The day was at first too perfect, too quiet, and too private to mention
I didn’t know how to say that the reemergence of the newts
from their winter slumber made me feel both young again
and at peace with aging. I’d just read an essay by Donald Hall
about how in his elder years he simply stares
out the window at his family farm, basking in tradition.
It was a pleasant essay, heartfelt as he remembered his granddad
working the Hall family plot in New Hampshire.
But it made me feel shitty, with no land and no granddad,
made me feel like a hairy little migrant coyote turd
who might never have a window of my own to gaze out of
in leisurely old age. I might be a bag lady by then.
My sympathetic husband suspected my emotionally diminished state
and suggested we take our annual hike in the rain to the salamander spot,
to see if they’d emerged from their streamside dirt holes
for some rainy bathing. Standing out there in our slickers,
we counted near a hundred, feeling akin and amphibian
as we struggled not to crush orange creatures crawling everywhere.
Burnished pals ambled in friendship over leaf litter, hidden
by bay laurel and oak. They beached themselves,
exposing their yellow bellies until flipping right side up
to continue their eager trek away from the stream,
should it flood in the rainfall. We had not seen them
in two years since severe wildfires scorched the terrain.
It made me glad to learn they survived the flames,
as medieval bestiaries claim salamandaers’ coldness combats heat.
It made me feel as glad, I bet, as Donald Hall feels,
staring across his field at his beloved, collapsing barn.
Maybe more glad, if it’s a contest, because
I rejoice at uncontrollable things, and he at the tamed.
On the trail, I paused to consider my joy. The newts
are my family who have survived the Hot War.
Squirmy babes in the mist. Cousins who burrowed
through the center of the earth. Sisters, smiling,
looking healthier than ever, despite having witnessed
all their nests smolder into charcoal. I am on the move like them.
Hopefully I’ll never be as physically clammy,
but I will go where I need to.
Wild animals, remaining unkempt,
are my beacons.