Crepuscular, a word drawn from the Latin word for “twilight,” is a term for animals that are active primarily at dawn and dusk.
I’m sitting in bed drinking my first cup of the morning. The days are getting noticeably longer. Light is already filtering through the curtains. It’s warm outside too, eerily warm. These sublime days of sunshine and near eighty degree temperatures have been a little unsettling, February is supposed to be the grayest, coldest and bleakest month of the year, yet here we are, another early spring already arrived in the southern highlands.
Uh oh, Chica’s barking. I sit for a minute, listening, hoping she’ll quit of her own accord. Nope. I jump out of bed, open the window and holler, “Chica, stop barking at those crepuscular critters.” Her bark obligingly fades to a low growl.
Hopping back in bed, I have to laugh at myself. ‘Crepuscular critters.’ Hmmm, that’s an interesting turn of phrase. My mother, the farm girl from Sugar Tree, used to say ‘critters’ but I never heard her say ‘crepuscular.’ I shake my head at the realization that my speech patterns are a peculiar conglomeration of my mother’s rural Tennessee dialect and the bookish vocabulary of an over educated boob. (The boob being I.)
Then I reconsider. Maybe I’m not all that peculiar. After all, Appalachia is, like everywhere else, changing. Maybe a little too fast.
Sipping my coffee, I wonder what sort of crepuscular critter has caught Chica’s attention. Surveying the woods beyond the fence, I don’t see any deer. Maybe there’s a skunk out there. But the windows are open and I don’t smell anything. I love skunks or what my mother used to call ‘pole cats.’ They’re such beautiful little critters. There’s one in particular with a predominantly white back that I take care to avoid, sitting in my car sometimes, to watch her waddle off the drive way and back into the woods before getting out of my car.
I ponder that word ‘peculiar,’ even saying it aloud, testing it on my tongue. ‘Peculiar’ was one of Daddy’s favorite words, one he used to say in a wry rather than disparaging tone, as I recall. Still alone, in the half light, I consider how the faint tang of skunk spray wafting on the wind at a distance has a peculiarly pleasant, albeit wild, odor yet up close and personal, is downright sickening. Mysterious.
Inhaling the aroma of the Sumatra coffee my husband bought the other day, I watch the sky lighten over the mountains. The woods are waking up now too. A dissimulation of birds— robins, cardinals, finches, sparrows, wax wings, mocking birds and my favorites, the mourning doves— fills the air with song. The Barred Owl too gives one last hoot before retiring to the fir tree to sleep off the night. I wonder what he breakfasted on. Sometimes, in the wee hours, I hear the shreiks of a wee, whimpering beastie as a Barred Owl rips and gulps its flesh. I shut my eyes and try to imagine the horror of being eaten alive.
If nature isn’t cruel, it’s surely ruthless.
Now a peculiar light floods the woods. Beyond the trees, it looks like it’s already raining up on Wind Rock Mountain. If I want to take a walk before the rain moves down in the valley, I better get this day started. One last scalding swig of coffee and I’m up. Where are my boots? Where are my house keys? Why am I here and what am I doing?
I don’t know. I still haven’t figured all that out. I wonder how many other women my age have. I’m content to spend time in the quiet solitude of the woods, reading, playing the piano, taking walks, sitting on the porch, watching the wind and trees while I listen to the spring peepers in the ravine and the wild lonely sounding cries of the hawks that circle overhead.
Am I peculiar? Probably; a peculiar piddler of sorts, I suppose, as I muck and putter through my remaining days. But in old age, I find meaning, contentment, and even wonder in the small, simple life I lead in these beautiful woods here in the mountains of East Tennessee.
In less than a month, I’ll be 66. Life is so very kind to me; I have much to celebrate.