Monday, January 26, 2015

The Animals in Winter

This picture is cropped from a Christmas card I received one year:

Snowing now... very fine snow, but lots of it.  We won't get what the New Englanders will get, though.

The birds are frantic at the feeders.  I even had a fluffed up Red-Tail Hawk perched on one of the lower branches of the tree outside my window for a long time today. He wasn't interested in the little birds, and they paid him no mind. He had his eye out for squirrels!

This weather makes me think of a poem that has haunted me for years.  It's been one of my fantasies: hosting all the animals during a snowstorm.  The final part, the return of the parents, is enigmatic, puzzling, and in some ways downright creepy, but I still love the poem.  It's by the poet George Dennison.  It was originally in Harper's Magazine in about 1986.  I had copied it by hand in my journal from that year:

The Animals in Winter      by George Dennison


The children called at dusk from the porch.

 They stood facing the fields and woods

 and called to the dogs

 who came home after dark, the great Golden first,

 striking the window with his paws:

 "Children! I am here! Let me in!"

 ----but with him

 came a vixen, red and deep furred,

 and several foxes more, both red and gray,

 and a family of partridge

 advancing one step, and then one step,

 and a porcupine, head down,

 full of purpose and embarrassment;

 and raccoons, with their humping, probing gait;

 a stately skunk, a rabbit

 ---all passed shyly through the hall

 with clatter of claw on the hardwood floor,

 then to the living room

 where they crouched in the lamplight

 on the large blue rug.

 They held their heads erect and blinked their eyes.

 Now the children heard the chuffing

 of the second dog, the black one,

 nose at the crack of the door.

 he snorted, "Children! Is is I! Let me in!"

 and bounded toward them,

 while in his train came three antlered deer,

 a male and female bear, a cow-moose

 lIfting her awesome knees

 past the snowshoes and oots

 and the coats on pegs...

 At last, the slant-eyed one,

 the winsome, fierce Malamute, came home,

 with muskrat and otter, squirrel and mink,

 with fishes and marten,

 and birds of the coming winter:

 chickadees and jays, and like a bolt of silence,

 banking powerfully in the hall,

 the Great Horned Owl.

 The children drank pale tea and stared.

 What a glistening of tooth and eye!

 What a sonorous quiet of breathing!

 Never had the children's sleep

 been buttressed like this by feathers and fur;

 never had the house

 been so anchored against storm,

 so guarded against flame.

 At daybreak the children stood by the door

 and solemnly the animals went out, solemnly they returned at night,

 and so it went, all winter long.

 Snow melted. Ice heaved and gouged.

 There was a sound of water pouring,

 water bubbling over rocks,

 and the parents returned.

 They pushed their matted hair through the wet soil,

 after the crocuses and before the daffodils.

 They turned their heads ---

 and laboriously unfolded their tightly folded eyes,

 then shook themselves and stepped forth -

 and entered the house.

 What joyousness of greeting there was then!

 What eagerly told accounts!

 "We guarded them well," said the dogs.

 "We guarded with our lives."

 "We made tea!" said the children,

 "We built fires! We cleaned the house!"

 "Ah, children, children," said the parents.

 "How we missed you underground! How we yearned

 for the sight of your faces, your small feet!

 Come to us, darlings! Come!" they said,

 and opened wide their arms.

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