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John Hay The night, after a deceptively bright and soothing day, seems suddenly withdrawn. The wind has a hard feel to it, as if a northern authority had come to stay. Heavy rolls of cumulus clouds hang in the sky when morning breaks, and the Cape begins to look like my winter image of it, dank and cold, with inert, slate-colored seas investing its shores. The oak leaves have turned a darker, more lifeless red, or they are light brown. I notice that the leaves of the white oaks are among the first to die, beginning to curl up like stiff, ancient hands, with an ashy pallor on them. The scarlet oaks are the last to lose their color. As a result of their definite adjustment, insisting on certain rules of change before many of the rest of us are quite ready, the oak woods seem to have a dark, plenipotentiary look. The trees stand in self-saved, stiff company, although the animals that visit them are lively enough. I watch a gray squirrel burying acorns in loose dirt at the edge of the road. He has that continually twitching, starting and stopping, restless being of his rodent relatives the red squirrels and the chipmunks. He runs back and forth over the sandy earth burying the acorns, and then, as if unsatisfied with the places he put them, bringing them out again. The squirrels gray, fur-clad body flows with suppleness. The big gray tail is sudden too in its motion, stretching out behind, or up, with curled tip when the animal stops to sit. He quits his activity, and with a long bound and dive he is up a tree. Along with its slapdash motion, but provident method, the gray squirrel may also have a touch of foolhardiness in its nature, though even the most practiced make their slips. I have never seen it happen myself, but a friend tells me that he has seen gray squirrels miss their leap occasionally in high trees near his house and fall to their death. The leaf litter still fairly jumps with mice and shrews. A little blind shrew with dark gray pelt and pink nose slips out of a bank of leaves where I walk. It swerves with astonishing speed and squeaks angrily at 148 John Hay: The Last Day in October me before it dives out of sight into the leaves. This, in contrast to other members of the mouse family, is a fighter. I go into a part of the oak wood which has been a little more protected ... a hollow fenced in and fringed by strands of bull briar. It is an open space where deer have come in to paw the ground and settle down at night. Skunks have left little holes where they clawed into the leaf mold on their hunt for grubs. Towhees have scratched the leaves apart. Cottontails have stopped here, hopped, nibbled, and jumped away. This land is mine. The deed is recorded in my name. But I cannot claim to have put it to better use than the animals to whom it is public property. It belongs to the deer, the skunk, the rabbit, and the towhee, who eat, pass through, or take shelter there. With my approach, of course, the whole question of tenure is rudely solved, except for the countless stay-at-home organisms in the ground beneath me. The deer turns once with a large gaze, then bounds away with its white, electric brush of a tail flung up. "Boom!" a partridge thunders up, cuffing leaves and twigs with its wings, and hurtles off through the trees. A crow gives a warning call as it flies overhead. I am allowed the land if I want it, though not much trust it involved. But why should I expect comfort or acceptance, in this open realm of risk? Neither man nor deer was mother to the skunk. It knew its own. Chance meetings will do, for the love I find in them. On the calendar this is the last day of October, and it has some justice to its title. The lunar moths mirror the general character of the year...


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pp. 148-150
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