A Small Act
This story takes place in the Methow Valley
in the Pacific Northwest.
The North Cascade Mountains slope east
into a taper of foothills, pastures, meadows
settled under a duvet of snow. In the winter, the mountains
seem further away, a trick of white peaks rising into white sky.
This time of year, North Cascade highway closed,
visitors enter low—the valley seems smaller, unfolds like a map.
Through the western town of Winthrop,
up along the Chewach River, live our friends.
This is their story. It begins on a winter day,
like today waking to new snow and sunshine.
Cathy and Phil, two of their sons and the dogs
return home after a day of cross-country skiing
to their house where the Chewach elbows its run
through the Methow to the Columbia.
They turn past their small gnarled orchard.
A labor of love, that bloomed then fruited
Braeburn apples, Bartlett pears and apricots.
Baked into pies, dried, canned, pressed into cider.
With the first snow, Phil opens the orchard gates,
invites the deer to forage on the rotting ruined fruit.
That afternoon, as they pull into the drive,
they see deer, heads bent in the day’s last shadow.
Hear their snorts and murmurs as they scavenge
forgotten harvest tucked into the snow like eggs in a carton.
The dogs bolt from the car as they unload groceries,
leaping like rabbits across the deep snow.
The boys head out to sled before dinner.
Boots punching holes in the snow, each step
following the zig-zag dog prints up the drive
toward the orchard. The boys smell fear’s stink
then see it in the doe’s eyes. Dead under an apple tree
blood basting snow. A buck’s velvet sweep of antlers
threads the wire fencing—head twisted
away from his bulked winter body.
Another doe kneels genuflecting to the panting dogs
as crazed deer circle through the orchard
past the open gates. O the consequences
of a small act, an open gate, spoiled harvest
shared. Come. Come out of the woods, cross the pasture. Eat.
Many summers, the Methow burns—ranches, hillsides
forests, the wild they harbor. Sometimes we are the deer.
We misinterpret a lover. Run spirals in our minds.
Fear is a wild fire. It takes nothing to spark.
Feeds on air, swallows, consumes each breath.
Beneath this crusted snow lies soil scorched
ashes, cinders wildlife smoldering.