By my former, urban standards, my summer life in the trailer is anything but wild. I am out past eleven about one night a week, and in bed by midnight almost every other. Brattleboro, the nearest large town, has enough bars to count on both hands, with a couple fingers left over for its live music venues. It’s a great scene, but a small one, and when I do go out, I constantly recognize people I’ve seen before, whether behind the counter in the coffeeshop, behind the wheel of a passing car, or with Noah, an old and loquacious friend who knows every other person we pass.
But I have other neighbors even closer to home, who by another standard have made this summer one of my wildest ever. Some I have seen only once, while others visit me every night. Most do not announce themselves, but wander in and out when they like. They are more diverse than ravers at the wildest Los Angeles nightclubs, better-decorated than the most hardcore New York punks, more heavily accented than a crowd of South Boston locals, and more fickle than a bevy of San Francisco stoners. They come, if only for a moment, to experience life on the edge: to visit the wild fringe between woods and field, gnarled hill and cultivated farm. Like some urban scenes, this one is a shuffling point between predators and prey, and like the patrons of my former nightlife, some will leave feeling satisfied and others won’t. But all will probably be back again, whether I see them or not.
First there was the gangly cow moose, skittish at the edge of the hayfield, swaying over knobbed legs as it lumbered back into the trees. Not long after a fox slipped across the trail ahead of us, three sweaty runners who watched it disappear without a trace, a gasp of orange that could not stay, a memory almost before it left. Then within three days of each other I saw an indigo bunting and a scarlet tanager, the bluest and reddest birds this side of the jungle, iridescent flits of color against the breathing Vermont green. There are so many birds: endless woodpeckers visit the feeder by the house and clack the woods behind the trailer; goldfinches swoop low over the garden; wild turkey browse at the edge of the woods. One afternoon a red-tailed hawk caught a draft over the hayfield, soaring, hanging, soaring again, watching for the others.
On a Wednesday morning a large gray Eastern coyote hurried across the hayfield, not liking the daylight or the noise from the road, loping toward the trees and staying low in the grass. There’s also something furry that takes shelter in the shed behind the trailer, about the size of a low, fat cat; I’ve seen it duck in there from far away but never figured out what it is. I don’t think it’s a beaver, although there are those, too. Sitting in the woods by the pond at midnight I heard the plosh of one of them diving from its dam, a sound as deep and satisfying as if you swung a huge rock into the water, but more round and clean, too. When its ripples faded the steady bass call and response of the bullfrogs that I had been listening to resumed.
On many nights young, guttural barn owls (there is some debate about this among the humans around the farm, but this seems like a good guess to me) call out over the trailer, often in twos or triangulating threes. Some nights barred owls also call in the distance. Among my favorite nighttime predators are the bats that arrive before dusk, making sharp silent cuts above the garden, lit for a moment only by stray moonbeams before flitting and joining the shadows once more. My citronella torch in front of the trailer distracts their prey, the pale moths that teeter over the flame with drunken fascination.
For a late snack I pick wild black raspberries from the edge of the field, a flashlight under one arm and a bowl of Cheerios in my opposite hand, so that when I roll only the softest glowing berries off the bush I can drop them right on top of my cereal. Before I eat it I poke around trying to identify the melon-plant curling and twisting out of the nearby compost heap, and when I’m done and I begin to yawn I walk out once more into the field, where the arc of the Milky Way parallels the trees, grand and glittering.
When I turn off the lamp before going to bed I invariably find that one or two fireflies have wandered in and are now flashing distress signals to their compatriots outside. With cupped hand I escort them out and watch them blink away over the dewy fields, before I climb into bed and leave my wilder companions to their all-night party. My new twenty is coming and I need my rest. I may not be as wild as I used to be, but my life is still full of enough wonder to put me to right to sleep.
A list of creatures (and some other notable wild things) I have seen or heard this summer:
moose, fox, coyote, beaver, deer, wild turkey, indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, goldfinches, various woodpeckers (?), red-tailed hawk, barn owls, barred owl, bats, bullfrogs, tiny tree frog (?), turtles, brook trout, wild black raspberries, unidentified melon or gourd (?), countless moths, lovely butterflies, so many more birds, (not so wild) chickens, sheep, and cows, the Milky Way . . .