art by DANIEL WORKMAN
THE PROMISE OF GRANITE
by MARA BUCK
A rock lies in the path. A half-buried boulder. Common Maine granite never destined to become an upscale kitchen countertop, merely reclining where the glacier abandoned it, satisfied with its status as a dusty undignified mass. Something to trip you if you’re careless. As long as I’ve walked this path, that damned rock has occupied that spot. Several times I’ve forgotten and stumbled, once even landing face first, getting personal with the woodsy world at eye level. Bruised my cheek and my ego. Damned rock.
I’m not a hiker. I’m a stroller, a painter wandering the trails of my hundred rural acres, plopping down whenever the mood strikes and the light is right to capture the moment. Such moments are increasingly rare, even here behind my gate. The world intrudes. The state highway department appropriates more and more of my property for their wider ditches, insisting that my innocent roadside trees are a menace they must eradicate. Despite my desperate protests, they continue drenching my milkweed and rugosa with toxic weed killer that trickles into the woodland brook flowing by my house. It seeps through the soil into the planet’s core to infiltrate the groundwater, kills fish and frogs, and sickens whatever drinks or feeds or breathes. Sickens me as well. This chemical has been on trial as a carcinogen, banned in numerous countries, but recently our government has lifted the restrictions, considering the corporate bottom line more essential to the future of the planet than a few milkweed plants. Or a few cancer patients.
I’ve tried to preserve my woods as nature intended. This place where I live is not particularly pretty. It’s a mishmash of ice-downed trees and new growth, ticks and deer tracks, stately blue heron and the occasional fox, the whole traversed by a perennially muddy driveway. Climate change and its accompanying ice storms have inflicted increased carnage on the forest. Centuries-old maples have tumbled like dominoes, their frozen tonnage crushing their relatives until the former natural growth has morphed into a war zone. The emerald ash borer and the hemlock woolly adelgid have taken their toll, but woodpeckers eat the insects before any arboreal species are totally eradicated and the storm fatalities become apartment complexes for creatures whose rental fees replenish the woodlands. Throughout my twenty years in these woods, nature has continued to thrive, but currently nature has begun to gasp, her pleas pitiful, and I’m helpless to intervene. I can only rant. And watch.
I live in a house without vinyl, freed from the trappings so adored by the real estate market of today. My hand-built house performs as a good neighbor to its site, quiet and thoughtful, and the one doesn’t suffer for the other. Moss intrudes on my roof; I consider it charming. My house grows increasingly camouflaged, every day becoming more a part of the land that surrounds it. They are truly wedded, the house and the land, in a perpetual embrace. The trees maturing now outside my windows are the children of the trees whose lumber was sacrificed to become the bones of the house, and that seems just right to me. An occasional pileated woodpecker agrees as he pecks away at the posts of the porch. But this year he is alone. I’m terrified that next year I’ll look for that cartoonish redhead and find nothing.
Every spring I would welcome the phoebes to their nests on my porches; one on the back, another on the front, sheltered from the weather under the roof’s wide overhang, ancestral homes that are at this point as old as my own. I’d witness any number of newly-hatched youngsters fledge from those porches, their fragile tiny wings struggling until they reached the closest branch, and I would sigh in relief at their success. They made delightful tenants, but last year the nests were empty. Historic daubs of mud and dry grass, unpretty things littered with bits of shell and feather and feces, now sad relics. I’ve left them in place, intact, hoping, hoping, but in my heart I know there’s been a decided change. The only birdsong I hear now is the hoarse cry of a lonesome crow, and I try to disregard the message.
This small forest, my home, a microcosm of a larger, wilder system, has been the perfect size for a single artist to share with a secret deer herd, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, but in recent years I cheer whenever I notice any hint of movement in the undergrowth, in the trees, along the brook. I saw one squirrel today. One, where there had been whole noisy families, chasing each other up the maples and down the oaks. Last week, I glimpsed a solitary doe browsing beside the brook. I wanted to rush up to her, to grab her and trundle her inside to cherish her. I often hear gunfire, even though my land is posted. I’ve never found deer remains, no evidence of slaughter, yet I fear something more deadly and insidious is the killer. The warmer climate has exploded the tick population and the animals have suffered. As have I. Each foray outside brings more ticks attached to the dog and to me. The new normal. How long can we adjust?
Rachael Carson wrote Silent Spring to warn of the demise of wildlife and the dangers of chemicals. Those words, Silent Spring, whisper in my ears, taunting the absence of birdsong, the stilled humming of bees and dragonflies. Wild blackberry and raspberry bushes produce stunted flowers that yield no fruit. When I see a bee, which is seldom, I smile and greet her, try to encourage her to find her relatives, to enjoy the brightness of the day. The goldenrod still rises triumphant, the asters bloom still colorful in the fall, but the lupine are scraggly. The Joe Pye weed has disappeared entirely. The Monarchs used to love the tall Joe Pye, gaudy orange flirting with the purple. Now they’ve disappeared as well. I’ve tried to replant milkweed, but it never blooms. There are no more apples on the twisted ancient trees. The land is diminished. What was lushyears ago has become sad and threadbare, an elderly comb-over of its former self. The balance is tenuous. The future is questionable.
This is all so personal, so trivial, yet so unusual in the world of today that I feel I myself may be a vanishing species. My simple way of life is strangled by the cat’s cradle of drooping wires that connects the vinyl houses perched along the highway to the power grid that struts across a field where deer used to graze at dawn. The residents of those vinyl-clad behemoths anxiously await the time when drones will deliver pizza directly to their fiberglass doors. I lack the money and the technology and the strength to live entirely off-the-grid, but my own wires are subtly buried and only the one pole at the highway announces the possibility of a twenty-first century human residence hidden beyond that road, beyond the driveway, beyond the trees. The rest of my property is referred to by the power company as a “dead zone” along which I’ve forbidden poles and wires. I’m proud of my dead zone and it gives me great pleasure that my life is framed by nature, not the crudeness of transformers. The tree canopy remains so dense around my house that Google can’t find me and I doubt any nosy drone could penetrate. Yet changes have come and more will come, and I’m powerless to stop them.
My one hundred acres is wild but certainly not wilderness. Although I can hear a low rumble of traffic from the highway, I can see no other houses. No intruding light pollution disturbs the dense black sky; the Big Dipper hangs proud over an eighty-foot spruce. I used to hear night noises of foxes, owls, scurrying feet, and love songs in the dark. Now those nights are silent, with only the gulping of an occasional amorous bullfrog. The chorus of peepers has vanished. I remember last summer watching a single lightning bug pulse on the window frame. Only one. Pulsing for a missing mate. Can an insect be lonely? Not so long ago the evening twinkled with tiny green strobes, and I can see in memory Norman Rockwell children proudly showing off Mason jars overflowing with buglight, They are happy and carefree at summer’s dusk, rolling on chemical-free grass until they’re called inside to supper. Their grandchildren will never know such simple pleasures. Their lights will be digital, their grass Astroturf, and their suppers microwaved. Their mothers call, “Kids, don’t drink from the hose! Use your plastic bottles.” Such is progress. And the lightning bugs disappear into memory.
My knees won’t allow me to hike the mountains anymore, my back too cranky to carry a pack, but my mind looks down on untamed vistas, on the wildness of the wilderness, and I vow to do whatever I can to preserve it from the chemicals. From the intrusive chainsaws and the feller bunchers and the developmental horrors cloaked in greenbacks and lies. So many lies. Now that the clean water regulations have been eroded, perhaps to force us all to drink from the plastic spring, what can we expect in the future? What will be the future when the water is too tainted for the wildlife who are critical to the balance? I dream of things that were, but I have nightmares that extend beyond my humble personal home.
I think of that rock, that buried boulder in my path, and I try to consider it as metaphor, as a sign that beneath that which we can see lies the solidity of granite, bedrock that can neither be fracked away nor eroded, granite unchanged as a testament to the durability of the planet. The durability that will endure beyond this era of destruction.
MARA BUCK writes, paints, and rants in a self-constructed hideaway in the Maine woods. She won The Raven Prize for nonfiction, The Scottish Arts Club Short Story Prize, and three Moon Prizes for women's writing. Other recent first places include the F. Scott Fitzgerald Poetry Prize and The Binnacle International Prize. Her work was recognized by the Falukner and Wisdom Society, Hackney Awards, Balticon, Confluence, and other numerous literary magazines and print anthologies.
DANIEL WORKMAN obtained his AAS from the Isaacson School for Professional Photography and graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Daniel focuses his artistic energy into mediums such as writing, photography, filmmaking, and songwriting. With an interest in culture, anthropology strongly influences the work he creates. Daniel's accomplishments include work with Pulitzer Prize winning photographers at the Eddie Adams Workshop in New York.