When I went to the mailbox today, I heard a creaking in the woods. It might have been a fawn watching me as that is their noise of distress—a tree moving in the wind sound. If she had shown herself, I might have chased her like a cat would chase another animal—I wanted to be close to her, to play, maybe even to consume her in some way, to find her innocence within myself. Come here fawn and be my pet. I will feed you slivered almonds and cranberries. I’ll stroke your nubby horns while we sit by the fire. And as you grow, I will tell you stories about the woods. The way the leaves become heavy and fall. The way trees fight each other for sunlight and shade the ferns. How the snow melts and leaves behind vernal ponds for peepers and salamanders.
But you won’t see the salamanders, I will tell her, at least not often. They are dying now, showing us how water is like blood, poisonous when it is bad. If you are lucky though, fawn, on a wet day in late August, the path in the woods will be alive with salamanders—orange and on the move—a sliding sidewalk of salamanders.
I will then tell her of the first one I ever saw when I was a kid, hiking with my dad. We found it on the way up the trail. He picked the salamander up with two fingers and put it in his red cap decorated with white polka dots. He told me to watch the salamander change colors, but it didn’t—not yet. We watched for minutes but it stayed the same. So we left his cap there, with the salamander inside, and we moved on. At the top of the mountain, it was dry and there was nothing but more trees, more mountains, blueberries, the sun and the sky.
When we returned to the hat on our hike back down the mountain, the salamander was gone. I didn’t mourn its escape—in fact, I almost had forgotten it ever existed. But I had wanted to see it change colors as promised. I was five and I hoped that there would be many more salamanders in my future.
I will tell the fawn that.
I’ll also tell her about the owl living in the cluster of trees in the culvert, how sometimes it hunts in daylight when there is fog or mist. And about the mischievous fox who plays in the yard, intrepid even though I sit close by on the porch.
If the fawn stopped fearing me and came to me, I could tell her all about many more things. But nothing good like that is going to happen today. I will gather my mail, go back to the house, and wait to see what happens tomorrow. Maybe when the summer comes again she will see the orange salamander or the owl moving through the trees on the path.
The sky has moved from gray to blue and back again. Winter is upon us now. But by spring, the tulips I planted will bloom in the garden and the daffodils near the woodpile will be a surprise. And with the coming of August, the fawn will be a deer, fully-grown and savvy enough to stand still, silent, as I pass her in the woods. If she and I are lucky, then, we will see the salamanders on the path, one and then another, moving from beneath the wet ground for their one moment of freedom.