7:01 a.m. 27 degrees, wind E 1 mph. Sky: pale blue and empty, a faint rose
infusion. Last night dense fog, this morning frost, frozen raindrops fixed
to twigs like confection. A bleached, crystalline world. Permanent streams:
although the lower stream carries more water, it's quicker to shrink and
dry than the upper, which has a deeper, more dependable source. Of course,
you wouldn't know that today; bold babble on a cold morning carries far up
the road. Wetlands: a catch-basin for dense air, which drains downhill like
water and settles with iron's confidence. Glazed marsh, glazed alders,
glazed islands of sweet gale. Red squirrels, more shiver than chatter, a
rustling of the teeth. Pond: frozen over, slush to ice. Some portions
polished smooth; others, jigsaw pieces with raised edges, aqueous sutures
stitching the lid together. Nine circles of varying diameters, thinner,
clearer ice. A moment of mystery, a question imposed . . .
An otter paid a call under the gibbous moon. Likely, arrived from the
marsh, via the culvert under the road. Up the rock retaining wall, fur
dripping. Through the black-plastic overflow culvert and into a dark pond,
sealed shut. Surfaced nine times, each hole bludgeoned open from below.
Skull thick as a brick. Ice shards fixed to the surface like broken panes
of glass, fragments form an abstract tangram. Swimming in circles,
the otter authored the newest ice, now glass clear. One hole, mid pond: two
crayfish claws, frozen in and frosted, the residue of a midnight snack.
Gray squirrel at the feeder before sunrise, before jays, before chickadees.
A hidden hairy woodpecker tapping a pole-sized pine snag . . . woodland
Western Union. Fourteen crows commute north; *caws* rain down on a frozen
valley. A cheerful flock of red-breasted nuthatches. One walks down pine
and forages in a mat of frozen leaves, every step the faint tinkle and
crackle of tiny feet. Somewhere, the delicate whisper of a brown creeper. A
raven, loud and loquacious, passes high overhead, well behind the
My valley is like the *Sunday Times* crossword puzzle. An assortment of
questions, a few answers ironclad, most inaccessible. Several involve an
educated guess . . . like an otter's nighttime visit. I am the valley's
witness. I note questions posed, and answers suggested. Rife with mystery
and rapture, the valley enables me, at least for a few moments, to forget
my own predicament. To revel in the notion of a dark otter, dripping wet.