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December 2006, vol 2 no 4

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Frances Ruhlen McConnel

Retirement

October, walking on Puzzey Road near Albion, New York, through land that used to be my uncle's farm, I pass fat black and orange banded caterpillars going my way. Or rippling toward me, or crossing the roadway, left to right, right to left, and sometimes smashed flat. A few light gold ones among them—perhapsa different species? Though it's the same shape, same fuzz, which I can see is bristly as the spines on bunny ear cactus. I count three dozen on my hour's walk.

Frost last night and yet I hear crickets, katydids, peepers. Many voices beating in withering soy bean plants, the umber, brittle corn.

Where are they off to—another crop to level, even this late in the season, or are they omens of disasters ahead, or just dupes of some blind drive to nothingness?

For me, stretching my legs is taking a call to be free, free of the small, cluttered house, too much like my own and not the echoing farmhouses I knew there as a child. Free of my uselessness to take part in aunt and uncle's chores, the ones retired dairy farmers need to keep life perking—those who haven't left for Florida. Or, wait, I know, these caterpillar migrants are looking for their own Florida.

Inch by inch
clouds across the sky,
the striding sun