Every morning it calls out to me on my daily run. First it was the family of quail, framed through an opening in the brambles of poison oak, the children running in a line, the parents calling back over their shoulders. Once it was a barn cat, all eyes and stealth and skittishness. Most of the time, it's the space itself, enclosed in arms of scrub oak, blackberry, the bank of a dry creek bed. The field lies fallow, and in its disuse, the fertile possibilities are a palpable pulse.
Last week, I accepted the invitation, and stepped over the crushed barbed wire fence. An oak at the parameter held spider webs like elven trip wires. I took the suggestion to slow down and heard each sneakered foot as I announced my presence on dry leaves. It is early August, but the drought has fast forwarded us into mid-fall, and everything underfoot is crunchy and dust covered. One more extra deep ducking down, and then I was in the clearing, light headed and exhilarated.
I walked in silent witnessing. I noticed fox or coyote scat. I heard crows, stellar jays, towhees, gold finches. My meditation was electric, and I was so excited that I almost missed it. But something tugged on my elbow, and I turned toward the steep embankment that waits to hold the water's voice. The conversation under my feet changed, and I looked down to discover I was standing on someone's threshold.
Oh hello I whispered.
Did it belong to the fox, the red beauty who likes the same trail that we do at the bottom of the ranch? I looked into the dark, hoping to catch a glimpse of eyes, or ears. I crouched down and scanned the dust for prints, letting my focus go soft so I could see the larger pattern. Coyote paws. Deer hoof. My heart beat a hope for fox fox fox...but the doorstep was clean, and foxes like to leave traces of their dinners. Then I expanded my myopic looking and saw what was all around me.
I marvelled at each one, imagining the labyrinth underneath the surface and wondering Who? Too big for ground squirrels. Too numerous and clean for fox. Coyotes like elevated homes so they can see what is going on. Skunks rent homes from other creatures, and certainly don't build multiple doorways. Perhaps...rabbit?
Wait...did I just stumble upon Watership Down?
Jack rabbits, and other native hares and bunnies don't build warrens, instead making little depressions in the grass, like shallow nests. European bunnies are what we're talking about when we think of Hazel-Ra. The soil certainly would be perfect for it, light and sandy, with enough brush cover nearby and plentiful food and water. European rabbits are an introduced species to North America, and these holes could be from those wild visitors, or even from hutch rabbits gone rogue. Raising rabbits for meat has become popular, especially in the "farm to table" culture of Sonoma County. So if these holes belong to refugees, more power to Brer and her cousins, I say.
If the residents were still underground, I was probably making a ruckus with my giantess footsteps. I tip toed away and walked down the creek bank, into the secretive shade of oak and sycamore. More deer tracks and scat, more scolding from the jays. Following a thin trail used by many tiny feet, that lead me down into a rocky alcove, I came upon a fallen tree. Full of termites and acorn woodpecker holes, it also was home to a colony of turkey tail mushrooms. My heart bloomed in thanks for one of my favorite medicines, an immune booster that devours breast cancer cells. I took one small shelf to show my daughter and made promises to return.
I came back the next day with my camera, feeling more nervous than the day before, like I was pushing trespassers luck. Sure enough, as soon as I set foot into the clearing, far on the otherside a tremendous crashing shook the trees. I paused, waiting for more, then continued on. I began to photograph the holes, and then heard voices. Two older women, early walkers like myself, had heard the commotion and were coming to investigate. What should I do? Feeling more than a little ridiculous, I crept towards the embankment and ducked down. My shirt was the color of the earth, my hair the color of wheat. I froze, rabbit like, my eyes barely peering over the tops of the grass. The women stopped in tandem by the fence and scanned the field, their glances unbelievably missing me. They walked on, calling for Penny, a dog, perhaps the cause of the ruckus.
I stayed in stillness until I could hear above the beat of my heart. The birds began singing again, an all clear. I left quickly, not to push my luck.
That first day, the day of discoveries and blessings, I found something else after I left the creek bed with my mushroom prize. I did one more weaving around the little hobbit holes, look for tracks and traces, and then was stopped in my own.
At my feet, bones, partly buried, mostly bleached white by the sun. A small pelvis and three vertebra. I picked them up and in their marrow felt the story and humming of the entire field. Of the passing of days, of seasonal turning, of fertility and fallow. In their depths I heard the pregnant pause and the promise of death.
I brought them home, holding them as precious treasure and raising the eyebrows of advancing drivers. My family gathered tightly around when I arrived home, listening and looking in awe.
I passed the field this morning just in time to see a red bushy tail disappearing in the tall grass. I will wait until the water's voice returns before I trespass again, knowing it is best to tread lightly and that the distance between shining moments is a leanness that is worth cultivating.