the prompt was to write about a facet of nature in your area of the piedmont. immediately, i knew what i'd say.
I come from a family highly adept in the art of the hand-me-down. The reuse. The refurbish. From a mama who took a single yard of deep plum-colored fabric and somehow, through that magic combination of inherent creativity and late-night frustration, used it to create Halloween costumes for my two siblings every year—a gypsy head wrap one October, a witch’s cape the next. So I understood, that cool morning in September, when I saw her head to the alcove behind our house, our old, splintered picnic table in one hand, daddy’s gloved palm in the other. I watched from the kitchen as they pulled apart and destroyed the pigeon gray wood, then carefully nailed its pieces together. Slowly, a box took shape—an oblong rectangle no deeper than a sink, held up on makeshift posts driven deep into the Carolina clay. They told me it was a deer feeder, and ran out the door to buy feed, supplementing it with the renegade corncobs that littered our back field.
A clandestine crowd of deer steadily trickled to us. Tucked behind the pines that bordered our property like the beginning of a jigsaw puzzle, the alcove was hidden. It was safe. My brother, sister and I would watch, mouths gaped open and breath tightly bated, careful to be the most quiet versions of ourselves. We were a couple of spies in the living room, peering in on one of the most sacred, intimate acts of nature—that of feeding, the exchange of nourishment, the primal instinct of sustaining. Then, as lightly as they came, we would watch as the deer, sometimes up to seven or eight at a time, would trot back into the maze of the woods.
As it has a habit of doing, time marched. Before long, my car was in the driveway, blocking the view of the feeder from the house. A few years later, my sister’s car, then my brother’s, was parked. Soon, it took going outside, around the vehicles, the basketball goal, and the lamppost, before the feeder came into view.
One rainy night when I was away in college, a downpour came and washed the feeder, weak with decay and time and the imprints of grubby hands, onto the mud, where it crumbled to pieces, putting up no more of a fight than a warm cookie caving in a glass of milk. The wind took the wood in different directions, onto our field and front yard. A few landed in the trees. There were some pieces never recovered, that just caught the tail of the rain and rinsed into the ground.
Because some things are singular and special and meant to be savored only for a season, Mama didn’t replace the feeder. The alcove sits empty now, save for a few rogue weeds that unfailingly tilt their heads toward the sun every summer. I go home now to visit and the irony hangs pregnant in the air. Now my car is gone, and my sister’s. In August, my brother’s will take him away to college and the driveway will sit empty, the view to the woods once again restored.
The deer still come, now. They weave playfully between the trees and prance properly across the field when they think no one’s looking. Sometimes, one will stand out in the open, looking not exactly at anything, but not away from it either. And they are still fed. In its old age, the field has become more generous, and every season we find more and more corncobs scattered between the tall, green ears. Its Earth’s sort of compensation, I suppose, an amends for its furious rainfall that destroyed our old picnic table. Because that’s the beautiful thing about nature. It is cyclical. Each element building upon and accommodating for the other. Building up and tearing own. Bearing and burying. Riding in the ebb and the flow, always ready for the tide.
Because it too has a mother skilled in renewal.