Winter Eyrie: “Safe Haven” by Bethany Sanders

March is ending, and the magnolia, cherry, crocus, and other blossoms are still promising to appear – maybe by Easter. I was worried that a winter-themed collaboration would seem ridiculous if it stretched into April, but the chilly weather and drooping hemlocks in the woods make the series still very fitting.

The penultimate contribution to the Winter Eyrie project is a piece by Bethany Sanders that offers comfort, coziness, and wonder. Her excellent description of the textures and nuances of the senses – especially smell, taste, and hearing – made me want to pay more attention to the wonders of my own world. Enjoy!

Safe Haven

by Bethany Sanders

I could feel the light even before my eyes learned how to open. The light didn’t feel like my mama or my brothers, nor like my blanket, nor did it feel like the inexorable wooden edges of my world. It was a gentle pressure–gentler than my mama’s tongue, gentler than my mama’s fur, gentler even than my mama’s breath–but it had neither scent nor sound. The cold air was biting at my skin because my brother had kicked off our bedding, but I felt warmth seeping into my skin from behind the cold. When I tilted my head in the direction of the warmth something sparked and flashed behind my eyelids. I scrabbled at the ground and turned so that I faced towards the warmth. The presence of it remained steady, and I knew that there was something warm which looked at me and breathed towards me beyond the fearful shivery sea of air. 

Then my mama pulled my bedding back over me, and the blaze behind my eyelids winked out, and I snuggled deeper into the warm nest.

My world was imbued with smells; the oaky-bright scent of heartwood, the earthy mineral smell of shredded bark, the sharp pungent odor of moss, and the sweet green scent of leaves. And of course there was Mama and my two brothers. Their scents were as complex and layered as the rings on a tree. They smelled like . . . well, they smelled like themselves. How can you describe someone’s name except by saying it? I would know their scent from any other. 

When my ears finally opened it was like the touch of the world became threefold. The papery touch of the leafy bedding against my shoulder was now accompanied by a rustling and crinkling, and the chiding chuk-chuk-chuk of my mama echoed in the nest whenever we rolled out of the bedding. The shifting press of my siblings’ sides now came with the soft sound of breathing. Strange echoes and fragments of sound slipped in from a specific area over our heads. Sometimes I would hear the scrabbling footsteps of Mama from the area, and then her sounds and scent would fade away. Then her step would sound from the unknown, and she would land lightly among us with strange and pungent scents rippling from her fur. The world was more than I had known, much more.

Then one day, my eyelids slipped apart, and the distant warmth coalesced into brilliant patches of color. The area of the unknown was a circle that blazed with light which then splashed gold across the floor. That was the nest entrance. That was out. I was in.

When I snuffled my way over to the entrance and looked out, my heart filled up with longings. I longed for the sweet scent of green, to feel the twigs spring under my paws, to run and leap like my mama. I sat on the entrance, curling my newly-grown tail over my back, and felt joy. Run and leap I will! For I have a place to run back to when I see the cat’s tail or feel the hawk’s shadow.

Bethany Sanders

Bethany Sanders has been drawing ever since she could hold a pencil, but storytelling has always been her deepest longing. After reading Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Bethany realized that comics were a medium that combined her love of drawing and writing. She received her BFA in Painting from Herron School of Art and Design in 2013 and has created paintings and comics ever since.