It was hard to tell whether night was falling, or whether the dark clouds had simply become much more dense overhead. But the light was low enough for the deer to emerge stealthily from the woods and venture across the great mass of seaweed which was exposed on the shores of the loch at low tide.

Algy turned his back on the loch and looked discreetly in the opposite direction, as he knew that the deer hated to be watched. The scene reminded him very much of a poem; he could hear the deer “light-footed on the still open book of earth” behind him, and they did indeed seem to disappear as they blended in with the orange-coloured seaweed in the strange, dim, silvery light:

          By the stream, where the ground is soft
          and gives, under the slightest pressure—even  
          the fly would leave its footprint here  
          and the paw of the shrew the crescent  
          of its claws like the strokes of a chisel  
          in clay; where the lightest chill, lighter  
          than the least rumor of winter, sets the reeds  
          to a kind of speaking, and a single drop of rain  
          leaves a crater to catch the first silver  
          glint of sun when the clouds slide away  
          from each other like two tired lovers,  
          and the light returns, pale, though brightened  
          by the last chapter of late autumn:  
          copper, rusted oak, gold aspen, and the red
          pages of maple, the wind leafing through to the end  
          the annals of beech, the slim volumes  
          of birch, the elegant script of the ferns …

          for the birds, it is all
          notations for a coda, for the otter  
          an invitation to the river,
          and for the deer—a dream
          in which to disappear, light-footed  
          on the still open book of earth,  
          adding the marks of their passage,  
          adding it all in, waiting only
          for the first thick flurry of snowflakes  
          for cover, soft cover that carries  
          no title, no name.

[Algy is quoting the poem Ex Libris by the contemporary American poet Eleanor Wilner.]


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