Paradise

     Two baby foxes no bigger than my cat watched as I pedaled up a half-mile hill. They wanted to play – till I got 10 feet away and fear kicked in. Then they tumbled over one another backwards and ran away, as cute as a couple of drunken angels.
     Vermont is paradise in the spring – but it takes forever to get here. Despite Jane’s warnings I planted tomatoes in late May – our traditional last frost date is May 31. Frost killed them. So I planted some more. I like sticking plants in the ground.
     Vermont is paradise for five months a year. The other seven are no fun at all. It was 27 below zero last winter, and after the frost did in my tomatoes two weeks ago it rained for three days and the temperature stuck in the 40s. But that was last week – long, long ago.
     Now, after a winter that lasted for approximately 9 years, the baby deer are out. Little white-tailed dudes that kick up their hooves when they see me pedal by – they seem more concerned with jumping around in the wildflowers than with getting away.
     Cardinals are back, and Baltimore orioles, kingfishers, wild turkeys and coyotes; Canada geese stand over their fluffy chicks, and hawks watch it all with their fierce yellow eyes.
     Eight painted turtles sunned themselves on a log as my shadow passed over – they popped off one by one like a zipper – except for one who stayed put with his head out in the sun. That turtle either knows something the others don’t or he’s going to die young.
     As I puffed up another hill, a yellow swallowtail butterfly cruised alongside, attracted to my electric orange T-shirt. It paced me for an eighth of a mile – an act I consider a compliment.
     On top of Huckle Hill – a cruel 2-mile climb – there’s a fen full of dead oaks and pines, killed by a beaver dam. It’s on the south side of the hill – a long palisade beautifully constructed of straight boughs bitten off to identical length and stacked parallel at 45 degrees. The stream backed up, drowned the centuries-old oaks, and created an eerie bog fit for dinosaurs.
     The beavers’ engineering reminded me that humans didn’t domesticate animals – animals domesticated humans. They taught us how to build, how to hunt, how to defend ourselves, how to prepare for the winter. Plants taught us too. The first time some genius whose name is lost to history – surely a woman – made bread, and passed it around to the men, man decided to hang around with wheat, and do whatever wheat wants.
     Long ago – 35 years ago, after I graduated from Reed College – I went off to Boston and New York, to do things and be somebody. After the first year I returned to Portland, Ore., to see my pals and haul the last of my stuff back to the East Coast. It was late spring. My pals, 22 years old like me, spent a lot of time sitting on their porches with their feet up, talking about how the blueberries were doing. I thought it was ridiculous. In New York you go outside to get someplace. In Portland, you go outside and there you are. I got out of there.
     Now, after living through what not so long ago was the average span of a human life, I am more than content – in fact, it may be the only times I am content – to step outside and just be there – under the oaks, listening to birds, looking at animals, at a golden bird flash from shadow into light, watching the river flow.
     On my run up Cowpath 40 yesterday, dozens of butterflies flitted around a copse of white and purple azaleas, alighting on the flowers, beating their wings, taking off and landing again. The 2-acre field is full of wildflowers every spring – yellow, purple, red, white and blue ones – I don’t know their names – and grass going to rust-colored seeds. The landowner mows his lawn but waits until the wildflowers go to seed before he mows the meadow. He’ll do it any day now. Then something else will bloom. The baby deer will lose their spots. Baby foxes won’t want to play with me anymore. The bears will go to sleep again. Hey, where are the bears?

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