6:28 a.m. 36 degrees, wind SSE 0 mph. Sky: pink in the south, pale blue in
the east; at slightly less than half, the moon hollows-out, horn buds, a
silver, shiny COVID mask . . . an old-man-in-the-moon mask; ideal for
astronomers. Sprawling ground fog flows through lowlands like a snake.
Permanent streams: merrily rolling along, the same as yesterday and day
before and the day before that. Wetlands: dark isles and pale reeds
frosted; vanishing fog, fingers of sunlight. An Ansel Adams landscape:
intimate yet alluring, a feral potato field brought back by beavers, hemmed
between hills and a lake, within the sound of traffic and church bells. A
twenty-first-century wildness, which called-out to Linny, all those years
ago . . . and I dutifully followed, an only child, watcher of birds,
catcher of snakes, the son of a haberdasher and an energetic mother. Pond:
surface motionless and empty. Milkweed pods splitting open, seeds dangling
like shredded cotton. Scrapes everywhere.
DOR: gray squirrel en route to the bird feeders
AOR: slug moving at a snail's pace (without the shell).
Blue jay performs a medley of greatest hits: shrill scream, incessant
squawk, a cry of a red-shouldered, descending scream of a red-tailed,
key-in-the-ignition tooting, pumping water, clear and musical, and an odd
assortment of whirrs, chortles, rattles, buzzes, twitters. Female downy
woodpecker draws attention to herself, hops along a familiar cherry
branch—the chestnut-sided warbler podium, where a trusting warbler sang its
heart out last June.
A chorus of red-breasted nuthatches. One picks through lichen on a pine
limb. Then, investigates the end of a busted branch. Flies to the ground
for a piece of grit. Flies back to limb. To lichen. To the stub. To ground.
Repeats steps one through three. Can't make up its mind. A forlorn robin in
an apple tree, surrounded by red-withered apples.
A pileated calls, a heartfelt laugh. On New Year's morning 1978, a pileated
was our New Year's bird, the first bird Linny and I saw that year,
undulating above the deep snow of a South Strafford meadow. Ever since,
mostly blue jays and chickadees. Once or twice a junco. Once a redpoll.
This morning, of all mornings, I could use a chickadee.
Linny died twenty years ago today. Seems like yesterday. The melting and
congealing of time: slows down, speeds up, inverts, minutes seem like
hours, hours like minutes, eventually to vanish into the dark of void
memory loss. Linny asked me in the wee hours of November 8, 2000: who won
the Bush-Gore election? Political symmetry.
Closer to dawn, she announced, brimming with confidence, *I know the boys
will be alright. *In no small part because of the foundation she had built.
Casey was thirteen. Jordy would be five the next day; she planned his
birthday party from the sofa, flat on her back and close to death. A
celebration delivered by Casey and a half-dozen friends. I stood by,
watching the whimsey of chickadees, tears in my eyes.
I want to tell Linny that the boys are stellar, a tribute to her legacy,
that our friends pitched in. That her sisters stood by us. That merlins
nest along the Ompompanoosuc River and bald eagles the Connecticut River,
but that sadly, as the world warms, her beloved Alpine Gardens withdraws
from Mount Washington, flower by flower. I want to tell her she was the
cortex of the household, the soother, and the master planner, that I'm
still here, keeping track of her valley. That rakish-faced owls still haunt
the night. That a merlin just harried a blue jay in the compost pile . . .
and jay flew away, bread in its bill, squealing.
I lit the *yahrzeit *candle this morning. Now, I need a chickadee.