Saturday, October 31, 2009

October, or On Animals

     Every season has its signals, on earth as well as in the heavens. Certainly the bird is a harbinger of spring, or indeed anything that flies; Cupid himself is winged in the spring, and all of the animals that bring in spring have wings, whether they are larks, swallows, butterflies, or, as stated, Love itself. Summer is the season of the elements, the sun, wind, water and earth, and therefore pertains to elemental beings, such as nymphs and rusalkas and vodníks and he bird of fire and the Noon Witch and the Wild Girl, ethereal, bare, nude creatures which cannot be conceived of in inclement or bad weather. And finally autumn shows itself in thickly-pelted beasts, covered in sorrel coats or those of chestnut brown, like the autumn leaves, like every ripened thing of autumn; it is the time of stags, fawns, boars, and foxes, the time when the men stop scaring the girls and start hunting hairy beasts instead. All Souls' Day signifies the mark which reminds us that the year is moving into a time focused on the home and hearth; like the souls of the departed, the imps of the home, pig-sticking, fire crackling, and books.

     I have never shot an animal as long as I have lived, but whenever I meet a squirrel in the October woods, or a fox or a stag and fawns, I have the feeling that I have somehow stepped into another world, into their world, for October involves them more secretly than any other time of the age. In summer coming across a buck is like coming across a pretty girl; may God keep you, girl, you needn't fear me. But coming across a deer in autumn is like coming upon a god or something altogether ancient; you hold your breath and stand still so as not to commit sacrilege; you are ashamed to give your astonishment its true name, which is reverence.


     I tell you, every stag is something like the stag of St. Hubert, when its stands, head raised, crowned with a massive and shaggy cloud of antlers, ears pricked up, frozen in noble watchfulness, it is as if there actually were something like a cross glowing atop its head. Yes, if I were a holy Christian man, I would certainly see a glowing cross there as well, but since I am a confused man of little faith, I see no cross, but some sort of large and unclear sign. O hunter, do not aim at the buck's forehead, for that would be a sin, aim for the heart instead, and fire, your heart constricted with horror and passion. Do not disturb the crown on that animal's head and do not break the symbol off its forehead; and when you hang those antlers on the wall, do it like a conqueror placing he stolen crown of a vanquished king into safekeeping. For even a stolen crown is an subject worthy of its own reverence.


     This did not happen to me, for my vocation can be described as being somewhat more puerile and uncertain--but there was this solid, firm man, keen as a knife and hard as stone, I tell you, there are few molded from such clay as this. So right in front of him in an October glade there appeared twenty, fifty, a hundred of the lightest and unhurried deer, with royally-antlered stags on guard; and there that man held his breath and almost trembled in awe or reverence and whispered that it was something out of a myth, something out of the past; he stood there so long and then left so quietly, more quietly than he would ever have trodden in a chapel or any holy place; and a good hour after this apparition he spoke in hushed tones like never before. I bear witness to you, that beasts in October have carry some great and godly secret with them.


     It is perhaps because of this that hunters, when they return from waiting, speak in exceptionally loud and boisterous tones, to shake off that strange and silencing magic. "Here's what happened," one cries at full volume. "A deer approached me, a hundred and fifty paces off; I watched it for an hour and I couldn't get a shot. God, boys, you should have seen it!" "And I had one for half an hour; right when I got to the spot it was right across the glade." "I had mine in the heart from seventy paces, but that's not much of a shot. What a time we had today. God, I wish I'd gotten the buck I saw yesterday!"

     Yes, for the most beautiful deer are always the ones that got away. Obviously St. Hubert saw his most beautiful buck, the one with the cross, from a hundred and eighty paces; know that otherwise he would have certainly bagged it and the burning cross on its forehead. Right in the heart.



[Seasonally appropriate. Outstanding. I had to skip about thirty/forty pages what with the months of inactivity, but I've gotten back on track. This thumb injury's been good for footnotes today, St. Hubert and the rusalka can be found on Wikipedia, I'm sure.]

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