You may think — and you would be mistaken — that cows prefer land to living among the trees. On many a sleepless night I saw Betsy’s silhouette from my bedroom window, hooves on a tightrope, perching on the sycamore’s highest branch and lowing into the wind. When I closed my eyes and let her ballad vibrate my heartstrings, I stopped shivering under those threadbare quilts, stopped worrying about the notices Pa tore from the front door. Until the day she tumbled splat, with Betsy’s serenading I could drift off, her sorrow a lullaby high above the farm.
You may think — and wrong again, you would be — that a black rooster crossing your path is an omen, the precursor to an anvil on the head or a plunge into quicksand. Old Blue gifted me with enough couch cushion nickels and dimes to pay up the elementary lunch lady, nudged into view enough of Pa’s forgotten coffee tin stashes for gas money in high school. In his final act, before becoming a “poultry pancake,” as Pa always said, Blue delivered a thick envelope with my name embossed in silver, the letter inside a ticket to a city far away. I like to think Blue saw the oncoming semi as deliverance, an escape faster than college admissions could manage for me.
You may think — and this time, you’d be correct — that dogs are the finest companions of humankind. Maybe it’s because Randy and I trudged through the fields Pa allowed to fallow, legs aching together through our gangly teenage phase, or maybe we bonded over the absence of our mothers’ nuzzle. We indulged each other’s hunger, understood it more deeply than our own. I let him pick at the leavings from Pa’s deer, and he let me creep out the backdoor to pickup trucks waiting for parties or pleasure. Sunning by the scum-choked pond my last spring break, we talked about getting a place of our own once I had a flashy income, a certificate in-hand. Sidewalks, dog parks, and urban critters fascinated Randy, and he felt ready to retire from Pa’s slipshod hunting. Instead of driving in for graduation, Pa called to say he buried Randy down by the clearing, used the Remington so it was quick. Reasons to visit vanished, so back home I’ve not been since.
You may think — and I’m still trying to figure out the truth on this one — that the country mouse and city mouse dichotomy is overrated. Did those fables ever think to include harried mid-level manager mouse? Doomsday prepper nuclear bunker mouse? Field mouse with a broken GPS? What I’m saying is that by the third glass of house merlot, I can’t hide my backwoods lilt from these business casual bros, can’t remember to say “soda” instead of “pop.” They raise eyebrows but don’t ask about the speck of dust on the map from which I bloomed. I am tiny rodent Sisyphus, schmoozing at rooftop happy hours on maxed credit cards, trapped in an office job without promotion, when most days I want to feel my toes in the mud, leap over our backyard fence to doze on the bank’s plush moss, and wake to the creek’s prattling.
You may think — and we’re back to your error in judgment — that birds of a feather flock together. The meadowlarks nesting by the summer kitchen tee-tee-teed this secret to me long ago, and the toeless pigeons I kick by the metro turnstiles echo it now. Some birds don’t need kin to fly. Some birds go up in flame, incinerate their old selves, and peek anew from the pile of ash. I wonder if Pa remembers to fill the birdfeeders for the goldfinch and titmouse. I wonder if Pa manages to move his ass from the rotting porch long enough to set up an online payment. When sparrows alight on our mailbox, is a new family name painted on its face? This, I try not to wonder. I’m learning to live with the fact that some birds aren’t migratory. Imagining every fissure bursting with magic is easier than returning home.