One Foot in Front of the Other

Sometimes when I am driving in town, running a few simple errands, all of a sudden I cannot comprehend how I came to be driving. Can I operate a car properly in all this traffic? How can I coordinate eyes, hands, feet, and brain with the fast-changing picture out there beyond the windshield? What am I doing here? At such a moment, it feels hazardous to me to be on the road. I wonder how I will get home safely, without harming myself or some family on their way to the mall or somewhere.

I get a grip, move carefully and deliberately home, with no extra stops, feeling irrationally relieved when I make it there safely.

This afternoon, out for a short walk in the woods, I felt that same sensation. It was eerie. Searching around by the roadside, I found a forked stick to carry in front of me, as magical staff; the whistle around my neck an amulet.

The old longleaf snag that has been deteriorating for many months, disintegrating before my eyes, seemed especially dangerous today. I read about a man in Punta Gorda, Florida who stepped outside his home for a cigarette during Hurricane Charley and was killed by a falling Banyan tree. I look at the old longleaf, its rough quick revealed, bark piled at the base. I can see blue sky through vertical slits in the failing structure. I had hoped Tropical Storm Bonnie might blow the old giant down, but it never developed breath sufficient for this one task or any other. Good thing, too. Her cousin Charley caused more than enough grief for thousands of folks father south. I can wait out this one old pine.

Maggie runs past me, past the staggering tree, following her nose. I tiptoe past, looking up at the tree and wondering which way I should jump if I hear it begin to fall. It is weakened, but still powerful enough to extinguish my candle. Just like that.

I slip past the fragile tree and take the right-hand fork in the road. Coyote tracks. Damn.

I worry about the big doe at the feeder near the house this morning, a baby heavily outlined in her low-hanging belly.

It’s hot and humid again, the brief respite gone. It’s August, for sure. The back of my neck at the hairline is wet. So is my midriff and the small of my back.

Visible animal tracks are more abundant than usual. Deer, raccoon, turkey, and predators. Maggie’s nose is working overtime, and I have to call her back from the deep woods with the whistle more than once.

Turning right again, toward the boggy part of the road leading to the pitcher plant prairie, I feel a “don’t go” tug. It’s getting late, and the wildness feels very near. And yet, I go, Maggie five steps ahead. She turns back to look at me. I sense a presence. Looking down, a long slender black snake is almost at my feet. I realize Maggie and I have scared the poor thing. Standing still, I give it a chance to slither across the path into the bracken.

Ha. Clearly, free-floating anxiety is not the sole purview of human beings.

But I feel as though I have pushed the envelope today, and take the black snake’s appearance as a friendly warning. “Maggie! Let’s go home, girl,” I call, and bless her heart, she comes quickly to my side, earnestly scanning my face.

Walking in the unpredictable woods helps steel me for the ever so much more unpredictable world at large. It inoculates me with tiny doses of fear and helps me to walk among people, lightly and on the balls of my feet, ready to run back home.

We walk back in a business-like way, one foot in front of the other. I’m oddly ready to be indoors, in the refrigerated air, ready for a cool shower, some cold peel and eat shrimp and a serene evening with Buck.

Approaching the house, I see my first hydrangea bloom, a lovely pink cloud. Why is its domesticity so reassuring this evening?


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