November Nineteenth [On Erasure]

This erasure is from Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns, a book of daily essays on the natural world written in the Midwest and published in 1935. Moore uses the book as part of a daily erasure practice, erasing the correspondent day and seeking to radically transform Peattie’s meditations, dramatically shifting the topic and focus of the original entries.

Peattie, Donald Culross. An Almanac for Moderns. Editions for the Armed Services, 1935.


I Wake at Four & Drive to the Mountains

To leave the inner critic on the empty street beneath my windows.

To outride the arrows, or slings at least, of civic life.

To put the forces separating me from my daughter—the moderator

 in elastic-waisted slacks, the decree signed

 by the liver-spotted judge—in the rear-view.

To look ahead and see the world’s impersonal love song again

 lifted from night.

To know the song is about the attention we give the wild,

 unfixable everything we love yet is always already

 indifferent to us.

And yet to see the sun rise, like a couched friend, from blankets of fog

 in the lowland orchards.

To see the fields of our anxieties cut and gathered in silos.

To hear the wind wrap us, undeserving, in the sun’s resolve

 to sustain us another day.


To stuff a campsite into my backpack and somehow walk ten miles.

To feel the weight of our basic needs shouldered across streams,

 over hills, up crevices.

To remember having walked the home-forsaken trail before.

To realize I’d compressed memory of all this pain—all but the sacrament

 of red, gold and orange leaves

 above river bluffs.


Only here do I realize I must have forgotten just how many uphills,

 just how fucking much elevation hurts.

Here I think such thoughts as our sapiens ancestors ground as many miles

 over mountains each day.

I wake and drive and walk to think: Perhaps the downhill mortar and pestle

 of our patellae almost crushes recall

 of profane elevation.

And to meet the inner critic, somehow already at the top, and

 to accept his message:

You wake at four and drive to the mountains

to accept the body’s pain as the cost of all the beauty there is to see.


The Flood

It was a hard winter. Everything became further away and darker. The roads battered cars; they buckled and heaved and slowed everything down to the point that I stopped wanting to go out. Every time I got in the car, I imagined my own death. I asked myself, Is where I am going worth sliding off the road into the cold water, into a dark tree, into another frozen, creeping vehicle, into the smooth blade of a state plow? So I cut back. I worked from home. I did my grocery shopping once a week, on Sunday afternoons, although by the time I left the store it was already getting dark around the edges of the mountains and I had to follow the lights of my high beams up the valley road. Other things were cut away, visiting friends, going to dinner in the bigger town, seeing a movie, shopping, going to the gym; all these were non-essentials. I imagined that that winter was like the start of the end of days, all of the good things, the extra of civilization falling off.


I saw death everywhere. People were freezing in their homes, the news channel reminded us to check on elderly people, our oil bill asked for a donation to help those who had no money for heat. People got thinner, tougher, and meaner. I didn’t make eye contact in town. I pulled my coat collar up and my hat down over my eyebrows. I kept safe at home.


Joe and I started to lock the doors when we were out. I don’t know if we ever spoke about it, or if it was just something we both felt at the same time. We locked up the poor, little cabin, and all of our poor, broken things inside of it. People were stealing dogs and selling them. People were taking the copper and gold out of the underbellies of cars. They were even carrying off firewood. We watched the long driveway for strange headlights in the dark and looked in the snow for tracks, for footprints, for signs.


The cabin we were renting sat at the base of a cliff covered with tall, straight spruce trees. A swift stream ran between the cliff and the house, always in white water, stumbling over huge boulders. The stream rattled and spilled down through the rocks, collecting in big pools, bottomed with smoothed bedrock or soft sand. Just below the house the stream flattened onto a broad flood plain, mingling with another mountain brook. The two waters came together and raced along, white, towards the Connecticut River.


The cabin was heated by a cast-iron woodstove. There was a backup propane heater in the living room and another in the bathroom downstairs, but we could never figure out how to run them because the instructions were in French and the pilot light would not stay lit—it would flicker blue and then vanish back to air. The stove ate through wood, burning fast and hot. The place had been a summer home and, looking to make money quick, our landlords had done almost nothing to winterize it. There were gaps under the doors and where the windows met the wall. There was a hole in the ceiling above our bed through which wasps spilled in the summer and in the winter the cold would come in and hover over us as we tried to pull the blankets up. Worst of all, the house was built on stilts because the stream flooded often. They had surrounded the stilts with black plastic and fencing but still the cabin sat on air, a freezing pillow of winter that reached up through the floor. The dogs would refuse to get off the couch; the cats would walk the backs of chairs, over lamps, across the windowsills to avoid having to touch it. The stove fought the cold, but the heat wouldn’t stick—it would just slip away so that even as the stovepipe glowed amber the cold sat in the bathrooms and the laundry room and the downstairs bedroom. The cold was more comfortable in that home than the heat.


That winter I lived heavily, wrapped in layers. I wore two pairs of socks and walked the floors in slippers. During the day Joe and I rationed wood. The winter was so long and cold that we were worried that it might not end, and we would be left with no fuel. We’d keep the house right above freezing, so cold that the olive oil became solid in the pantry. I lost all sense of my body. I was never naked except for the brief moments between the shower and my towel. I felt like I gained twenty pounds, but, I don’t know, it could have just been that my body became alien to me, strange, a buried thing.


I stayed inside and watched TV wrapped in a fleece blanket on the couch. I cross-stitched Christmas stockings for Joe and me and for each pet. I went to bed early and slept late, following the long darkness. I walked the dogs with a headlight. The trees rose like bodies, and the shadows behind the trees became monsters and thieves. The winter made us animals. It took away everything nice and human. We were cut back down to size by it; we were bodies that needed calories and warmth. We could have slept for days, like skunks and bears. We stopped dreaming for anything besides this life. We became smaller that winter, and less beautiful. I lost things I never got back from that cold.


The brook between the cabin and the cliffs had been frozen for months. Early in December I could see running water between the icy banks, but then I could only hear it, dark and rough. The ice grew and grew in the cold of those days. It was the only thing that got bigger. It grew like continental plates. It changed color. Sometimes it was clear, others it was white, or gray.  When there was enough sun, it was blue. The blue ice looked like a blade—it was the ice of the freezing days, when the sun appeared but had no heat, just light in which to cast the world in shadow.


When I was out in daylight, I walked the dogs along the ice banks. It was so thick that it made no sound to walk upon it. Underneath I could hear the water, rumbling. The dogs were afraid of crossing the ice in the center of the brook, where they could hear the water. The ice made sounds of its own. It groaned. It creaked and snapped, brittle pops and long breaks. It shuddered like a fallen tree settling into the earth. There were other sounds that were harder to describe, hums, wavering tunes like Tibetan chants that sat right between two notes and seemed to be trying to break the world at its weak parts. Sounds rang along it, down the cracks, through the broad flat shelves. Dripping and grinding.


That winter the animals became restless. Fox and deer and coyotes stood in the yard and locked eyes with me through the windows without fear. The cats scratched at all the furniture. On the warmest days, I would try to let them outside, but they refused to step into the deep snow. Instead they tore away the legs of our couch. They peed secretly on the loveseat in the back room. They shredded it too, turning the canvas into threads. The dogs pulled apart my books. They got onto the couch and attacked the cushions until there were no cushions left; they had all been emptied of their stuffing and flipped inside out.


By the time the dogs completely destroyed that couch, it was early spring. The light was a little longer in the morning and the evening. The sun has some force behind it. I could turn my face to it and feel something in the sky. There was a day of rain, cold, steady rain that beat the snow down. That night we dragged the couch and the loveseat outside to the backyard, tired of living with those tattered things, tired of flat pillows and torn fabric. We had to pour gasoline on them to start the fire. We waited until it was dark. The gas burst and then snaked inside the forms of the furniture, under the skirts and up the backs, twisting along the wood inside it, slow at first then smoking. Smoking horrible thick black smoke that joined the dark sky. It burnt up the smell of that winter, the animals’ fur and our skin cells, our hair.


Joe and I stood back and watched it. The light from the house stretched out to meet us like an apology. We didn’t touch, we gave each other space like the one, or the both of us might burst into flame too. The snow melted out to our feet. The flames came through from the inside of the furniture, wearing the fabric thin and then bursting out hungrily into the air. We watched it in silence. The fire ate up everything and then, gnawing on the bones, the wood, the springs, the bolts, shuddering and collapsing, like skeletons in a mass grave, all the parts mixed up. We kicked the pieces that fell out towards us back into the fire. We watched the sparks rise into the black smoke pillar, following the raindrops back up. Shivering wet through all our coats and boots and hats, we walked back up the hill to the bright house. The fire lay in coals behind us, gnawing on the hardest bits.


The ceremony of it all stayed heavy between us. That winter had been hard. Joe had picked up smoking again, standing on the porch just an arm’s length from the door as if it might be warmer near the house. When he had quit, I thought we might be moving somewhere good together. With each night he shuffled in the cold, sucking on those menthols, I didn’t know, maybe we weren’t going anywhere at all because I was slipping too. I started seeing things at the edge of light, in the shadows. My fear of driving at night was a real fear. I saw things, my death, the death of the dogs, of my sisters, huge dark primal monsters made of the hills and spruce and rock. I was scared of little things, headlights in the night. I had to understand every sound I heard, place it, or I rocked myself to sleep, trying to rationalize my terror. The ritual of burning the furniture felt like our first attempt at ridding ourselves of these things, casting the devil out. The house was emptied. We sat at the dining table, looking at where the couch used to be. It reminded me of when we had first moved in, all the blank spaces and how tender we had been with each other.


In the morning, the fire was still smoking. I took the dogs down to look at it, the bent nails and twisted springs, the feet and rollers and joints of metal all blackened. I kicked some half-burned pieces into the coals. The snow was melted, and the grass was brown around the fire pit.  The morning was warm; there were invisible walls of heat in the woods and along the driveway. The sun was rising, laying a thick haze over the cold water. It was the sort of day when you are excited for no reason. I went out to lunch; I didn’t eat what I had packed for myself. I bought a $20 bottle of wine for dinner.


Coming home, the ice along the road was still solid. I could hear the water under it from the car, running, running. At the cabin, the ice was still solid on the brook, but the water was so loud, a contained scream down the valley. The rain had loosened the sand on the hill, and snowmelt ran off it, picking up big stones and dropping them on the ice like cannon balls. The stones bounced off the ice, bounced into a tree, rattled down with the water, or punched their way through. The water ran like a trapped thing. I couldn’t hear myself think for the noise. The dogs were spooked when I took them out—the rocks had been crashing all afternoon, the water screaming, they had spent the day looking out the windows, wondering what was happening, wondering if the world were coming to an end.


The rain came again as the night settled, warm and dark in the valley. Joe and I talked about floods. Two years ago, a tropical storm had burst through these mountain streams and cut off towns for days. It took weeks to get past mudslides, washed out bridges, roads swept away. The brook we lived on had flooded; the water had risen under the house and run through the driveway. Huge rocks had bowled down the hill, knocking over trees in the front yard. Gravel and riverbed were strewn through the woods. The driveway disappeared. A big section of the hill had fallen into the river. It remained a crescent of naked sand and rock where a few trees hung. It was an ugly slash on the hillside right across from the porch; we had looked at it all summer. We also drove past a safe and a refrigerator that the flood had swept up into the trees along the driveway, mixed with river bottom and debris. The people who had been living there when it happened had been stranded; the water pushed their cars up against the pines. They had walked out over the field to the higher, paved road when it was safe to leave the house.


We talked about the cuts on the trees along the river that had been made by the flood, how high the water had been, how strong, that it would use stone and wood to cut through things like trees, riverbank, to cut away forest. All the time the noises outside got bigger. The rocks were breaking open trees on the slopes, popping, crashing, and punching through the thick ice and the hiss, the scream of the water. The dogs were looking around in terror at the noises.


We lay upstairs and listened to the ringing, crunching, breaking up. It was like a storm but not from above. It surrounded us. At some point, deep in the night, there was a strange, big sound that woke me from sleep. The dogs were sitting at the window; the puppy’s head was cocked to the side. I was too afraid to go to the window and see what they were seeing. The noise finally settled, and the night lay broad and uninterrupted after that. Sleep flattened my fear.


At dawn, we could see that the ice had broken up in the night. It was piled in tall cairns in the front yard and it pushed against the trees along the driveway. The water ran—open, seething, twisted gray and white water—so loud as to need to be yelled over. It hissed and boiled like static. With the dogs I walked around the piles of ice, some pieces a foot thick and stacked in piles six or seven feet tall. These heaps bordered the river; I had to climb to look down into the flood. Some of the ice was cut into bricks, and other pieces had been moved in huge, flat sheets, like countertops, and plowed through the yard to the distant pines. Our fire pit had been washed clean, erased; only the grass kept its char. I found pieces of the couch springs in the driveway and charcoal that had been pushed hundreds of feet away by the water.


Sometime in the night, the water had jumped out of its banks and knocked the ice back into the trees. The stream had used our driveway as a riverbed until it found its way back to the low ground by our mailbox. For some time in the night, we lived above a huge, rolling lake of ice and snowmelt, a flood, flashing through the land around us.


I found a brook trout resting on top of a stack of ice pieces like it had been placed there carefully. I took a picture of it with my phone. This beautiful, bright fish, recently dead and still colorful, six or seven inches long, ended up on top of the ice which had been its ceiling for months. I thought of its strange death, the fear of the flood, the shattering of the ice, the change of its worlds, its gasping for air in the cold night under the dark sky, raised up like an offering to the low clouds. It wasn’t transformation, the slow dawn I hoped for. The thought of the flood roaming our yard in the night scared me more than the endless cold of winter. I imagined water running under our home, under our bed, breaking through the trees, the flood erasing our coals, as if nothing we did mattered and no one would remember.


What the Bats Say

… an excerpt from A Million Fragile Bones, out later in April 2017 from Twisted Road Publications. A Million Fragile Bones details the beauty and peace of Alligator Point, Florida, before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels (210 million gallons) of oil, affected 68,000 square miles of ocean, and washed ashore along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida. Connie May Fowler had spent sixteen years in the haven of Alligator Point before being immersed in the year-long nightmare that was the Deepwater Horizon spill.



We are one decade into the new century and spring is glorious on the sandbar. All manner of new life—winged, finned, footless, and four-footed—is emerging on land and in the sea. The estuaries and marshes are alive with activity as birds mate, lay eggs, tend to their young. The water churns with promise: baby fish, newborn dolphin, tiny sharks. Life below and above the surface is abundant. It’s as if my known world is throwing a party.


The frog that lived in my shower all winter has moved to my garden. The banana spider (AKA “Banatula”) is spinning a splendid, huge orb just outside my living room window. In the early morning it shimmers with dew diamonds. Cedar waxwings were here for one delightful day, ascending and descending in balletic perfection from the pines towering above my studio. Purple martin scouts arrived three days ago; their families will soon follow. I dig in the dirt on the kitchen-side of the shack and discover a cache of pearly white, oval eggs the size of my little fingernail. So, it seems, the lizards are doing their part to keep up with the promise of spring. A rat snake has taken up residence on the back deck. The dogs keep their distance. Wrens fly in the house, swooping, darting, as they hurry to find the perfect nesting site. A pair of mating osprey obsessively brings sticks to the platform at the top of the osprey pole where they are engineering a very messy, large, but functional nest.


Nearly everything out there in the deep blue sea is heading my way.


Embattled, overfished blue fin tuna are spawning. We’re only one of two marine nurseries on the planet that host the blue fin. They favor the Gulf’s northern slope, which is a critical habitat for them. Indeed, as the Gulf goes, so goes the blue fin tuna population.


Gag grouper, other species of grouper, snapper, and spiny lobster are also spawning. And all their babies, over the course of the next few months, will migrate to the estuaries and marshlands of the northern Gulf where they will find safety and nourishment. They will grow. Life abundant will happen. Again.


Brown shrimp are at their reproductive best April through May and September through November. Their eggs float through the Gulf, eventually turning into larvae. Plankton is the larvae’s manna. As they grow stronger, nourished by plankton, they, too, travel into the northern Gulf along with their seafaring cousins. There, amid the nutrient-rich estuaries and marshes, they will begin to resemble shrimp.


Bottlenose dolphins, full-timers in the Gulf, are giving birth right now: March, April, May.


Oysters, the beleaguered lifeblood of my zip code, are spawning in the waterscapes of my front and back yards.


Some sea life remains in deep water as they trek northward, but those requiring oxygen, such as sea turtles and the twenty-eight species of dolphins and whales that make the Gulf home for at least part of the year (twenty species are full-time residents), necessarily spend much of their time near the water’s surface.


To celebrate the Gulf’s bounty—its vibrant cycle of life, life, life—nearly every coastal village and hamlet hosts seafood festivals. There seems to be one close by every weekend. Oh what I would give to be crowned Panacea’s Blue Crab Queen! But I’ll settle for a T-shirt and the knowledge that nature’s delicate balance appears steady, prolific, bountiful.

In the midst of all this new life I, too, have given birth of a sort. How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, my seventh book, is winging its way into the world. This inevitably means I have to follow it out there to places far from the sandbar. I hate leaving the Point in the spring. And I also still feel very much like a newlywed, which makes sense given Bill and I have been hitched only a few months. So I bop back and forth, spending as little amount of time on the road as I can, always hurrying home so I can measure how much progress the jasmine has made (a lot), if baby mullet are jumping yet (yes), if the baby osprey are flying yet (no), if we have any crabs in our traps (sometimes yes, sometimes no), if Bill’s blue eyes still make me shiver (yes).

Bill doesn’t waste any time. As soon as I hit the road for my book tour, he takes it upon himself to paint the interior of the shack, put up new shelving, and renovate the kitchen, including the addition of recessed, built-in shelves. I call him from a central Florida hotel room that smells like wet swimsuits and stale beer.


“I miss you,” he says in a southern drawl that confounds me since he is a Midwesterner.


“I miss you, too.”


“I love you.”


“I love you, too.”


“You sure do have a lot of things.”


“What do you mean?” I thought I lived the life of a frugal hermit.


“Your altars. I’m having to disassemble them so I can paint.”


“Oooooh.” I imagine my poor husband collecting all the bits of bones and shells and dried flowers and spell books and feathers and more, gathering them into assigned portions of the kitchen table so he doesn’t lose anything, so the altars can be reassembled just the way he found them.


“Pile it all up and I’ll deal with it when I get home,” I say, sensing his unease at the responsibility he feels for the ephemera of my life. But I also know the painting, the building, the renovating: It’s his way of nesting, of making the shack ours, not just mine, of him working his way into the mysterious nooks and crannies of married life and paradise.

The newlywed in me has decided to cook a five-star worthy dinner every night, using homegrown ingredients whenever possible and creating every morsel from scratch. Though it looks like I’m cooking (and I am), I’m also casting spells. I whirl through the kitchen, seeking spices and solutions. Heart, home, love. Heart, home, love. Heart, home, love.


I’ve just finished kneading my dough for tonight’s dinner bread: Cuban bread complete with a palm frond down the vertical length of the loaf. My whole body—crown of my head to tips of my toes—is dusted in a thin layer of fine flour. I think about working my way up to pain de campagne, a daunting recipe in Julia Child’s Baking with Julia. It requires “capturing and nurturing airborne wild yeast” which floats in the air only after many days of tossing yeast about as part of the bread-baking ritual. I’ve never had the nerve or need to “coax wild yeast and bacteria and harness their energy.” That sounds like a job for a physicist. I sneeze. Flour, if not yeast, flies through the air, resembling dust motes. I catch my reflection in the mirror that hangs on the wall closest to the living room. I appear painted, ready for battle. I study the birdfeeders hanging from the rafters of the deck. A bevy of hummingbirds sup. My back aches. My hands hurt. Why didn’t I just pick up a loaf of French bread when I was in town? Who am I trying to impress with all this homemaking mania? He’ll be home soon and I’ve got to get this place cleaned up … oh my God.


I tiptoe over to the door, snowing flour as I go, trying to make less sound than the wind. Perched at the same feeder are a rose-breasted grosbeak and a blue grosbeak. The blue grosbeak could easily be mistaken for an indigo bunting, but the grosbeak is larger and has broad, cinnamon wing bars. I don’t think there is any other bird one could mistake for the rose-breasted. Its deep crimson shield glimmers against its white belly and black head.


These, like the avocets, are two birds I thought I’d never see—individually or together—unless I move to Mexico where they winter or the Great North where they breed in the summer. Once again, I experience the thrill of living on the edge of the world, a cusp where water and forest meet, a dynamic wonder-ground.


I do not take lightly the responsibilities of living at a migratory crossroads. Seed in the feeders. Parsley for the swallowtail caterpillars. Milkweed for the monarchs. Bee balm and hibiscus and honeysuckle for the hummingbirds. Clean gourds for the purple martins. Bat houses for the bats. Seashells placed in the birdbaths so butterflies can drink without risk of drowning.


It is April 20, 2010, and all seems right with the world.

The following day, April 21, as the sun descends into the Gulf’s blue horizon, washing the cumulus-slurried sky in ribbons of purple, gold, aqua, and radiant hues as yet unnamed, Bill and I are enjoying what we call “bull bat hour”—cocktails amid the bats newly emerged from their slumber, mammals on the wing feasting on mosquitoes and no-see-ums.


Out here on the sandbar, twilight shimmers. Dragonflies stir the air with the metallic thrum of transparent wings; they hover and flit, dive and ascend, resembling tiny bursts of tumbling stained glass, occasionally resting on a stem, a limb, a blossom, my hair. Purple martins pierce the jasmine-laden breeze, competing with the bats—the former eating supper and the latter breakfast. Seabirds return to their roosts. Overhead, terns chatter so raucously my dogs bark at them. As the birds glide out of sight and earshot, the dogs exchange satisfied glances. I believe they think their barking drives away the noisy aviators. My favorite pair of great blue heron plaintively squawks, their voices calling each other home to their nocturnal rest in the sentinel oak at the edge of the harbor.


If one is lucky enough to be on the water at bull bat time in a calm wind, you will hear the creak of the pelicans’ wings as they skim the water on their way to the western end of the Point where they gather in a great feathered conclave, on a beach populated only by ghost crabs and what the surf brings in—star fish, sand dollars, sea urchins—until daybreak when they take to the sky again.


But it is the bats I watch. Their scientific name, chiroptera, means hand-wing, surely one of the more appropriate and poetic designations ever made by science.  Evolution has gifted these animals to the point that it is only a minor exaggeration to say, physically, bats are exquisite wings attached to tiny faces.


I have had many close encounters with bats, the first being when I was perhaps eleven or twelve. It was a blistering August evening and I was watching Sanford and Son with my mother when I happened to look down and see a saucer-sized bat resting atop my sweaty bare foot. I said, “Oh, oh!” instead of “Holy shit!” because my mother was the only person allowed to cuss in our house.


Fear spiking, I was trapped in a quandary: stay hidden and still while hoping for the best (translation: maybe the bat would just fly away) or run into the world—visible, shouting, flailing (translation: risk the ridicule of my mother and all humanity). Inaction versus action and its attendant but unknowable results is a puzzle that confounds me to this day.


Mother, steeped in her own time zone, laughed as Redd Foxx grabbed his chest and delivered his classic quip, “Elizabeth, I’m coming to join you!” With her cigarette bobbing between clenched teeth, she glanced at the bat—the whites of her eyes flashing with Bette Davis flair—and muttered out of the left side of her mouth because the right side was in charge of the cigarette, “Son of a bitch! Goddamn it. Don’t move.”


She marched into the kitchen—I remained immobile, fearing any movement would inspire the winged Fury into a feeding frenzy—and then returned with her pine-handled broom, which she held aloft with fierce conviction, her pose reminding me of the Joan of Arc prayer card I kept hidden in my top dresser drawer beneath a nest of fading underwear.


I was terrified Mother was going to beat the bat to death and, in the process, reduce my foot to pulp (she swung a mean broom), but instead she simply proceeded, her cigarette fashionably akimbo, to chase the bat out of our roach-infested rental, screaming “Out, out, you bastard!”


Fearing my foot might be infected, I dabbed it with what was left of my Coca Cola (the boys down the street had told me Coke could take rust off a radiator, so surely it would fizz bat germs from flesh). I looked up. Mother was back, her hair on end from the struggle with bat and broom and screen door.


“How do you think it got in here?”


“How the hell do I know?” She tilted the broom against the doorframe, flopped onto the couch, lit another cigarette using the ember-end of the old one, and that was that: my first bat encounter.


But it would not be my last. Indeed, walking at twilight remains hazardous. Bats simply don’t see me. When foolish enough to take an evening stroll, I bob and weave in an attempt to avoid head-on collisions, looking as if I’m performing a spastic imitation of Mohammed Ali’s graceful ring dance.


My theory (untested and probably without a shred of scientific merit) is that the bats’ echolocation bounces right through me, rendering invisible my corporeal self, this being a result of low blood pressure (mine, not theirs; I’m not even sure if bats possess blood pressure).


And, yes, surely there are other explanations: the bats are drunk, having feasted on fermented fruit; a rabies epidemic; they just like to fuck with me. I don’t know. I’m sticking with the low blood pressure-echolocation theory because it makes a good story.


But the plot thickens. On a sultry summer night in 1996, I walked to my downtown Nashville hotel after a book event. I felt pretty full of myself. I’d given a good reading and signed lots of books. The storeowner was delighted. Even the sales rep who’d made a surprise visit seemed appropriately satisfied. So I might have had a bit of a swagger. I might have even caught my reflection in a skyscraper’s plate glass window and not recognized myself. In short, I was happy.


As I approached the civic center, which was a mere two blocks from my digs, chaos splintered the placid evening. People driving home after a production of Carmen honked and cut each other off and made obscene hand gestures and behaved, generally, the way folks normally do in a traffic jam: as if their very lives depended on them being the ones to lead the elephant parade.


The cast and crew milled about on the sidewalk, waiting for buses to take them to their next tour stop. Their hump-backed equipment, scattered hither and yon, resembled brooding prehistoric snails. I noticed most in the gathering were male which, probably due to anthropological reasons, made me both fearful and excited. When this realization tumbled to the front of my brain—poof!—Confident Connie was gone, and in her place stumbled a gal haunted by her past, riddled with self-conscious angst.


No longer buoyant, I threaded my way through a Gordian knot of noisy masculine chatter—all of it in Spanish or Italian, I wasn’t sure which, maybe both—bodies and shadows in motion, cased musical instruments, suitcases, props. I felt unmoored, as if the night had suddenly been infused with a bad case of buckle your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a dark shadow glide through the air and then felt it unfurl in a soft embrace against my neck. It fluttered, gentle and feminine, in the light Southern summer breeze. An image of Isadora Duncan (whom I desperately wanted to be once I got over the shock I would never, ever look like Sophia Loren no matter how many hours I lay in the backyard dirt while slathered in iodine-laced baby oil) wafted through my consciousness: Isadora dancing through life, a fabulous long scarf floating in her wake. One of the men—they were yelling and wildly gesturing—must have tossed into the Tennessee Williams night a crepe paper streamer.


In addition to hoping the paper was yellow or pink so it would complement my pale linen suit, I did what my mother taught me to do when men acted the fool: I ignored them.


But it didn’t work. Their catcalling escalated. Still, I marched on. Don’t you dare look at them, you little heathen.


The crepe paper caressed my skin in a rhythmic beat normally reserved for something with a pulse. Since when, I wondered—my fear nebulous, unfocused—did crepe paper possess cadence? I grabbed at my neck, took hold of something soft and warm—the men screamed—gazed at my hand, and delivered (at least in my emotional mind I did) a shriek that scarred the night.


In my very own hand—a hand that only moments prior felt very ordinary—I held a small bat. Or rather, it held me. The creature clung to the fatty rise of my palm, pinching my skin with something tapered and sharp. Fang or claw? I did not know. I flicked my wrist as hard as I could. The bat’s talons—or were they teeth?—dug deeper. Its wings fluttered in black vampire perfection against my chunky, yellow Bakelite bangle. The goddamned bat, as my mother would have said, wasn’t letting go.


The teeming mass of male humanity shouted what I assumed was advice. I did not speak their language because, though I made As in high school Spanish, I retained very little knowledge except that one should never develop a crush on the new guy, at least not while he’s still new and untested.


Clueless as to the meaning of the men’s swift phrasings, the rapidity of their words in all likelihood fueled by fear, I continued to vehemently shake my arm. I could not bring myself to pick off The Creature of The Night, which was unfortunate because no matter how hard I shook, flung, or gyrated, this demon seed of Dracula remained attached to me like a black diamond wrist corsage.


There, amid the heat and wavering light and cacophony of male counsel, I brought the bat closer and inspected, faintly fascinated, and praying I wasn’t bleeding.  Its little face resembled that of a wee dog with giant ears.


The bat looked at me as though I was a mere curiosity and it held all the power. The good news: It had not fanged me. The bad news: I realized bats possessed tiny, powerful thumbs crowned with flesh-ripping claws.


I am superstitious. Of this, I am unashamed. After all, I was raised by a woman who believed she spoke to demons. How could I not believe in signs, ghosts, spells, Barnabas Collins, and the possibility that all bats are secret goatsuckers? I didn’t need a refresher course in the occult to know a clinging winged rat was not a good omen.


Panicked to the point of nearly losing control of my mind and bodily functions, I flicked my hand so violently I distended my wrist. The bangle flew off, ricocheting into the tangle of men and equipment. Pain radiated up my arm and fissured in the maze of my elbow and shoulder. The bat, possibly suffering from thumb distension or shriek-induced deafness, did, however, release me, promptly disappearing—a shy apparition—into the chaos of moon-filtered chiaroscuro and city bustle.


Before I could begin to track down my Bakelite or worry myself into a frenzy over how many agonizing rabies shots I would have to endure, a young man jumped in front of me, danced an agitated jig, and said in a thick accent, his eyes wide with what I interpreted as both fear and wonder, “No worry, ma’am, no worry. Bat good luck!”


What the hell was wrong with this guy?


“It was a fucking bat!” I said, rubbing my wrist, the sensation of the creature’s claws and wings haunting my neck and hand. I triple-checked: no broken skin, which I was pretty sure meant (a) I didn’t have rabies and (b) I remained an outsider among the ranks of the vampiric dead.


“I know, I know!” His feet slowed as did his speech, and he repeated himself, allowing the syllables to hang in the air longer than necessary, each vowel oozing into a viscous slur. “Noooo wor reee.  Baaaat goooood luck.”


Fourteen years and many trials later, I stand on my back porch, testing fate again, wondering what sort of luck I would have had without that bat encounter. Bill hands me a glass of wine as I watch the evening’s first wave of chiroptera flicker though the gathering twilight—black silhouettes shattering a prism sky. I take stock. Was life a series of mistakes and trials interrupted by small moments of joy? That would suck. Was it a mixture of luck and fate, good karma and bad, depending on a cosmic roll of the dice? Did cataclysmic things happen to decent people just because? Did the Old Testament God occasionally wake from his eternal slumber and screw with people simply for shits and giggles?


A bat swoops within a foot of me. I don’t flinch.


“That was close,” Bill says, bringing his Jim Beam on ice closer to his chest, as if he suspects bats have a proclivity for brown liquor.


“Do you think Job deserved those boils and plagues?” I ask, slapping at a no-see-um.


“Absolutely not,” Bill says, keeping his gaze pegged to the sky that is now quite crowded with winged creatures. I think Bill is about to expound on what he thinks of God’s treatment of Job and it probably isn’t complimentary of the Lord Almighty, as a faded relation of mine oft refers to Him, but our attention is snagged by a thread of conversation emanating from the house. We had, like poor earth stewards, left on the TV.


A CNN talking head reports that overnight in the Gulf, gas, oil, and concrete from something called the Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded up the wellbore to the deck, where it caught on fire. Eleven platform workers are missing. Rescue and recovery operations are underway. A Coast Guard petty officer insists there is no sign of a leak.


“A rig exploded and there isn’t a leak? How can that be?” I ask Bill. I gaze out at Alligator Bay, worry mushrooming through every corpuscle in my body. I can’t survive the destruction of this pristine estuary, this amazing ecosystem where if you are a fish, a marine mammal, a land mammal, an insect, a bird, a mullet, you’ve found one of the greatest places on the planet to birth babies. Or, if you are a grown woman with a painful past, you find solitude and grace, states of being that if you’re lucky lead you down the path toward forgiveness and new love.


“They’re lying again,” Bill says, a matter-of-fact nonchalance lacing his words.


One of the herons glides to its roost in the big tree. It lands amid gnarled branches and squawks—a warning, an avian sigh, an issuance of old pain, a call to its mate (I’m home. Where are you?): Which one I don’t know. But I fear Bill is right.


I rest my head against his shoulder, watch the winged world feed, my memory flashing on a horrific ingrained image: oiled birds dying horrendous deaths in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster, and I find myself praying to whatever is out there. Please, dear God, no.


Then I voice a hope that makes no sense, at least not to my husband. I slip my hand into his and say, “The sky is full of good luck tonight.”