6:42 a.m. 43 degrees, wind S 0 mph, a raw sunrise; the sort of morning that
steered Ishmael to sea. *Whenever I find myself growing grim about
the mouth*, wrote Melville,* whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my
soul . . *. Sky (and Earth): a vaporous bundle. Permanent streams:
refreshed by last night's rain but definitely not up to par; less than
mid-marsh visibility; fog muffles both vision and hearing. Pond:
wind-organized pine needles crowd into south cove; form enchanting
patterns, tightly arrayed like iron filings administered by a magnet. I
step through the roof of a mole tunnel, then follow the excavation to the
water's edge, very likely the work of a star-nosed mole, a wetland
*insectivore* with a tentacled nose.
Blue jays flying in and out of red oaks; some squawking, some reticent, all
yanking acorns off stout twigs; crops bulge like goiters, four or five
acorns per bird. Blue jays harvest only healthy acorns; plant them one at a
time, here and there, just under the leaf litter. Blue-jay planted nuts
left uneaten sprout nearly ninety percent of the time; those that fall off
the tree only about ten percent, which may explain why oaks spread north so
quickly after the Ice age; according to pollen analysis, on average three
hundred eighty yards per year. (Compare that to the spruces, whose
windblown seeds moved north approximately two hundred seventy yards per
year.) Jays travel miles between roosting and feeding sites and storage
sites, dispersing both cacophonous notes and acorns. The red oaks of Coyote
Hollow echo collective decisions made by communities of blue
jays—selecting, dispersing, caching, retrieving—over the past century . . .
the distribution of oaks in eastern North America represents an alliance
between jays and trees over a period of time that exceeds human memory.
Gray squirrel, not nearly as well-traveled as a blue jay, gets far too much
credit as a forester. (And, unlike jays, squirrels hoard their harvest in
*much* deeper piles).
Calculatingly nonchalant, five chickadees tear beaked hazelnut catkins off
twigs, small, paired, sausage-shaped male flowers, set in place for next
April. Each bird takes a catkin to another perch, holds it in place with
its toes, and then pecks off the anterior end. Surfeit or bored, chickadees
eat for a few minutes, then move on, voices lingering behind them.
I guess Ishmael didn't have Nantucket blue jays and chickadees to buoy his
spirits. In overcast Vermont, post-*Color,* my mobility hijacked by a
virus; I have chickadees and blue jays to animate even the darkest,
dankest, most dismal morning. Living things have meaning in terms of what
they do, an ineluctable truth . . . blue jays and chickadees, most
companionable of birds, do a lot for me.