The hunters wrapped their treestand in camouflaged cloth. When it came time to paint the roof, they chose blue. That way, they thought, it might blend into the sky, forgetting that the deer see in black-and-white. Or maybe they remembered, and painted it to please themselves. But now their sky has fallen in, a lid on a sagging box nailed to the twin trunks of a rock oak that pull it back and forth between them in the ridgetop winds, like a prized toy.
Stand close to the blaze of autumn leaves and be uneasy: for if the deer are blind to this degree of glory, think what we we are missing from their own universe of sound and scent. I don’t suppose it’s a trade-off, but what if it were? What if, as so many ancient peoples believed, you could step into another animal’s skin? Would you sacrifice color for the chance to hear and smell as acutely as deer, bear, wolf?
But it’s a lot harder to stop smelling and hearing than it is to shut the eyes. Imagine being wild in a tamed land, hedgerows and managed woodlots your only refuge, with no escape from the human stench and din. Which makes me wonder: if humans had never lost our other senses, would we be still be able to abide our trashing of the earth?
When the oaks finally shed their leaves in early November, the younger ones are usually the last to let go. They remind me of children too wound up to sleep. Leaves are something we have no direct analogy for: they are part-hand, part-mouth, part-eye. Trees in winter retreat into themselves like hibernators, denning in plain sight.
I live not among them, but a short distance away — which is just as well. They are dangerous, even in suspended animation. In fact, they creak and groan the loudest when they are empty and need nothing more, neither noon nor sunset, and all their gold lies browning at their feet.