Through Thicket and Thin

As a poet and novelist, I’ve grown rather inured to my own
peculiarities but have long openly accepted my penchant for secret
places, mostly thickets, that I depend on almost daily for solace.
I can think of specific thickets in Michigan, including the Upper
Peninsula, but also in Arizona and New Mexico, a single place in
New York City, one in Paris, and another near a friend’s house down
in western Burgundy.

The original, the ur-thicket, was near the porch of our
childhood home in a dense collection of shrubs. I often retreated
there for hours with my dog after I was blinded in one eye by a
playmate. Soon after this ‘accident’ (intentional) I also lost the
dog because she was overly defensive, but I kept the thicket for

The prerequisite of a first-rate thicket is that I can see out
but it is unlikely that I’ll be noticed by others. It is helpful to
have a dog with me, even if it is a friend’s dog, which is the case
in Burgundy. Birds often visit. Once in a prized thicket in Arizona
during a violent rain squall I shared my thicket with dozens of
rare vermilion flycatchers. They treated me as an equal.

I don’t care for the idea of bullfighting but there is a Spanish
word, querencia, that refers to the place in the ring where
a particular bull feels the strongest, most at home, most able to
deal with his impending doom. I’m sure that my thickets offer me
peace in a life that is permanently inconsolable but reasonably
vital and productive. Thickets quickly draw off the poison. After a
few minutes of sitting, you hear your own tentative heartbeat. What
people clumsily call the ‘inner child’ gracefully rises to the
surface without much coaxing. Your normally watchful dog takes a
snooze and occasionally you doze off yourself within these few
yards of earth where you feel no dislocation and are totally at

From Michigan Quarterly Review (Summer
2000). Subscriptions: $18/yr. (4 issues) from University of
Michigan, Room 3032, Rackham Bldg., 915 E. Washington St., Ann
Arbor, MI 48109.

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