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THE FARTHERMOST VIEW

Selected Podpieces

NIGHTTIME NEIGHBORS

One of the things I still like about snow is the way it can change my perception of the world. Of course, a good snow, like the ones we’ve had in the last couple of weeks, changes the way things look: the stark deciduous trees of winter turn graceful in their white cloaks, the landscape of bare shrubs and dead grasses is softened into gentle mounds and drifts of white. My neighborhood, if I get out before the plows come through, is soft and silent, and it’s obvious that all my neighbors are tucked inside beside their fireplaces, sipping hot cocoa and playing board games.
One of the neatest things snow can do is lift the curtain on my other neighbors, the ones who never huddle by the fire. On a recent winter morning when the sun was up but the dogs had not yet charged outside, I looked out and saw that our whole yard was crisscrossed with tracks. You know, like the ones in the cartoon, where on his way home Little Billy makes the rounds of the neighborhood. One set of footprints came straight up the driveway from the street, barely breaking the snow’s surface, so light it must have been left by a fox; the tracks cut into the yard at the end of the split rail fence and went looping around among the hollies, circled the snow-covered compost bins, and then – I saw through another window – headed across the somnolent wildflower garden, under the suet feeder, and up through the line of white pines marking the property line.
There were other tracks, too, longer ones made by deer pushing through the deep snow along the fence line and down into the tiny wilderland, a no-man’s-land where three properties come together and we all dump our branches; and here and there along the driveway, littler prints, probably left by squirrels dashing across the open space to the shelter of the river birches.
No wonder our dogs often burst into loud invective in the middle of the night, apparently at nothing. It isn’t nothing, it’s hordes of invaders, daring to stroll or saunter or scamper across, and probably urinate in, their territory. It annoys me when the dogs wake me up, but as I lie awake for hours afterwards, I like to think of the nighttime denizens of my yard, helping themselves to water from the heated birdbath and frozen apple cores in the compost, then moving on.
It’s a whole world out there, another dimension, parallel to mine, of which I only catch an occasional glimpse. It’s a pleasure and a comfort to know that I don’t matter to them in the least.

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