My shell never slips askew. Pupil never dims. Beak never dulls. Leather never pales. Dew glistens on my legs and head, my under-tile. Yes, the mould sometimes clings to my back as I rise in April. Yes, I carry the dishabille of earth for a time.
Mr. Gilbert White writes to nephew Samuel Barker.
"When a man first rouses himself from a deep sleep, he does not look very wise; but nothing can be more squalid and stupid than our friend, when he first comes crawling out of his hibernacula."
Who watches the curate wake? How wise does he look at bed-break? Who judges him so dispassionately?
Late on summer nights he comes into the garden. To see if the bat still flies. To observe by candle-light what moths and earwigs do in the dark. He appears without false hair. Candle held to one side. Pale natural skull like a half moon under his stubble. He clasps together the waist of a coat thrown over his open shirt. Hiding the animal within. Bare calves beneath, spindles of flesh. He does not look very wise, tossing stones into the hedge to make the sedge-bird sing its night song.
Mr. Gilbert White quotes the poet's lines at my advent every spring. Timotheus he calls me then. Timotheus, he says,
Has rais'd up his head,
As awak'd from the dead;
And amaz'd he stares around.
Amaz'd, yes, I do stare around. Awaked from nearer the dead than Mr. Gilbert White imagines.
Light pours in. Soft mist. Walnut tree as bare as it was when I began digging. Sky as rude. Wind still chafes, and for several nights I return to my winter's nest. But earthworms already writhe in endless venery. Heat of the loam comes on apace. A growing weather. Everything connected to earth by root or foot feels it coming. Has felt it coming for many weeks. Beeches break bud. Apricot blossoms. Dog's-toothed violets blow.
I am late for the first flush of the season. Honeybee warming itself on a clod. Mr. Gilbert White tunning his strong-beer, new green in the wheat. But spring folds open as I wake, returned from my slow submersion. Winter has fled northward on icy legs, carrying off the dead. Sweet reviving breeze calls all the living away from grief. Soft red evenings, day after day. Crimson sun pulsing at the far end of the Hanger. A swarming heat in the air. Good for the husbandman. Warmth runs far ahead of the light, exhausting all of creation. Pitiless ambition of the expanding season.
Gander leads the sow by the ear away from the sitting goose. Birdsong before first light until well into the night. Voice of the cuckoo in the Hanger.
Excerpted from Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg Copyright © 2006 by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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