What is it about a perfectly plowed driveway, after 6″ of snow, that is so pleasing – that brings such comfort?
Is it the notion, that even in the depths of winter, despite the -25C temperatures, that it is through this simple act of plowing (the most basic of human agricultural activities) that we feel we keep Nature at bay, submissive to our needs and desires?
Is it the sublime geometric joy of the straight line that comes up from the road to end in a perfectly curled snow bank? The radiance of the sun, the snowshadows cast by the furrow, that brilliance of sunlight on fresh snow that always follows a February storm?
There is poetry hidden in this winter driveway, the icicles hanging from the bridge, the steaming ice-edged creek where the horses stand and wait, the barn – majestic and quiet, the oaks and pines and birches that line the drive naked, stoic, and serene.
I watch our barn cat, as he runs through the fresh snow from the barn to the drive – with muscular black panther motions – as if caught in some slow-motion nature video – the snow swirling and cresting against his chest. He jumps the bank, onto the driveway, and slows to a trot – the blue jays screeching out his arrival. He jumps to the window sill and with huge green eyes he looks at me sitting in the chair – looking at me as I look at him -“let me in” he says with a meow – “don’t you know it’s cold out today?”
I let him in, and after a quick snack, he comes with me to stoke the fire and to then curl up on my lap, purring the way that cats do, and together we dream of warm spring days, all the while sitting and admiring the sun-sparkled snow and this perfectly clean drive…
In the very still air of a February night, the sky awash in stars and a wild streak of Milky Way, horses snort, and the dog rolls happily in the snow – we are standing on the edge of a 40 acre field; and the wood smoke wafts down from the chimney, ancient and pure, reminding us of deep time, tasting God on the back of the throat – not even my favorite Zen temple can reproduce this moment of incense – this is the Temple – this dome of stars and winter wood – everything else is mere reproduction…
Here is something I never had to think about before returning to the country – having a discussion with my neighbour about the following: “If I had to choose between not killing the local family of coyotes that roam our particular part of our territory – or theirs – and not killing the wolves – a pair of them – which would I choose?”
Given that most of the people in our valley want them both killed – but will accept only killing one because of new “liberal” ideas from people who don’t want any of them killed – which one would I choose?
My neighbor, whose family has lived here for five generations cannot understand why both species are not hunted and killed. Coyotes and wolves will only bring trouble. Listen to them in the night – they are nothing but evil. They make everyone uneasy, restless.
I stand there not knowing how to debate the issue with him.
“There are no farms around here anymore,” I say feebly. “There are no sheep or calves. The night I saw the coyotes in the back field they were more scared of me, than I was of them. At most, they just try to steal food out of the dog’s dish. Our horses completely ignored them as they ran past on their way to the back forest.”
“Yea, but they will kill deer. There will be less deer for the hunt.”
“True,” I say – not mentioning the obvious elephant fact that hunters are more lethal to local wildlife than the coyotes or wolves ever could be.
A quick Google search later confirms that there has only ever been one human killed by healthy wild wolves in all of Canada. Coyotes attacks have happened but are extremely rare – unless in close quarter encounters. You have a better shot at winning the lottery than you do of being attacked by the two families who now live around here.
But reason has no place in such discussions.
When we were out by the back lake under a full moon around Christmas, and we heard first the coyotes start to bay, and then the wolves in response – we acknowledged that a dark primal fairy tale-like fear descends upon one in the dark forest of midnight.
And while our rational selves said that they were calling from a kilometer of two across the valley, something more basic moved our feet in the direction of the house.