Monday, December 22, 2014

Wild things

This morning in Comptche, a fox ran across the road. A red fox! Purposefully, head down, on business. An amazing, perfect thing. Quick but still, I saw its markings. With all this open space, forests and hills and meadows connecting them, what is an animal like that, a wild animal doing in town? Among people and (a few) cars?

As I ponder that for a moment, I catch a view of the old wooden barn in the background, the houses clustered together. Ah. People keep chickens. So the fox is here.

Wild things find their way to where they need to be. Me, all I can do is follow this road with no signage. Into the hills. Climbing, slowly. Somewhere out there, maybe, waits a warm room and bed.

There's very little flat land in enormous, rural Mendocino County. For 101, they carved a roadbed out of the steep hillsides, leaving the rocks above without footing. Hence the narrow alley of 101. The smaller roads do the natural thing, climbing directly into the hills, usually along some natural feature like a creek. They'll climb thousands of feet into the back of beyond before turning to dirt and abandoning their cargo to the bears and mountain lions and paranoid pot growers. All the wild creatures.

I hear running water. It doesn't last long, only a few seconds, which means the creek is running at a right angle to the road, rather than parallel. We're not going straight into the hills.

Then there's rustling in the bushes on my right. A huge ghostly mammal emerges and walks into the road. Maybe 15 feet ahead? The deer pauses and turns and her eyes light up for a second. Not afraid. It's rare that there's someone here to be afraid of; I'm a curiosity. There's another one; they silently move on, out of the headlight beam.

It's when road straightens out a little, starts to head north, when I can actually see the 101 corridor to my left, with its apocalyptic halo of headlights, the nightmare rumbling of tires, that I know I'm on the right track. And it feels good to be among the wild things, in the dark. I can survive here.

Now I can have normal thoughts. Like, what happened to the walnuts? I brought (from work, bad girl) two small sealed packets of walnuts in a pannier. They're great with yogurt for breakfast, extra protein and good fats. Gluten free! But this morning at Orr, the packets were not to be found. Really gone. On bike tours your stuff gets all jumbled up. I looked for them longer than most people would have. I wanted those walnuts!

It would have been really unusual for another human to go pawing through my panniers, looking for food, at night. I like walnuts that much, but I'm weird. My bike was parked outside; critters probably took them. They also appreciate free food. What did they do with the plastic? Did they eat the packets?

The road crosses under the freeway, then turns north again toward Piercy (not a real town). On another dark hill, a small animal hurries across the beam of my light. It pauses and looks for a brief moment, and its retinas flash gold before it disappears into the brush. Another fox, a grey one!

Today, only the second and third fox encounters of my entire life! The critter-human ratio is approaching a healthy level. My heart is singing.

Well, maybe I don't belong in office buildings. Maybe I won't go back...

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