Oh Casandra

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Summer to fall we may have brief encounters with creatures, with Maine beasts. In winter this snowshoer came upon blood, two scattered bone-fulls of deer—a coyote feast—in woods next door to her house. This happened here a few winters ago. We have a variety of critter encounters. 

The phoebe-bug-spider observation. A phoebe in-flight drove some bug, maybe a moth, into one of several great webs, then backed off as a giant spider began feverishly winding its prey. —But the bug escaped! The phoebe gave chase, snatched it back, flit across to the powerline, perched, and swallowed it! I stood at the porch door looking through the screen, watching this web and drama. Surprised. 

…The bear must have come up the driveway. ..


This a.m. my husband found stats for Mount Washington 25 mi. away as the raven flies (when ravens are not distracted by carcasses) —winds of 86 mph gusting to 89, with a temperature of .5 °F. It’s past mid-November. Winds gust around our log cabin, steeply dipping outside our high windows, with long-fallen leaves blowing past. Tree limbs flail as winds rise above them again.

On Halloween, our power returned after a minus18-hour hiatus, but for others in our state—nearly half a million or one third of Maine’s population—power outages would continue. Fortunately weather was unseasonably warm during Halloween and loss of electric power meant losses on all fronts of household order—but one might at least be warm. Unseasonal weather…. Is there such a thing anymore? Nature, while threshing the living daylights out of what passes for civilization in Maine was proving her power, even if you tend to think of her as it, as neutral, as unmoved by human concerns. This prolonged statewide outage and windfall, with flooding, came not long after horrific hurricanes, came after the devastation of wildfires in California. The cost to the electric company here totaled almost $70 million. Seven times the usual number of lineman worked getting our power back statewide. Where did they all come from? Electric and other power bills of Mainers will increase. And these utility companies will not be entitled to FEMA funds, though homeowners with flood/ wind damage may be.

During our personal one-day outage, we drove around, a.m., looking at roads and lanes cluttered with detritus, detours, stoppages, tree trunks and limbs; pine limbs bouncing cradled on power lines. Pavements and dirt lanes were covered in pinecones, needles and twigs, small fir limbs, some roads scarcely passable. Snow plows came out to push aside drifts of branch-debris. Power trucks with linemen spent the first day simply making safe 405,000 outages from downed lines. Workers were friendly, liking the thumbs-up. We stopped by a Town cemetery to watch the Androscoggin River, its waters completely brown, floating massive fallen trunks toward the highway bridge. We had to hurry away so as not to be kept in the village by flooding. Not long after, roads were closed, the intersection underwater, virtually isolating our village on its hill.

Oh. Just now. It’s out again. Fresh grounds in the pot, I flipped its switch, then noticed the silence. Household sounds are no more, and the wind—I hear the wind. The stunned dishwasher. Sighing…. I miss that sound. But why do these comforting sounds seem to mean more to me than nature? Than surrounding trees waving in wind? My husband’s short wave antenna bobbing up and down? 9:45 AM. Grateful for a call to CMP power—and for the heroic linemen. Statewide, many will be without power for a week. There’ve been more outages than experienced in the ice storm of ‘98.

In late summer I began seeing the brown-stained logs of our cabin spotted with cotton balls of incubating minuscule spiders, and took the broom to them. The eaves are too high to reach, and thickly overlaid with many seasons of spider webs and nurseries. But would thinking of spiders help me in this powerless situation? I turn to Dana Wilde’s book, Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods

Dana Wilde is fascinated by spider nurseries, as well as anything in this fertile book. He hopes, to no avail, that his wife Bonnie will care for them because her litmus test for character is how anyone, any creature, treats children. Her spouse describes the scrupulous care with which one of the 600 plus Maine spider species accommodates her young: The nursery spider. Bonnie’s take on these careful critters is sardonic. On reading Dana’s account of mating partner abuse and cannibalism, I see her point. Nature does not seem to have the same mores as humans.

Dana describes late summer arrival hitting Maine almost at once, “like a wallop from God.” He desires its qualities expressed in the feel and look of its air, woodlands, field-flowers, mountain views, distances. Nature looks like this, he says, before its decline. And the place looks “ancient.” We see through its shadowlands into what’s gone (p. 115). Writing as one who remakes almost every natural thing into a metaphor, I tend to think he handles these encounters metaphorically. Dana’s gods and goddesses, mostly hinted, seem made out of nature. Or, the inverse? But it’s no bolt from the blue, considering his training through doctoral level work in English, his lay researches, editorial work, and fund of columns, books, magazine pieces. The man is a wordsmith. What intrigues me is his interest in science fiction. I’m going to have to delve into that. There are other ways in which our works find connection—just so many details he considers that parallel my own work. Peripheral vision for instance, cosmogony, revelation overtaking explanation (p. 161), and well, the gods. The goddesses.

It’s almost but not quite uncanny that those who care about craft should often unite suggestive mythic qualities with words. And slip in the quiet subliminal warning relevant to our time. We may reach back, far back for something that seems suddenly and mysteriously present. Dana’s approach and handling are masterful. His final line in a chapter containing spidery observations are like webs pulling together, tying metaphor and topical detail taut, abruptly, inevitably—and yet, like the moth flitting away: surprised—you didn’t see it coming.

I keep going back to his jealous Artemis story—the one with Actaeon turned deer, chased down by dogs. I can’t help but feel the story’s power. We feel it here in Maine, especially when the “power” is out. This mythic power must be felt sometimes … if easily banished in distraction …as a bird’s flitting and twittering persist.

The bear must have come up the driveway.

Earlier, in summer, our friend Dave was here delivering a cord of wood. A truckload. He dumped it beside the log splitter and got out to talk with my husband, R.. When friend G.,  comes up the drive in his 12-year-old Toyota, he gets out and says something like, “Did you know there’s a deer lying on the road blocking the mailbox?”  I was up in the house and didn’t hear this, didn’t know.

Evidently jumping from the roadside pucker-brush, it surprised a driver. Spouse and G. came up to tell me. I suggested calling the game warden’s office for its removal but the woodman wanted to drag it to the ditch and they agreed, saying Maine Wildlife wouldn’t come for this.

Oh Cassandra me. Now, the ravens are calling, calling. My spouse calls me off the porch where I’m sweeping.

“Quick! Get in here!”

We stare out the window. Up comes a yearling black bear through our ragged landscape. Black and silky, turning to look over its rippling rump at us through the screen. The bear’s face is all nose, and brownish, much of its features reddish brown. It waddles off up toward the dug well, starts nibbling salad greens (May-apple greens) and ambles off, climbing upwards into the woods.

That night, on the shortwave Northeast Cracker Barrel Net, some of “the crackers,” say we could’ve called the game warden or the town crew. And R. agreed, forgetting having nixed my suggestion earlier. Later I naturally pointed it out. He said, “it’s a man thing.” 

Poor old Cassandra. She’ll still be listening to ravens. Calling to one another until that poor deer’s body is eaten through, gone.

Parts of this essay were written previous to now. As the sun rises, our temperature has dropped 7° since I began work on the first paragraph. At this moment, my pen and I are still listening to household silence. And to the wind. I get up and put a log on glowing coals in the woodstove.

It’s what we do that the goddess cares about. Not what we think.