6:49 a.m. 25 degrees, wind SE 4 mph. Sky: taut cloud cover, uniformly gray,
featureless as an unrumpled sheet. Untainted snow . . . micro flakes that
whiten the forest floor and mark the open air, stinging my eyes, chilling
my cheeks, gathering on the coats of dogs, a light, stable dusting, absent
since the first week of May. Permanent streams: water rushes around
white-capped rocks. Wetlands: white on beige, reduced visibility. Pond:
snow-surfaced ice, trackless. A half-moon of open water against the eastern
shore, gift of a leaky hillside.
Three ravens, ambassadors from another valley, preceded by their voices.
Growls. Croaks. And a percussive knocking. Corvid dialogues,
complicated discussions. Doppler into the morning from beyond Robinson
Hill. Louder and louder and louder. Then the birds, coal-black and
inquisitive. Miss nothing. Read the world from aloft. Know where they're
going . . . above the marsh, the pond, the eastern flank, toward the big
river, whitened by snow. And, gone.
A fourth raven appears, plays catchup. Follows the vocal trail, great black
wings like awnings, stretched and barely flapping. Big-brained bird, an
avian Mensa. Although buoyant chickadees and nuthatches filled the nearby
pines and maples, I can't stop watching the fourth raven, alone in a sky
brushed with snow. Calling. Wanting. Seeking companionship, three minutes
behind his friends, having dawdled at the evergreen roost. Late on the
hemlock branch reading Mary Oliver?
Does he see the trio far ahead, black dots in the gray? Raven, a triumph of
vision and will flaps over the hill and out of sight, a kitchen-sink of
bird. Black as the Queen of Spades, voice trailing off like static.
Yesterday, I got the news that an old college friend died of COVID-19,
alone, serving a life sentence in a Texas prison. An unhinged year grew
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I'll take whatever gifts the valley offers.
Life in the open air, on a bleak morning, an unconquerable joy. To be
unmoored from the pandemic, if only momentarily, something I am eternally