6:51 a.m. 55 degrees, wind SW 2 mph. Sky: dawn thick and overcast, a
remnant of last night's half-hearted rain; sunrise almost indistinguishable
from dawn, a disarrangement of gray with the thrill of a passing red-tailed
hawk. Permanent and intermittent streams: volume and volume a xerox of
yesterday. Wetlands: the green thread of tall reeds that marked the main
channel now a brunette thread in a buff-colored marsh; islands of sweet
gale, where deer birthed and redwings nested, now dark-chocolate brown.
Alders drop leaves, while chickadee harvests seeds from tiny cones. Pond:
four mergansers linger for a moment—two juvenile males, two
females—swimming in tight circles, then skitter across the surface and
flush, flying low over the alders before pitching into the marsh; a sudden
departure that agitates the surface.
The road littered with aspen leaves, unmarred bright yellow, or the color
of overheated butter. Stammering crickets, a throwback to September. Most
of the robins have moved on, but voluble blue jays and nuthatches make up
for their absence, chattering, tooting, screaming, as though on holiday.
The word *topophilia* means "love of place," a complex, multilayered
emotion that the poems of Mary Oliver and the essays of Aldo Leopold and
Edward Abbey awaken without ever mentioning the word. Landscape memories
involve a jubilee of sights and sounds, smells and textures of bygone days,
which, in my case, are those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer on the beach.
I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, a short bike ride from the
salt marsh, kept wet by the tides, and from the Jones Beach, a skinny,
barrier island—seventeen miles of dunes, swales, and the eternally
pounding surf. For me, going to Jones Beach meant seeing birds, all sorts
of birds from the four corners of the continent.
One species stood out from all the rest. The marsh hawk (aka northern
harrier) was the first raptor I'd identified on my own, long-winged and
slender. Sexually dimorphic. Males, smaller than females, are
pewter-colored above, white below, with dark wingtips, as though they had
been dipped in ink. Females are mud brown and streak-chested; juveniles
have a rosy blush on their chest. Marsh hawks, light and buoyant as kites,
coursed endlessly and effortlessly over the salt marsh, wings held in a
"V." A long, steerage tail fine-tuned flight. On any given trip to the
beach, I'd spot five or six, maybe more.
Unfortunately, higher tides and more frequent flooding brought on by
climate change has greatly reduced the number of marsh hawks still
inhabiting Jones Beach since the ubiquitous and marsh-loving meadow voles,
their principal source of food, have been pushed inland by the rising sea.
Now, whenever I return to Jones Beach, a once visible and visceral
connection to my boyhood has become noticeably scarce; it's absence a
frayed strand in the fabric of memories that tether me to my coastal
roots—daydreams of green-plumed marshes and snow-white clouds, of
bare-foot, carefree summer days when time seemed to stand still.
My boys grew up here in Coyote Hollow when *Color* peaked the third week in
September, and snow arrived in November; when peepers filled the marsh in
late April and stayed through July. A robin or a bluebird in winter was a *big
*deal. In October, juncos passed through the front yard and didn't often
stick around. Almost every year, we'd see a moose. We never saw opossums.
Beech and red spruce were healthy. There was no emerald ash borer.
One vehicle I use to track Vermont's *new* weather patterns, grimly
fascinating and wretchedly unpredictable, is the appearance or absence of
dooryard birds. Simple enough. I just watch my feeders. Of course, I could
check a weather app, but as Dylan noted, *You don't need a weatherman to
know which way the wind blows*. Birds are my malleable window into an
evolving climate and an emasculated landscape.
October 23, 2020. Mid-sixties. I haven't filled my wood stove in two days.
We are the steward of our own childhood memories, and climate change and
environmental degradation have begun to exact a toll, a loss rarely spoke