I thought retirement from teaching would be heavenly, a leisurely second cup of coffee, no need to hurry to dress, rush out the door. Fall used to be a time for beginnings, the beginning of a new school year, learning all about my new students, designing new lessons. It isn’t as if I have little to do. There are my horses to care for, a garden to tend, dogs to walk, cats to cuddle and the usual mundane chores. And, yet that first fall at home seemed more like a time of endings, of decay, of less light. I felt a pang of regret as I questioned if my life, outside of the classroom, had as much meaning. I also sensed that I needed a horizon, if not intellectually, then physically. So, weather permitting, I took to riding my stocky Morgan, Blacker, down a local natural beauty road.
From atop Blacker I saw a small herd of deer pacing the tree line, their white tails flagging the sky. I thought of women in an old newsreel, waving their hankies at the train carrying boys and men off to war. I looked around, up, down, and saw the fuss; in the dappled light between poplar and a thicket of insinuate vines, a young buck was tangled in barbed-wire fencing, his head and front legs on one side, the rest of him on the other. He was posing for the guillotine.
I dismounted, tied my horse’s reins to a low branch, urged him, “Easy, easy.” His snort defiant, but he obeyed.
The skittering beneath the fallen leaves and the whoosh-whoosh of wings up and away reminded me that I was the interloper. A lone Turkey Vulture sat hunched in a nearby tree, its viscous head and ready talons served as a dark prophesy.
My horse shifted his weight; his ears were radar, locked on. Again, I pleaded, “Steady we need to help,” my words soft but insistent. I moved toward the skewed angles of the captive, squatted and reached with gloved hands, pulled the yoke of menacing wire open, leaned back quickly to avoid the frantic scramble that second changes give.
Oddly, there was no scramble. First the young buck moved his head and legs back, back and up. Then, with a flick-flick of tail, perhaps a sentient code meant for the waiting herd, he quivered all over before collecting himself. I kept my eyes on him, marveled at the budding of horns above his chiseled brow. I thought that perhaps I might glimpse him years from now, the full weight and majesty of adult antlers branching toward sky. Still, I knew that my thoughts had little to do with him. He was young, alive, and living in his endless now.
Finally, he turned and leapt up and away with a grace so singular that it was dream.
As I mounted my horse and signaled him to trot off, the hazy words of a long-dead poet came to mind. A poem about fields of grass, of longing, of time passing. I resented that my mind had taken me to words on a page. Oddly, there was comfort in this recrimination, in the sudden awareness that neither I or the poet, could truly know the autonomy of the natural world. With this realization came a desire to abandon the incessant weaving and whittling of the joys and sorrows, even the questions that define my life. With this new awareness came the understanding that the search for meaning beyond the instant is the ultimate snare.
Gloria Nixon-John has published poetry, fiction, essays and pedagogical articles and chapters in small and mainstream presses. Her novel, The Killing Jar, is the story of one of the youngest Americans to serve on death row— published in 2012 and her Memoir, Learning From Lady Chatterley, written in narrative verse, was published in 2015. Gloria lives with her horses, dogs, cats and husband, Mike in Oxford, Michigan where they are also visited by abundant wildlife.