There's a little hillside that brings me to my knees. I don't want to tell too many people where it is, since there's treasure and gore and crime, but I'll tell you. Go left out my driveway and down the dirt road about a quarter mile. Take the right under the first power lines and continue down that trail north past the gate until just before you can see the beaver deceiver in the first pond. Right there by the culvert is where I start crawling. On my hands and knees I find bits of mineral treasure — mostly almandine garnets and staurolite. I've worn out a pair of pants doing this, and my pockets are lined with gravel. Garnets are like ruddy pea-sized soccer balls. I almost never find anything of gem quality here. People ask me what I'm going to do with my garnets and I've never had a better answer than hoard them, just as I've always done.
As I crouched there one afternoon picking through the pebbles, I saw a coyote cut out of the woods and saunter down the path toward me. I'd been quiet and still; it didn't notice me until we were actually muzzle to nose. I could have licked it. The coyote was startled and took a hard right. I just sat there, with a handful of gravel, forgetting to be scared.
Last winter my neighbor called and left me a message: "There's a deer carcass frozen into the right side of the first pond. It's out past the beaver deceiver; just follow my ski tracks." Her tracks and her four dogs' tracks and the coyote tracks all led to a small bloody crater, as if the iced-over pond had an open wound. Coyotes had chewed and clawed several inches of ice away to get at the carcass. Later into that very snowy winter, a lone coyote would stop by to slurp at the pale pink crust.
I was able to exchange the favor. In February I called to say that, on the other side of the beaver deceiver, I found a freshly killed turkey. It was frigid out, of course, yet I was sweating and nearly retching. But that was because I had raced home to get my camera and back again before the carcass was carried off. The whole story of the hunt was right there on the snow and ice. Back on the west shore I could see where the coyote had flushed it and began bounding across the wind-packed snow. Midway across the pond, by a gray jagged tree stump, lay a clutch of tail feathers and a scrum of paw prints. A little farther on was a sublime sight, wing prints in the snow where the coyote had pressed the bird down on its back. This had to be its last moment. From there I followed the tracks and drag marks to the carcass itself. The body was gutted and partially buried under a stump.Again I was astonished by something terrible and beautiful; the old tom's heart, the size of my fist, was laying there on the ice, gently rocking in the breeze.
This summer I found a trail freshly cut by the cops that led to a decimated patch of what had not been tomatoes growing just where the coyote had begun his chase. There is a helicopter hated in my town that hovers around in August hunting for such places. Another neighbor once left me a message saying that it had been hovering over my house a while.
Out near the beaver deceiver, the copter had overlooked a crime scene it might have enjoyed chasing down. There on the side of the first pond, sometimes submerged, depending on how the beavers' dam is going, lies something I first mistook as flesh and blood. I pushed through the hemlocks and scootched under the laurel to get down to the bank. I found a pile of American flags, a dozen or so, wadded together; I'd seen the red stripes from the trail. Plenty of trash gets dumped out there. But this seemed of a different order — a higher level of shame and transgression. I poked them with a stick, as I had with the other carcasses, but otherwise I let them be. They're bound to be there still.
÷ ÷ ÷
Corwin Ericson is an MFA graduate of UMass Amherst and the former managing editor of the Massachusetts Review. His fiction has appeared in Harper's, the Believer, jubilat, and Fence. Swell is his first novel.
Books mentioned in this post
Corwin Ericson is the author of Swell