6:42 a.m. 30 degrees, wind SE 0 mph. Sky: the sun sneaks into position
behind a thick bank of clouds, fissures and holes brushed by silver light,
a faint, uncluttered blush in the east . . . more transitory than a mayfly.
Permanent streams: water spilling over and around stones, miniature
cascades, a rejoice of babble . . . a soothing banquet. Someone has to pay
attention to flowing water. Home for the indefinite future might as well be
me. Wetlands: color and sound muted, not a single flyover. Somewhere, in an
unseen pine(s), a tweezer-billed chatter, red crossbills out for breakfast.
Pond: a mishmash of ice, unconnected panes and shards, snow flurries
bouncing on the ice, more ball than crystal, some stick, some melt, a
A female hairy woodpecker works a dead pine, gentle taps as if loosening a
jar's lid, chips of air-cured bark float down. Both red-breasted and
white-breasted nuthatches call, nasal notes repeated, both monotonous,
red's clearer, higher, and shorter than white's—a head-cold serenade. In
the mid-nineties, when The Traveling Wilburys released their first album, I
strived to recognize the voices of Tom Petty and George Harrison. (Bob
Dylan and Roy Orbison were easy.) Nuthatches are like that, at first: short
and nasal versus shorter and more nasal. I listen to the gravity-defying
tedium. Canine confusion . . . the dogs have no clue.
Many years ago, when I studied wildlife biology as an undergraduate, our
class subdivided Delaware county, Indiana, into a grid system. On
designated mornings, I drove my grid and counted roadkills—raccoon, red
fox, long-tailed weasel, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, and so on. Back in
class, we used a formula (long since forgotten) based on the number of
roadkills to index each species' population.
I don't think that formula applies to fallen pinecones. Since late August,
a shower has littered my walking route, cut and left by red squirrels. Most
of the cones are gone now, retrieved by squirrels, or pulverized into the
dirt road, a sticky, white resinous stain—a reminder of the occasional
overproduction in the natural world. If I need further proof that 2020 is
the *Autumn of the Pinecone,* I listen for lingering crossbills or watch
the red squirrels attend cone caches or raid their neighbor's, lots of
helter-skelter rushing, whirring voices like tapedecks run amok.