Asheville Grit and Dogwood Alliance are proud to present Ryn Bradford Hayes’s “Forests by Owl-Light,” the second runner-up in our inaugural flash writing contest on the theme of Southern forests.
Forests by Owl-Light
Ryn Bradford Hayes
I feel the ground shaking before I see it: the logging team–one man and six shaggy hocked horses (the center of this man-made tornado), blasting around the corner of the rock road, eructing gravel and shards of bark. The clanking chains of the wagon’s traces, wheels grinding, the thunderous beat of iron shod hooves–cacophony–cleaving the forest’s embrace. I white-knuckle Kismet’s collar. The team’s driver: ghostlike in gray dust, a blood-red bandana bandit-style over his nose and mouth. The horses are dust-dyed, their flaring nostrils encrusted. Their ashen, sweating flanks straining under the wagon’s gigantic freight of ancient trees. As they disappear into the small, the gray air is a caul over a newborn’s face.
Lies. The timber men, they come in here, promise us jobs. Promise they’ll plant the woods back. Promise the runoff from razed trees won’t choke the streams, kill the fish. Promise timbering won’t starve the wildlife, the birds. They promise, and they lie. Folks will do a lot that’s wrong to feed their kin, but that’s a far cry from sinning to feed yourself on caviar.
Coughing, I retreat, back into the sanctity of my trees, my land. The woods cascade: maples, oaks, sweetgums, and pines above, the dogwoods underneath, then the laurels, and lower still–the lespedeza, finally the fennel and ferns, which seem to be reaching for me as if begging, no, bestowing alms as I wander through. After a while, Kismet strains at my grip, so I turn her loose. A hot breeze offers the wax myrtle’s spice. I stop and grasp a limb. Magic. A summer buck materializes (all roans, browns, and creams), a tassel of velvet swaying from his horns. He meets my wide-eyed gaze, vanishes. Two yellow butterflies waft up into the glowing green. Brown capped nuthatches wing too high up in the loblolly canopy to see clearly, but I know it’s them: I recognize their squeaky-toy voices. The copperhead sunset pinks the trunks of the trees in its velvet light. I know it’s time to go inside. I whistle up my dog, so my voice doesn’t intrude here, where these woodland vespers drowse. She galumphs to me, her coat shines harvest moonlight on rippling tannic water. She lolls her jowly head into my hand. Reaching our green gate, it is a necklace latch between the living beads of our privet hedge, intertwined with Cherokee roses, whose petals are soft and honey sweet in this lingering light. Opening the sagging gate drags a shy smile in the powdered silver dirt of the path to the house. Kismet ambles into our yard behind me. I click the big lock tight.
I am so excited about this opportunity with The Dogwood Alliance and Asheville Grit because these are the grafting of my two loves: writing and nature. Apart from the first poem I remember writing (at perhaps, seven years old) “I love a fox in a box that wears black socks,” I began filling journals at twelve years old: with mostly poetry but soon followed by my first novel, written in pencil at thirteen. I’ve been writing off and on for the past forty years. While I consider myself primarily a poet, (I’ve published the odd poem here and there), I have also written the occasional short story, and a creative non-fiction piece, “I and Thou” published in the Aug/Sept 2011 edition of Smokey Mountain Living. “Forests by Owl-Light” is actually the opening scene to my unpublished second novel by the same title. In all of my works, nature is the setting and the metaphor: the meniscus between forested mountain and inked atmosphere.