Mr. Heti nails the last sign on the northeast corner of his property, choosing an ash close to the road and fixing the warning at eye-level. The bold-faced capitals mean business. The backdrop glares yellow. Around the sign, gray bark patterns diamonds with its ridges.

He trudges toward the road, deciding to head home that way to avoid stomping across the pretty plants covering the forest floor. Just beyond his property is an older ash. He slows to admire the tree: the width of its trunk, the deeply fissured bark.

Underneath its branches, in every direction, may-apples canopy the ground like satin umbrellas.

Hunting, fishing, trapping or trespassing

On the southeast corner of his land, from a stand in the old ash, the hunter watches. Gray trickles into the woods, a morning lounging in its nightwear, a day just waiting to be over. The wet autumn has leeched color from the foliage, hammered leaves to the ground. The hunter keeps a rifle in his lap but only uses the binoculars. There is a chickadee in an oak; the bandit, small, fat and sweet. Chickadees are everywhere around here, all the time. Yet the hunter never tires of them. He is quietly smitten. In the oak, among boughs that won’t give up their leaves, the bird plays acrobat, hops between the twitching copper and calls its own name. The birdwatcher calls himself a hunter. The moist air needs one degree less to make snow. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee.

For any purpose

Jenny Heti wouldn’t have found it at another time.

For three-quarters of the year, when she cuts through her neighbor’s woods—just to shorten the walk to Edie’s on the corner so surely he can’t mind—she pays attention to the ground, on the lookout for snakes. But now, she can tilt back her head. Branches web blue. Such blue. Why does the sky shine bluest when it’s coldest?

Her discovery, a nest, rests in an oak, not far from the great ash. The twigged cup holds inches of snow, at least five. It is a palm full of winter.

Is strictly forbidden

Five becomes six and seven and eight and, after a wind hurled off Lake Ontario, just one. For a second, the nest’s loss clouds the air in a branchy avalanche. Then the snow finds the ground.

It is January. It is western New York. The nest will fill again.

Violators will be prosecuted

Under the sinking, compacting crunch of snow, leaves molder. The moldering thickens the humus, night crawler’s haven, home of moles, rich coat for the subsoil of rock and clay. Snowmelt plays courier, delivers minerals to roots that stretch above bedrock’s graveled blanket like veins and sinew over bones. Rain and snow refresh the aquifers, and the aquifers feed the groundwater. It flows where it likes. No sign stops that.

This is anyone’s water. Whoever wants to dig for extraction. Whoever is thirsty.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2024 Juked