How it is that things intervene.
Earlier, I was thinking that I would write tonight about the night my Clintonian (but then still Ithacan) friend and I drove all over Rochester on a blisteringly cold November Monday, trying to find a restaurant that would feed us dinner but that wasn't a diner. We drove around the city for two hours. Every time we found a place that seemed like a good candidate--a Thai restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a pan-Asian noodle joint, a Japanese restaurant, even our last-ditch try, a swanky hipster bar/bistro--we'd find out that they'd just closed a few minutes earlier. The situation grew more and more dire, the more we drove around the city. Finally, at about 10:15 p.m., we gave up and went to Wegmans, our mainstay, and bought ingredients for seafood fettucine alfredo. This dish is a good standby in times of culinary need, because it's so rife with shortcuts. Choose your favorite brand of noodles. Choose the bottled alfredo sauce that seems best (read: least full of partially hydrogenated oils). Choose your favorite version of faux seafood (I am partial to faux crab, myself). Boil the noodles. Heat the faux seafood with the faux alfredo sauce. Mix it all together. It will taste delicious.
I was thinking about this meal tonight because my Clintonian friend was just here yesterday, and also because I cooked myself some Faux Fettucine tonight. I wandered through the earlier part of the day before finally driving to the store in the late afternoon to get some groceries, and fairly inventive ones (for me), at that. Pasta in heavy sauce with fake crab felt like a good idea at the time--and in fact turned out to have been a good idea.
What's funny about my writing plans, though, is that they were scuppered a bit by what happened while I cooked. I've mentioned that one wall of my kitchen is basically a sliding patio door. When the fettucine was nearly done boiling, I turned to wash my hands at the kitchen sink, and when I turned again to dry them, I realized with more than a small start that a full-grown doe was standing in the middle of the backyard, also recovering from more than a small start at having seen me suddenly appear at the window. I clambered as soft-footedly as I could into the other room to try and get a picture for you, but the whole photographing deer thing really doesn't work so well at this time of year and in the kind of weather we had today. My only even vaguely viable shot only included three of the four deer who had actually been standing in the yard when I happened to look out and experience a moment of mutual shock with one of them. All four high-tailed it out of the yard, running around to the front of the house and then across the street and onto the college's property--where they proceeded to join five other deer who had already congregated there. Nine deer now. I have a theory about why I'm seeing more deer banding together than ever before: in part because of the protests of my neighbor (who hates the deer for eating his plants and shrubs, despite his having shrouded said plants and shrubs in chickenwire), Gambier orchestrated a legal deer hunt this winter, a kind of second season, to try and thin out their ranks. I wonder whether the ones that are left have now turned to one another, in compensation for the ones who've been lost. I realize that I anthropomorphize. (Here's your evening's etymology lesson, by the way: the verb "high-tail" originated in the U.S. in the 1920s and comes straight from the way some animals--deer included--flee with their tails erect.)
As I stood in the evening-dark house, holding a camera that hadn't managed to get a good image of any of that fright and scurry and regrouping, I thought back to the best image of my drive home from the grocery. Tonight I deliberately took one route to the store and another route home, thereby executing a kind of circle around a particular corner of my world, and my deliberate purpose, as I told it to myself, was to check on everything and see whether anything was different. These were the words in my head as I drove eastward on US-36. I can only imagine that checking on everything encompassed seeing whether any fields have sprung into early green, or whether any livestock are out in different array, or whether the stubble from last year's crop looks different in steely grey evening, which is not when I'm usually out driving that route. No to spring green, yes to livestock (I saw two white horses and a brown miniature donkey that I want to call wee despite redundancy), and a bit to steely stubble. But as I approached the junction of 36 and OH-308, which brought me back to Gambier, I was looking at a barn I quite like, on the north side of the highway: it's not a ruin yet, by any means, but it looks to be less used than perhaps it once was. Its roof is rusted, its walls greying wood with some of their white paint still on, its roofline topped by three evenly spaced lightning rods, the middle of which is also a weathervane. This barn sits a little ways from the road, in a slight declivity, and its rusted roof sets it off from the wintered gold of what's left of last year's corn. I really do like this barn, in much the same way that I realized, as I drove toward the interstate at the outset of my trip a couple of weeks ago, that I really do like mid-Ohio's landscape, its modest hills and small expanses and little streams. Much as I chafe against it sometimes, this alternately bleak and fertile landscape, punctuated with ruin and loveliness and neglect and perpetuated life and idiocy and grace, is home to my eye.
Just as I clicked on my right turn signal, I noticed, off in the distance (and still to my left, on the north side of the highway), a herd of deer standing in a far field, barely distinguishable from the brown monochrome of the lessening light, the hill-rippled rows, the horizon of trees still bare but soon to be leafing. I didn't have time to count them. I barely had time to register them. They were not majestic at that distance. They were tiny, negligible, utterly quiet, curiously unstill. They were a quick glimpse, an absence of color, a presence of life in low light, a closed camouflaged congregation, a weird complement to a girl alone in a car, heading home to stand by a stove in the memory of a meal shared.