Still Harbor

Fri, 06/01/2012 - 3:49pm

The voice of a bird awakened me, not the sweet birdsong that rises like a carefully conducted orchestra at first light, rather an annoying shriek, harsh and loud and filled with a tone of annoyance.
I opened my eyes and saw a winged creature fluttering about the room, banging against the glass of one window then another. It is spring, I am loathe to lower screens and create even the slightest wall between me and these days of miracle and wonder, so these visitors never come as a surprise. It could have flown right over my bed from the open sash on the west, or could have come in downstairs and flown up toward the light.
It is an old house, the sloped ceiling is directly below the roof, but the rain was so gentle I heard it only on the leaves outside.
Vaguely, I remembered one in the front hall, headed to the upper part of the older section of my house, unused for years. I closed the door from the living room to the hall and left the others open, hoping the little guy would find its way home. I really should check up there . . .
It was early and the plain brown bird — no soaring iridescent swallow — battering about my bedroom was drawn to the east. I stumbled out of bed and cranked open another window, hoping my little guest would find its way free. It was early still, and damp and gray, and after a moment of consideration of rising for some absurdly virtuous occupation like walking in the half dawn, I tumbled back toward sleep.
The same bird — I presumed the same bird — called out in its loud voice and I realized it was not the one inside but another hidden in the branches of the pin oak that has grown tall outside my window.
How to tell a bird to stop making a ruckus in a way it will understand and honor? Perhaps it was missing the one inside. Soon the flutter of wings and the calling outside ceased or I fell asleep or both; but later when I awoke by choice, not by bird racket, all was back to the normal yielding hums of a spring morning.
Sounds are softer in spring. It was not until later, when I’d given up, not only on sleep but bare feet, and leaned over to rummage through my sock drawer that I heard the whisper of the rain coming through that window opened for the bird to depart. Umbrella rain, it had to be, falling straight and invisible, but the leaves of the shad and apple trees at the bottom of the yard were undulating, tossed by a breeze. It is difficult to be certain of such rain, it is an old house, the sloped ceiling is directly below the roof, there should have been a hint of splattering overhead.
Only when I went back downstairs to face the reality of a new, wet day did I see streams of water on the west-facing windows, the ones not protected by a bird-harboring leafy pin oak. Another May day begun with morning rain, not long lasting, washing the earth clean for another day.
With apologies to Paul Simon, these are days of miracle and wonder.
In winter the window behind my chair is an annoyance, in need of being replaced. I hang a heavy curtain and secure it with a sand snake to keep heat from rising up to be killed by the cold glass. When spring comes I reach behind me and push it up and the sound of surf rolls over my shoulder into the room. It is a case of happenstance, of perfect alignment, the way the land rises and falls, the same trough that sends the sound of beach party voices on a summer night, or even, incredibly, the announcement of the boat departing the harbor on a calm morning, sends the music of ocean into my living room.
There are no birds flying in at night but there are June bugs, arrived well before the calendar turns to June. They are big and brown, hard shelled and noisy, emitting a steady buzzing even if they are not in flight. June bugs are the scourge of windows open at night. They come in with the sound of the surf and they have a nasty habit of landing wherever they please, and settling quietly, so the hand put up to brush away a strand of loose hair encounters a June bug, dormant, then suddenly come to life when touched. They are not intimidating, they do not sting or bite, and they are easily captured but they are a nuisance, zooming back in as soon as they have been tossed out.
When I was little and the dining room walls were torn down one summer, we returned from a routine trip to the harbor, ice cream and dock-walking on a July night, and a bat had found its way into the house. But that was an unusual occasion, one I have always presumed to be somehow related to walls open to the studs.
It is difficult now to wish for anything other than time standing still. Before dark, the flags in the harbor were moving differently, the big American flag atop Finn’s flagpole not stirring, another, perhaps not so heavy, down across the parking lot, fluttering, the narrow banners on the pavilion on the hill moving, telling the direction of the wind. The ocean was calm and silver, a perfect mirror in which the metal lattice work of the red light tower was replicated, and the long steady green falling from the tip of the long east wall. People walking on the uneven granite were reflected on the calm water, four moving images instead of two.
There are roses, wild beach roses, in bloom everywhere, part of the tableau of the still harbor in the silver hours before the sun, hidden by gray fog, finally sets. This time of year miracle and wonder are all around us, like the still harbor, there for the taking.