“The Dying of the Light” by Laura Dennis

We haven’t been here for a while, my dog and I, fear of ticks and my wobbly ankle having kept us close to home. Dead leaves and underbrush now obscure the trail formerly kept clear by deer. We brush past the graying vine that marks the turn. My inner eight-year-old wants to grab on and swing. I continue walking the path instead, my feet adapting to the uneven ground. I do not yet know that my tendon is ruptured rather than sprained, that surgery will be required.

The colors came on fast this year and with them, a metamorphosis in the pond. We found this spot last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, preferring to shelter outside rather than in. Then, the pond sparkled with effervescent life, surrounded by an avian choir. Now, a woodland once lush with shades of amethyst and emerald smolders in copper and gold.

The water has receded, leaving the pond more muck than mirror. I inhale deeply, catch the smoky sweetness of moldering leaves. I breathe again and choke. I have yet to discover that this burnt-oil stench precedes the clear-cut of deforestation, that the widening slash of repaved road is but the first assault on the mountain woodland between my house and town. I think of all the creatures–mice, turtles, rabbits, even the black snakes–that we saw in the ditch line all summer long. I wonder too about the deer, the coyotes, the black bear whose scat we saw in the road one bright spring day.

I hope they got out okay.

The wind shifts. The soft spicy smell returns. What’s left of the water dances, glinting in the autumn air. Before long, the pond will lie in shadow, inseparable from the flat, gray sky. It will once again be time to shelter in, to pray for healing and repair in a winter that may never end.

I hope we get out okay.

Laura Dennis is a college professor and writer-in-progress in southeastern Kentucky. She also serves as editor of the Attachment & Trauma Network blog and book review co-editor for Mom Egg Review. Her work has been recognized in two literary contests–the Betty Gabehart Prize and the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards–and her nonfiction has been published in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Kentucky Philological Review, and MER Vox Quarterly.