I've written before about the fact that Holden is a good writer. In fact, English is the only subject that Holden isn't flunking at Pencey Prep. He comes from a literary family. Holden's brother, D. B., has published a book of short stories and is working in Hollywood as a script writer. Holden can write well.
Tonight, I'm going to post my award-winning nature essay, since this blog is probably the only place it will ever see the light of day. I hope you guys like it. It did receive a First Honorable Mention in a writing contest sponsored by North Country Publishing this summer. If you don't like nature essays, skip the rest of this post. If you like reading about nature, press on.
Saint Marty hopes he gets all the commas in the right place.
Fat Kid in a Dark Woods
"In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost."
--Dante Alighieri, Inferno
There's little traffic on the streets of Marquette this time of day. Along Lincoln, up the hill toward the water reservoir tank, a school bus roars by me. For a few moments, I'm bathed in diesel. Then grassy silence returns. To my left, dark woods. The dawn hasn't taken hold enough to penetrate the maple, poplar, and pine limbs above, so the forest floor is still in deep shadow. I usually keep close watch on this side of my route to avoid any close encounters of the skunkish kind. Over the years, I've been lucky, only coming face-to-face with raccoons, an occasional deer, and one very drunk college student.
This morning, I'm in a state of loamy distraction, enjoying the birdsong and blossoming light. That's why I don't see her at first. She looms out of the dark tree line, like a lost puddle of winter, and stands there, skittish. I stand there, too, afraid to move.
The Presque Isle deer were fenced in when I was in middle school. They would eat clumps of grass and handfuls of feed corn from summer tourists, who enjoyed the warm tongues on their palms and snapped pictures to commemorate their encounters. These bucks and does and fawns were as domestic as farm goats. They crowded the chain link when people approached, like stray dogs at the pound, blasting wet snorts from their noses. They competed for human attention.
Except for the albino. He never abandoned his wilder instincts. While the rest of the herd vied and posed for photos like contestants on America's Next Top Model, the albino kept his distance, staying at the far boundary of the deer area, near the hill. I imagined Al, as I nicknamed him, was a Sneetch without a star, and his brown kin were Sneetches with stars upon thars.
At eleven years of age, I was the stereotypical fat kid on the playground. I wasn't interested in sports and spent most gym classes skulking near the back of the crowd to avoid notice. Invariably, I was the last person chosen for a team and the first sent to the bench. So I understood Al. His solitariness. Not-fitting-in-ness. I've read somewhere that albino bucks can be more aggressive than their pigmented counterparts. I understood this behavior, too. It's a natural defense, like learning how to catch a dodge ball or locking horns with the biggest bully in the deer yard.
There's something to be said for being the fat kid. It kindles a kind of compassion in a person. As an adolescent, I watched Al, grazing on Presque Isle, and knew he spent most of his time avoiding whitetail kickball games, focused simply on survival. As an adult, I'm a sucker for people bullied by tornadoes or famines or homelessness. I never pass a Salvation Army bell ringer at Christmas time without digging in my pockets for change.
When the deer fences came down on Presque Isle and the herd was set free, I worried about Al. I wondered how he would fare in the dark woods, where he stuck out like Charlie Chaplin in an MGM musical. In my hikes around the island over the ensuing years, I saw him only once, a fleeting patch of mist threading through the trees. I heard tales of white fawns and does wandering through backyards, and once, in 2011, an eight-point albino buck was shot during hunting season. Al had survived, even thrived, in the wild.
The white doe's ears twitch and swivel as she regards me from the edge of the trees on Lincoln. Her muscles tense like a ballet dancer's legs, preparing for whatever leap or pirouette she may need to perform. I remain still. I stare into the doe's pale eyes. They are as light and pink as my four-year-old son's skin after a bath. I search for recognition, something familiar. I know this can't be Al, but I want to find the fat kid in this creature, in her angles glowing in the darkness.
After several seconds, she turns her long neck, as if she's heard a dodge ball hurtling through the pines and maples. She begins to edge her way back into the forest, delicately, each step measured and cautious. Her progress is slow, and I'm unwilling to take my eyes off her. It's like watching an eight millimeter film of my young self, flickering deeper and deeper into the woods. Every once in a while, she disappears, then reappears a few seconds later, smaller and less distinct.
I begin to walk again. I watch the doe to my left as she winks in and out of focus, like a wounded soul searching for a safe place to hide in a dark playground.
Confessions of Saint Marty