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Somewhere In These Woods

For Marty

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A diamondback rattler

sheds her skin on the path.

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She rubs her nose over

sticks, rough red rocks–

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slides and curves across

the moss of fallen logs.

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Bit by bit, she exposes

those black gems

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slick with the newness

of a thicker rhythm.

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She will not transform

into puny blue wings.

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Undulating muscle

will become

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a six-foot long

version of herself.

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Queen of venom,

born again

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in dead pine straw,

she will multiply

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then curl up, unseen,

in puddles of sun

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sleep with her eyes

wide open,

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flick scents of dinner

beside gopher holes.

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Yesterday left on the trail

like a crumpled up note:

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somewhere in these woods,

she grows bigger every year.

-Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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Juvenile Copperhead in a Carolina river (photo taken by Julie).

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A friend asked me to do a blog post for a project she’s creating.  I’ll tell you more about the project once she launches it.  I’m not sure if I should talk about it now.

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My friend is cool about re-posting.  I love cool people.  Anyway, I thought I’d share my blog post here.

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If you’re one of my blog friends, the “anti-internet” sentiment isn’t directed at you.  Please don’t take that personally.  I tend to post according to what I feel like talking about on any given week.

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This week, I needed to be reminded of the peaceful moments.   And I love coyotes.

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Connections

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I turn on my old computer tonight.  It takes fifteen minutes to grind, burp, and finally connect.  I check my e-mail.  I have three Facebook friend requests.  I have no clue who the people are.  They don’t bother to write a note.

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The computer hums and whines.   It smells like plastic.  I want to throw the damn thing through the window.

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Instead, I grab my CD player and go outside.  It’s dark—the beautiful thick black of a rural Carolina night.  I root around in the tool shed and find my flashlight and camping axe.  I chop up some old logs and branches.  Pretty soon, I’ve got a nice fire going by the woods.

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I go back inside to the kitchen and get four pieces of catfish and a cast iron skillet.  An oven mitt and a spatula.  I find some home brew in the fridge.  I take it all outside to the fire.  I have an old porch chair to sit on.  It’s somewhat damp from dew, but it has a nice padded seat and leans back just enough for a good view of the stars.

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Before I know it, the smell of catfish cooking over my fire fills the air.  I sit down and pop open the top of a cold home brew.  Kell Robertson is singing Cool and Dark Inside on the CD player.  The fire casts a large circle of light on the ground.

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This is the only connection I want right now.

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Suddenly, I hear a loud rustle of leaves.  I smell the musty scent of something wild.  A dark creature comes loping out of the woods toward me.  I think it is a coyote.  I jump up and grab my camping axe.  No coyote in his right mind would run toward a fire.  I think he must be rabid.

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The animal trots up to the circle of light and stops.  Yes, it is a coyote.   My heart thumps in my throat.  I clutch the axe, ready to swing.  The coyote sits down on the ground.  He looks at the fire.  Then he looks at me.

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He’s the skinniest coyote I’ve ever seen.   All legs and head.  Even in the dim light, I can see his ribs.  His fur is matted and greasy looking in some places. In other places, he’s bald.  Half of his right ear is gone.

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Coyote leans down on the ground and puts his head on his paws.  The light of the fire makes his eyes glow gold.  Then he flips over on his back and shows me his belly.  I swear, he’s sucking it in.  This coyote’s not rabid.  He’s smart.  He can smell catfish and a bleeding heart from a mile away.

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I sit down in my chair, still clutching the axe.   I’m not quite sure what to do. I’m a country girl.  I know that feeding a coyote could be a death sentence for him.   He’ll get too used to people.   He’ll get bold.   He could become dangerous.  He might end up going after the farmer’s calves down the road. Or a pet.  Somebody will kill him.

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I should swing the axe and scare him away.  I should go inside the house, get a gun and shoot it in the air.  I should bang a pan with a spoon.  Whatever it takes to make him run far away.

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But he’s so skinny.  I just can’t do it.

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Coyote flips back over on his belly and slides a few inches toward me.  I put down the axe.   I turn the catfish so they won’t burn.  His big eyes watch my hands.  He slides closer.  He whimpers.  Just a little.

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By the time I take the pan from the fire, Coyote is only about five feet away from me.  I can see his face now.  All the sorrow of the world is spilling out of his eyes.  Whenever I move my hands, he swallows.

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I break off a piece of the catfish.  It is charred on the outside and flaky white in the middle.  I take a bite.  It tastes good—like pine bark and smoke.  Coyote flicks his tongue and swallows.  He sighs.

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I sigh, too.  “Here, you nasty beggar,” I say.  I fling a piece of the catfish toward Coyote.  Before the fish has a chance to hit the ground, Coyote swipes it up with his long tongue.  He swallows.  It’s gone.

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He moves closer.

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What the hell, I think. I’ve already started feeding him, so I may as well do it right.  I go back inside and get the rest of the catfish in my refrigerator.  Four more pieces.  He waits patiently by my door.

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I spend the next two hours feeding Coyote.  I bring out a pack of hot dogs.  A leftover pan of macaroni and cheese.  Some squash casserole.   Rocky Road ice cream.  Wilted celery.  A pot of turnip greens and hamhocks.  Cornbread. Three raw eggs.  He eats it all as quickly as I can give it to him.

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When I have nothing left to give, Coyote lays down next to the fire.   His belly is rounder now.   He doesn’t look quite as mangy as he did before.  Now I’m starting to wonder if he’d let me brush his fur.

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Coyote falls asleep.  He starts snoring loudly.  The side of his mouth is turned up as if he’s grinning.  I fall asleep in my chair.   I dream I’m running through the woods with Coyote.  We leap over logs and slosh through the swamp.  We run and run, always one step ahead of the law.  I look down, and I am running on four legs.  They are long and rangy.  My four legs are strong and fast.

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I wake up, and Coyote is laying on my feet, curled around my ankles.  I can feel the thump of his heart on the tops of my feet.   A full, gold moon is rising through the trees.  The moon makes the woods look like they’re on fire.

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Inside my house, an old computer burps and whines.  For a minute, I think maybe I should go inside and turn it off.  But it will probably get hot and crash by itself.  Right now, I’ve got a coyote keeping me warm.

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I’ve got peace that surpasses all understanding.  I’ve got the moon and the stars and the universe humming through my veins.   I’ve got a mangy friend who found another grinning fool to love him.  I’ve got poetry curled around my feet.

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I’ve got this moment.  I am connected.  This is enough.

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Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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Reclamation

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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The swamp was drained,

a permit obtained

to build a gated

neighborhood

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called Egrets’ Landing

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over what was water

over herons’ muddy nests

over cool live oaks

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over a mossy shack

where for years

an old lady in a red hat

loved to watch gators.

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Now owners complain

about rattlesnakes

on their driveways.

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Black bears in trash cans.

Deer eating pink hibiscus.

Coyotes howling at all hours.

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Permits and money

could not stop

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goose, fox,

bobcat droppings

on deep green lawns,

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the thickness of mosquitoes,

ticking of crickets on carpet

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humidity that breathes,

squeezes,

drips and drops.

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Four car garages

smell of leather

and mold.

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Mildew grows

over vents.

Air conditioners

hiss, break down

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as the land slowly

pulls inward,

back to the mud

it was before

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alligators lay

on the golf course,

their mouths wide open

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waiting for moss

to return.

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