so small, and Nelly's hair so long, that a hot match would be a bad idea. Though I marvel at the fact that I can spend hours and hours going over her looking, then suddenly find an engorged tick on the floor that obviously dropped off her. I mean, where was *that* hiding?

Anonymous said...

That's true about looking back on what had seemed cataclysmic, now barely remembered. Conversely, the things I regret most looking back were things I jumped into feet first at the time, with an enthusiasm and certaintly that now just seem like impulsive idiocy. This is what passes for the wisdom that comes with age. Just one of many reasons we need dogs. If I had one now, I could call it over, look into its face, and have some mental order restored, having had a bad day with school officials, teenage son, etc. A dog bucks you up in situations like this. As I know you know.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yet . . . yet . . . Well, maybe "impulsivity" is not the same thing as intuition, so I won't advocate the former. The latter is what I think we need to count on more: we're trained not to trust ourselves. And at our peril. That's why the tattoo I'm considering getting--I get them at major life junctures, though I've only had one big enough before this to warrant one--will say simply "INTUITION." Because I ignored it a long time ago and got burned. But I also lived, and got a lot out of it, and am on a blissfully sharp learning curve, this late in life. It's a gift. As is finally feeling the extraordinary relief I feel. That said, there's plenty of residual anger (and how could there not be, I'd like to know?) and when that happens, I pat Nelly, and say, "My little friend!" and yes, feel better, filled with love & calm. GET A DOG!