6: 44 a.m. 36 degrees, wind W 2 mph. Sky: a flat, textureless blue-gray
that evolves into an archipelago of clouds in a white sea, mostly small and
smooth, one series gently curved like the letter *J* or the
Hawaiian Islands. An absence of highlights. Permanent streams: ice on
emergent stems and along the rims of backwater pools, gone everywhere else.
Wetlands: like the sky, flatly colored and without highlights. Blue jay
above the marsh heads north, a labored, vulnerable flight, nowhere to hide.
Pond: broken-glass surface, shards and slivers of ice separating everywhere
except the south cove, still sealed but thinner.
Two red-breasted nuthatches toot in the gloom. A pandemic's silver lining,
the joy of staying home for eight months, of being entertained by
chickadees and nuthatches and blue jays . . . back to basics. Three months
from their first child, Becky and Casey, and here I am with birds and
clouds, grandpa's training wheels.
I cup my hands to my ears to gather in the nuthatch calls, slowly turning
from left to right, a self-made parabolic reflector, an owl with external
ears (or an elderly Mouseketeer). The soft, swish of air, more of a
conch-shell experience, does little to amplify the nuthatches . . . but I
do hear memories breaking in the parlors of my hands. I'm a little boy at
the beach. My father gives me a moon snail shell, finger-wrapping round and
as white as a sunbeam. I hear the ocean in the deep, spiraling interior, an
endless roll of the surf—the magic of boyhood on the beach, of blind
obedience to the cadence of life.