Trees haven’t come here to die. They’ve done that in other forests, on other coasts, having lost their leaves and their bark and come ashore by themselves on a five-mile sand spit. Branches and split logs, upended stumps, roots in the wind, and in one small cove, someone with nothing better to do it with has built a shack, then abandoned it— a doorway, but no roof, accidental windows, no hope of a foundation. It’s already slumping back to what it was like a sandcastle. These parts of trees have surrendered and been washed clean of imperfections. They won’t be judged for punk knot, frost crack, pitch scab, or heart rot by lumbermen. The stump outside the door has ninety rings on its face and is looking good for more, regardless of contractors. I remember shacks in the woods and shacks nailed up in trees and along bent railroad tracks, under new freeways, and up skid-road alleys where the impulse was to be half savage or halfway civilized, to be where no one could say, at least for a little while, Get out of there. Keep moving. Go away. I crawl inside as if I’m coming home.
The three crows are scuttling back and forth between the gutter and the dead possum near the yellow-striped center where commuters are trying hard not to encounter anything but the road on the way to work this dark winter morning. The crows are hungry, and their half-finished breakfast is no longer worrying about its share of the wealth, so it’s all theirs. Other birds, if down here on their own, on their own two feet, would panic instantly instantly seeing us rapidly approaching in our free-wheeling machinery, but not these customers who’ve learned exactly how much time and space are being offered between the violent edges of a snatch-and-grab breakfast. None of us bothers honking. We’ve grown accustomed to their evasions and skillful getaways, their unflutterable manners in keeping this highway clear of the evidence of our hurry to get somewhere, no matter what might be unable to get out of our road quickly enough. Sure, later, in the middles of our day, we might slow down a little or even swerve, but it’s rush hour for everyone involved in forward progress except the possum. The crows know they have to take chances now while there are still chances to take and their share of the market is still open.
Long ago, we had to admit, in acquisitive English
the Romans knew what they were talking about
when they made a negative out of lucky stars
by labeling some of the deadly ones disasters,
and it’s in their very nature, naturally,
to be disastrous, to give even their most
distant inhabitants and poor dependents
hell now and then. Always, inevitably, as sure
as we happen to be born in the abnormal
course of events, more of them show up
at all the wrong times and places and occasions
with bad attitudes, ready to be that cave-in,
this lightning stroke, that twister, those earthquakes,
tsunamis, sudden rearrangements of shores
and mountains and half or whole continents,
and we’re expected to be theirs in sickness
and health in what we’ve dubbed forever
and a day with stars still in our eyes
and a star-like core still burning under our feet.
Driftwood photo on beach by John Wallwerth. courtesy Shutterstock.