Viewing the forecast, so often at odds with the world beyond my door, was my objective, but I am easily distracted today by an “Active Advisory Special Statement” issued by the National Weather Service, mirroring a “No Beach Fires” announcement issued by the local Fire Department.
It would be a surprise but for walking out in my north lot, where a year ago there was, as there often is in mid-April, standing water. The winter-dead grass that normally would be soft from spring rain was so dry I heard it crackle underfoot. It reminded me the road is a dust bowl, last week’s puddles long dried by the sunny wind.
There is a green haze on the land, little leaves on the scrub and briars opening and every day I wonder how long before the pond behind my house, all diamonds in the morning sun, will be hidden by the spring wall of the new, solid green of the tall shad and old stunted apple.
The Canada geese have been loudly dominating the landscape, honking on the hills, milling about the pond, flying noisily before first light. They were a distraction and only a few days ago did I think to start looking for a flash of white along the edges of the pond.
Spring came yesterday, riding on wide egrets’ wings.
They come in cycles, these birds. Great blue herons used to nest at the north end of the pond, flying a grand circle, counter-clockwise, swooping over the front field from west to east toward day’s end. These elegant white birds, were of the mainland — and the collection at school — when I was a child.
I saw them first on a day trip to Mystic Seaport, which had to have been in the summer because there were no round-trip boats from Block Island any other time of year. I saved the images, like the memory of a precious dream, to report the first time Miss Dickens came to school for monthly Bird Study. The answer to “where were they?” I now gather should have been “at the edges of a pond” but I said simply “the mainland.”
First, we had smaller cattle egrets, then these great tall birds started inhabiting my pond over twenty years ago, now. They are common also around the bridge on Beach Avenue, these creatures once almost obliterated for the sake of feathers to adorn ladies’ hats. For all our failings and often-unintended abuses, we do make some progress with the natural world; today we have egrets again at the edges of the ponds and stripers, that were overfished before their limit was severely restricted, are aplenty in the ocean.
The egret is easy to follow, a slash of white, solitary, statuesque, ignoring the big-bodied Canadas that fly low, honking, and land in the open water of the pond. They must have some silent avian communication; the geese paddle toward the big specter of a bird, then suddenly turn and glide off in the other direction.
The egret ignores the dog barking on the hill, certain she will not cross the wall and the brush and briars and the water. . .
The morning came too early, and I struggled to re-capture sleep instead of giving up and just going off to the early morning beach from which I have been absent for too long. As the sky lightened, Autumn tired of being pushed about and bounded off the bed and clattered down the steep, uncarpeted stairs, leaving me to toss and turn in peace. The reprieve lasted a few short minutes and up she came again, carrying one of her noisier preoccupations, a heavy marrowbone.
She was only bidding time, I knew, waiting for the sun to rise, for the deer in the field to come into clear view from the south facing windows of the room where I sleep. Again, she clattered down the stairs, this time with me, the opener of the back door at the foot of the stairs next to the kitchen, on her heels.
From the old kitchen, with its great view over the sink, I watched — and heard — her head out to the lot, convincing the deer, who had been on alert, warily listening, to run off across the road. She wandered about, flashed of gold showing through the filigree of green that will be impenetrable next month.
A third deer, taller, higher on the slope, caught my eye as he — I presume “he” by his relative size — moved into the sun. Autumn remained oblivious, or unwilling to take on the larger animal, or just bored with the whole business, as bored as I was becoming watching her lack of activity.
Then a flash of red changed the landscape, a cardinal flying past the dull robin in the maple, out over the tangle where there once was a garden, up to perch on a high branch of a wild olive, little more than a twig, one of those very temporary resting places where ever-optimistic birds light for a moment, saved from falling to the ground by their wings.
Autumn was back in the yard, gnawing on the lilac branch that came down in a gust of February wind, the one I left lying at the edge of the road until a few days ago. The rest of the tree seems healthy, budded, happier for having lost the old dead weight. There are other lilacs as well, down the lane, beyond those kitchen windows, grown from shots of the oldest, transplanted back when I had more energy for such things. There was wild mint, from the edge of the pond, and ferns from the swale, so I look beyond all those reminders to the ocean, and see a boat, gliding by in mid-morning, dark on the silver water. Everything about it, the direction of the sun, the time of day, the smooth passage confirming that spring has arrived, this time, cool nights notwithstanding, to stay.