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Lame Deer

CIRQUE

Jennifer Andrulli

fabricating bird feeders for friends. They were expertly crafted into the shape of little houses, worthy of sale. He made them in his wood shop, back when he had time for things like house-shaped bird feeders. Early that spring, Dad used his tractor and a borrowed excavator to clear brush from behind the house. He dug a pond-sized hole in the recently thawed ground and lined it with black visqueen. He bought a pump specifically designed for backyard ponds and built a tiny cascading waterfall, about two feet tall. He placed the pump at the base of the waterfall and directed a hose to the top of it so the pond water would be constantly aerating, circulating, moving. Dad took my brother and me to the creek to collect aquatic plants: pondweed, water milfoil, arrowgrass, lilies. We brought them home in five-gallon buckets and carefully arranged them in our plastic-lined pond. Most of these plants tolerated the transition; most of them survived until the fall.  His idea was that migrating ducks and geese would see the pond as they flew overhead. They’d stop in for a while, and maybe they’d stay. He wanted to offer them a place to rest, a home if they fancied it. When no wild birds chose to take him up on his offer, Dad decided to buy some duck-lings from the feed store in town.  He introduced us to six store-bought ducklings one morning that summer — my brother and I named them all. We kept our curious dogs away as the ducks sloshed in the pond, and we escorted them across the lawn when they wanted to explore the far reaches of their new territory. The dogs learned quickly to ignore our ducklings, and it didn’t take long before the birds were traversing the property in their little team, taunting the napping dogs

with their proximity. They’d swagger from the pond to the lawn to the forest beyond. Sometimes we’d lose them for hours in the trees. My brother and I loved hunting them down. We’d find them nestled, resting, cozied up in the duff at the base of a stand of willows. At the end of every day they came back to the pond. It became their home. Our summers in Alaska moved fast and were made up of new renditions of the same affairs almost every year: weekend fishing trips to the salty southern coasts and to the silty interior rivers, reading groups at the library in town, and explorations of the forest around our house. Over the years my brother and I built dozens of forts in the willows and alders and birch trees on our property. We’d make fort walls out of fallen or broken tree limbs that accumulated on the sodden ground, and sometimes we’d haul “found objects” from around our house into the forest. Retired office chairs, cracked flower pots, strange electronic gizmos pilfered from our dad’s laboratory. I imagine the forest around that house is still littered with these objects. We rarely returned them to the house once we’d installed them in a fort. My brother and I were quick to lose interest with a fort once we’d decorated it, once it became familiar, and we would move on to new construction as soon as we grew bored. We seldom returned to our old forts — we moved on quickly.  As the basement chest freezer filled with halibut and salmon, as we crossed the last of the titles off the summertime reading lists, as fort construction was replaced with pre-season hockey practice and the tireless pursuit of scouting badges, the ducks continued to grow.  The entire autumn season in southcentral Alaska can often be contained in a period of days, sometimes no more than a week. The forest floor all too quickly becomes an icy carpet of dark-brown fallen leaves, and the musk of rotting vegetation caught in an aggressive freeze-thaw cycle travels on every gust of wind.  In the afternoons, before the daylight became too scarce for evening outside work, my brother and I would stack the wood that our dad chopped. He struggled with our distraction as we fashioned woody mud pies from the sawdust and chucked them at the benevolent dogs. The ducks, nearly full-grown by the end of their first summer, pattered around the dying lawn, expressing their uncertainty about the change of seasons in increasingly agitated vocalizations.  There was an old chicken coop on the east end of the property, a relic of our parents’ past life, before kids and before the arrival of the big grocery store in town. We cleaned it out and repaired the fence around its perimeter,

Profile for Michael Burwell

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Profile for burwellm
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