6:27 a.m. 30 degrees, wind W 5 mph, the toe of a cold front. Sky: a
composite of white and blue; silver highlights and a southerly mauve rinse;
then, snow (out of where I'm not sure) spits and flurries, suddenly, a
flake-streaked world, wet, mid-size, non-sticking . . . at the moment, a
Valley of Teflon. A moveable and mobile feast: clouds, snow. Permanent
streams: fuller than yesterday; merrily on the move over a carpet of
drowned leaves; a few stirred by the current; sodden banks and slippery but
ice-free rocks. Wetlands: mink leaves the pond and runs across the road,
slipping into cattails, swallowed by marsh, fits perfectly between the
reeds, a thin mammal on life's narrow path. Not a stem out of place. Leaves
me wanting. Pond: nine hooded mergansers— all females and juvenile
males—dillydally on the far end, swimming and diving, bunched. One catches
a small crayfish. No hasty retreat this morning.
Mink reappears by the culvert that administers pond overflow, a dark brown
tail flick. A sweet face, a stuffie with a mouth full of teeth. An amped-up
carnivore, with a pair of devastatingly foul anal scent glands,
which definitely speak to my dogs. And, a century ago, to the pioneering
North American field biologist C. H. Merriam: *one of the few substances,
of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin, that has, on land or sea, rendered
me aware of the existence of the abominable sensation called nausea*. I
raised three kits once, cast adrift in a motherless world. I recall a
composty smell, strong but not nauseating. I released them on the bank
of the White River before life got *too *out of hand.
In the culvert. Out again. In. Out. A quick peek—a furry periscope with a
confined perspective. Around the rocky berm, the goldenrods, the willows,
and then vanishes into thin air like a David Copperfield trick. The
encounter: for me, a savory moment; for the mink, an apparent roadside
distraction; two dogs and a man . . . nothing good can come of this. I walk
up the road backward, hoping for another glimpse. I'm disappointed, the
dogs confused, and the mink engaged (somewhere) in the helter-skelter of
life, away from prying eyes, an original social distancer.
A pileated calls, rocks the morning. Two red-breasted nuthatches join a
group of chickadees in balsam fir; nuthatches work the truck, chickadees
the ends of twigs. Gutteral call of a raven and a crow duet in a world
streaked by snow. Crows fly over the marsh, an avian afterthought, birds
black against white lines. A female hairy woodpecker on pole-sized sugar
maple, demurely tapping, tapping, tapping. Woodland Western Union.
As day broke, coyotes in the lower pasture pitched their voices to the
waning moon, sealing a bargain with the night.