July 9, 2006

Great Naturalist Blog: "The Rural Life"

I've been following NY Times Editor Verlyn Klinkenborg and his blog on Nytimes.com for about seven months now and I'm surprised just how many people are unfamiliar with his work.

The Rural Life is a blog about Klinkenborg's day to day life on a farm in western New York. In addition to his own words, he begins each post with an entry from the journal of famed naturalist Gilbert White. The beauty of this blog, however, is the combination of White's brief but descriptive scrawls and Klinkenborg's lucid, insightful observations, and watching how they match up with each other day by day.

Here's one of my favorite entries thus far from The Rural Life, "The Next Generation":

Gilbert White’s Selborne Journal: Friday, 30 April 1784: 29 7/10; 54; NE, E. Grey, sun, summer-like. Cucumbers set, & swell. Polyanths begin to blow well. Tulips shoot, & are strong. Sowed a pint of scarlet kidney-beans. Goose-berry bushes leaf: quick-sets still naked. Pile-wort in full bloom. Rain in April..3 inch: 92 hund:

VK: By quick-set, GW means the new slips of hawthorn that were laid to make a hedge.

I often try to explain why my wife and I live where we do. In the country, in nature, where we can raise pigs and chickens — those are the phrases I end up using. But it really comes down to living as close to wildness as we can. I realize that now. What makes it easier is that so many wild creatures don’t mind living near us — so near that we hardly think of them as wild any more. The grace of wildness changes somehow when it becomes familiar, when you know it as well as we know the wild turkeys and the downy woodpeckers.

The other morning, I looked out the south window to see if the flag had dropped on our rural mailbox. I saw a fox just beyond it, standing in the downfall of last year’s goldenrod. The fox paused long enough for me to get the binoculars, and then it moved off the flat to the base of a rock outcrop, part of the orbit she uses to approach our poultry. Something else moved with her. Three, perhaps four young kits were following her.

She turned and led them back to the lip of the den, where they crowded around her. She bent down and licked one of them. They were only a few pounds each, thick with soft, mottled brown fur. In another week the grass will be tall enough to hide them. A week earlier, and they would have been too young to leave the den. The vixen slipped up the hill again, and her young did not reappear.

The den is only as far from the mailbox as our house is, dug into the sunken foundation of a long-vanished outbuilding. I am only a few steps away from those kits whenever I gather the mail. A couple of weeks ago I walked over to that old foundation to see if there were any fox signs, but it is far easier to trace the vixen by her cries in the night — circling around our pasture — than by footprints during the day. I wasn’t even sure the den was really there. Now I know. I won’t go back again until midsummer, but I cannot stop watching.

When I say the grace of wildness, what I mean is its autonomy, its self-possession, the fact that it has nothing to do with us. The grace is in the separation, the distance, the sense of a self-sustaining way of life. That vixen may rely on us for a duck or a chicken now and then, and to keep the woodland from closing in. How she chose to den so close to us is beyond me. The answer is probably as simple as an available hole. But our only choice is to leave her alone, to give her enough room to raise the next generation.

1 comment:

  1. Boo, hiss, it says I must be a "Times Select" member to read the blog (I'm too cheap to pay to read anything on the internet). Sounds like something I would like. I live in the country, but not as "far out" as he does. I would love to live somewhere really wild and untamed. The most interesting animal encounter I've had here is having an opossum come up to the porch to eat cat food.