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The Great Divide: Apples in Winter

Posted: 03/02/10 11:53 AM ET

I hear his step before I feel his bare arms around me. His embrace is like a warm sweater. My nose is pressed against the chilled window. I never tire of watching snow fall. Tonight it is falling hard. It is piling like tufts of whipped cream on the concrete bird bath, the green birdhouse I decorated with a red cardinal, the picket fence. The storm silences the mountain pass. Boxwoods droop like slackened shoulders under the weight of eight or so inches. Tree branches groan each time they smack against the clapboards.

"It's so beautiful out there," my husband whispers, kissing the crook of my neck.

"I know," I say, pulling him even tighter around me.

"It is beautifully surreal -- but I worry about the animals."

He tugs me toward the bed.

I wonder if other people are as freighted with angst as I am when they gaze out their windows during a blizzard. Do they imagine where the deer are hunkered down? Wonder with unease whether the young or the sick will survive this relentless blizzard?

"They're wild animals," my husband points out drolly.

"Yes, of course they are," I say.

Like a child who thinks about animals as storybook characters, I do too. My otherwise rational mind drifts into a reverie in which I corral the herd in my living room and urge them to warm up by the fire. I might even serve them a warm pot of cocoa and biscuits before my imagination yields to reality.

I don't know if my affliction for worrying about wild things relates to my city-girl roots. Until five years ago, I lived in brick towers high in the sky in Manhattan. The scene out of my window during a blizzard may have revealed a human, dressed in dark wool, bent forward into the storm, moving toward shelter. The image from high above would have conjured Impressionist paintings or nostalgic New York postcards. It would not have made me sad.

A city girl believes in stories like Charlotte's Web. The deer outside my window may be as common as pigeons in Time Square but they are not invisible or anonymous to me. They are woven into the passage of day, the changing of the seasons. Their feeding at dusk portends the sun sinking behind the wavy outline of the mountains. Lean, nearly gray-coated bodies, speak of a winter still in progress. Antlers suggest fecundity. Does learning to steady themselves on our steep wooded slope complete the life cycle? But by late summer, a vague angst creeps into my body, into my mind. Another long harsh winter is coming.

New York State forbids feeding whitetail deer. It says so on a government web site. I pretend not to know that. Instead, I drive to Conklin's Orchards each week and purchase crates of rotten crab apples. Every few days I pitch the shrunken fruit into the woods, dabbing the blanket of snow with spots of color. They congregate, more each time, and eat what has mysteriously fallen in their path. A storybook tale.

One day I notice a deer's head is cocked back and her entire body looks paralyzed. I squint through my window. Thick saliva is frothing from both sides of her mouth. Then she jolts her head back and forth, convulsively. I scream and run for my coat. The deer is choking on an apple.

By the time I fling open the front door a piece of apple shoots from the deer's mouth like a spit-ball. She regains her composure and prances off into the woods. I drop onto a wooden bench and breathe deeply to make my dizziness stop.

"If that deer had died, it would have been my fault," I say aloud to nobody.

This has been quite a lesson. The following week I bring home another crate of apples but this time I peel paper labels from the skins and quarter them before hurling the fruit like snowballs into the woods.