From August into October

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 5:45pm

The birds in the collection at the school bear little hand-written tags, identification and history crammed onto small rectangles of aging paper, or they were, perhaps the originals have been archived. Nonetheless, I know some include a notation of being found at the Southeast Lighthouse, collected, usually, by children of the keeper, carefully wrapped and taken to Miss Dickens.

We read, occasionally, of birds flying into skyscrapers and lighthouses, either drawn by the light or thinking they can pass through the glass. It is a combination of both at my house, and come fall I hear thumps, at first disconcerting until I remember other years and like noises.

There was one this morning, louder than usual, the first of the season and, briefly, a scare, as though some alien thing had been thrown at the glass by some invisible hand out in the yard. A few inches lower and it would have flown through the open window into the house, and swooped about, searching light and an escape. Sometimes they almost bounce, others they fall to the grass, momentarily confused before flying away but this had a harder sound.

I leaned out the window and saw on the grass a large bird, on its back, hardly moving. Autumn was inside and I went to close the door and before she realized what was going on; the cuckoo, I knew by its yellow bill and distinctively spotted tail, had already stilled.

They do not usually die, these birds that fly inside and thrash around until I catch them or guide them outside, or the ones that run into one west facing window in particular, as though they are headed for the other side, not realizing there is a house in their path. They might be stunned for an instant, but this near instant fatality is not something to which I am accustomed.

The goldenrod blooms in waves, from August into October. Today, in the semi-cloudy afternoon, it looks brightest along the road where it runs closest to the beach next to the little dune that had been erased by Superstorm Sandy six years ago at the end of this month.

Rows upon rows of beach grass have been planted but there is far more additional vegetation in that little stretch than all the dour pronouncements would have one believe, seaside goldenrod and Dusty Miller and, earlier in the season, beach pea. There is more, I am sure, all of the plants of the sandy shore, if ever I stopped and looked carefully.

The goldenrod is impossible to miss but the rest is sort of a blur as I drive along that section of road, which in summer requires all my attention and, where off-season, I am more inclined to look past the dune, to the long arm of the east beach and the wide ocean reaching out to the horizon.

I readily admit to finding fancy where others might not but one day last summer it took a moment for me to realize the mini-regatta I was seeing off the beach was not sport, rather the white markers designating the path of the cable coming ashore. Some days they are more visible, when the water is deeply blue, others they almost blend into the seascape.

It was stopping one day to look at my “regatta” that I finally saw the extent of that vegetation amidst the tall waving grasses, all growing in the sand that had not been there after Sandy.

This time of year I wonder if I am not as horrified as some by the yellow signs along the road because they, like the lines down the middle of the black pavement, are in the same color family as all this goldenrod. On the other hand, nothing screams “mainland” like the white on green street names, especially the collection of them at Bridge Gate Square. I do concede we need better signage than we have, after yet another summer of having people ask “what street is that?” as though they expect to find the name on a legible marker.

Today, I was driving and a Presidential Alert came to my phone, but since I was driving it came instead, blasting, through my radio. It had been in the news, it was not unexpected but it was still startling and I wonder how many people had no idea what was going on.

It reminded me of the old warning that used to come through the television, I think, and, sure enough, it took one Google search to find a little video with a still familiar warning tone, followed by “This is a test, in the case of emergency. . .” turn to the very mysterious “Conelrad” on our radio dials.

After my parents went to a meeting where they were told it would be fine to shoot your neighbor if he was tying to gain entry to your bomb shelter all talk of such things ended in our house. They seemed to be of a mind that the Russian Bear might roar but that would be if the bluff was called, proven true when those missiles in Cuba homeward sailed. It was nonetheless a frightening time for a child, that long ago October.

Conelrad remained a mystery until the summer I learned that those little triangles on the radio dial were the places we were supposed to turn when/if the bomb was dropped. Today, I found an article titled “Cold War car radios and the Stations of the Apocalypse” which stated the frequencies and reported that all US car radios manufactured from 1953 through 1963 were required to have them marked.

All these years and I never thought to look up what it actually meant, this CONELRAD: CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation. And this new test alert came the month of the Cuban Missile Crisis, about which Billy Joel, a child at the time, wrote “in that bright October summer we knew our childhood days were done.”