8 Meetings Nobody Scheduled

1. The Sea Turtle. Rapt in the rhythm of pulling my canoe across the brackish bay, I was unprepared for the encounter: a barnacled shell split the surface inches from my outstretched palm. A pair of eyes met mine in shared brilliant shock. I had not known sea turtles could scream, but I swear to you that as I shrieked and fumbled and nearly swamped the canoe, this sea turtle screamed silently too before rushing gape-beaked to the bay’s grassy bottom.

2. The Centipede. As it munched on mites and midges in a sweet recess of rotten log, the centipede could not have known what cataclysm was to visit it next. Even if the creature possessed the cognitive capacity to guess, and even if it had a thousand guesses, it could not have prepared itself. Nor could I have known before I ripped apart the white mycelia and tender flakes of wood pulp that I was a monster, a giant, a disaster.

3. The Dolphins. I shouldn’t have followed the pair of dorsal fins as they passed through the small break in the mangrove. They were hunting, corralling a school of fish into a silted cove. I knocked my paddle against the canoe’s gunnel absentmindedly, and the animals fled, giving up their dinner for the sake of their lives.

4. The Raven. How long had I been gawking leg-loose over the sweep of the canyon? Long enough for the raven to have missed my arrival. It pushed up from below on an eddy of air and nearly raked me across broadside, almost bowling me over the thousand-foot edge—and me without my wings!

5. The Moose. I slammed on the bike’s brakes, rubber skidding on asphalt. The moose swiveled its great muzzle in unison with two flapping sailcloths-for-ears. I careened to a lurching halt near enough to take hold of its whiskers—and near enough for it to stomp me to mush. I cast my eyes about wildly in search of a calf, quite confident that of all the creatures in all the world, a defensive cow moose was just about the worst one to surprise. Or so I thought.

6. The Wolverine. All blood and muscle and bone and tooth, the beating body pitched across the tundra. I counted the seconds. One-one-thousand. Two-one-thousand. Three . . . Then it was over the pass and gone. And I breathed again.

7. The Hunter. On the final Saturday before rifle season, I pulled on my shoes and shorts and made for the aspen. The day gulped me up with its shine, its loam, its bright glint slashing through the skein of trees. I galloped through the forest. Leaves blew about me like lost coins. This was how it felt to be an animal! This was the rush of skin, rock, heart, sky! I winged around a bank and met the boom of a voice: Dammit, son! Facing me with a bow at his side, arrow nocked, stood a hunter, gasping. I’d have shot right through you!

8. The Hairy Ape. It wasn’t a mirror, really, just a burnished piece of stainless steel. Five weeks I’d been out on the river, long enough for my temples to turn thick, my beard to fade to orange, and my eyes to forget how they were supposed to look. I swear to you that when I first caught sight of them they were an animal’s eyes, full of fear and startle and surprise.

Alex Carr Johnson migrates seasonally between the Sierra Nevada of eastern California and the West Elk Range of western Colorado. His essay “How to Queer Ecology” appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Orion.


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