January 2018
48.760069 N, 123.698745 W

I spent the 2017 holidays at Keating Farm on Vancouver Island. In the fall, the farm was a harvest bustle with canning and pressing, cooking and storing. But by December, the land had given itself to the deep rest of winter, a silent sleep beneath fallen leaves and snow, where the verdant spring to come lay locked in dreams. I stayed as a caretaker, loving the old cat and feeding the hearth. It was a quiet time for me as well, a time to read and think. A time for my own dreams.

Between the warm farmhouse and the cold, icy orchard lay the huge porch from which I could watch the Dexter cattle, hear the passing geese, smell the wood fire burning brightly inside. I took my morning coffee there, wrapped in fleece blankets. Then moved my computer to the outdoor worktable to write or listen to audio books. From the porch I watched the orange sunrise and the pink-to-grey sunset. I wrote poetry about the white land, white trees and white sky all merged in sameness. I watched the wet snow break tree limbs and drop them silently to their snowy graves.

I was not camping, because it was much too cold out on the land. Nor was I really living inside the farmhouse, lovely though it was.  I was satisfied porching...living neither indoors nor out, in a half-state where nature continually calls me out but my human frailties force me in for warmth or food or safety. Once, when the electricity was out for a day, I knew if I had my small propane camp stove and a cot. I might have moved out of the house for the entire winter.

Early one morning, several hours before dawn, I was on the porch collecting logs to feed the wood stove. Across the orchard, only the tree trunks stood black against endless white snow, freshly fallen. I stood in awe of the stark simplicity, the deep, silent peace of a land asleep.

From the blackness of a tree trunk emerged a faceless man in heavy boots and dark clothes. His arms swayed lightly, like tree limbs in a wind, but there was no wind. Even in the surreality of my poetry and art, a tree does not move with such treacherous plodding.  Standing in the dark, I watched and listened, my awe rent entirely by fear.

‘Who’s there! What do you want?’ I called. My firm voice belied all my insecurities. Only the slush of boots on snow answered. ‘Who are you?’ I demanded, as though someone lurking around a rural farmhouse in the dead dark might really give me a name.

My old dog had gone out to pee. Since he’s deaf, I couldn’t call him inside. Since he’s blind and has lost his sense of smell, he didn’t register the approach of a stranger, nor did he share my urgency to get behind locked doors. He simply assumed we were out for some midnight porching. He would come back to me in his own sweet time. Should I leave him in the freezing night or wait while the lurking stranger got closer?  Ever the servant of my pets, I waited, hiding my ample body behind a narrow post.

Finally I grabbed the dog and drug him inside, bolting the door and melting into a puddle of adrenaline and fear. The heavy footsteps wrapped around the side of the house, heading out toward the road. I crawled on hands and knees through the dark house to find my phone and call the RCMP, who didn’t actually call back for 24 hours to make sure I was okay. Apparently they patrolled the road looking for lurkers, but finding none, they returned to more pressing crimes.

In the morning light, I returned to porching with my coffee and fleece. I checked for booted footprints but found only slush. I spent a lot of that day near the wood fire, hugging the cat and the deaf dog, checking locked doors and windows, and thinking about the gift of each sunrise. I live in a state of grace, protected by unknown energies I can only imagine in my fractured philosophy. But a man wandering dark and alone through sleeping trees - possibly without a home that’s warm, without an orchard in fall, without a porch on which to dream...what energies protect him? Once my fear abated, I felt only sadness for those who live in shadows.

Keating Farm.  The Porch.

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