Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Return to Alewife

What if you had an Advent calendar, the traditional kind, and you decided not to open one of the little windows? Just left it sealed. Moved on to the 16th. Kind of perverse, right? Might drive kids in your family crazy, even if they knew it probably concealed something obvious, like a candy cane or a drum. But still.

Well, that's what I did today, or didn't do. I was biking near the Alewife Reservation, en route to getting Matt a CD for Hanukkah (Magical Mystery Tour). And I decided to pay a return visit to the bird box that inspired this whole small-a advent hunt. The bird box whose lid I raised to reveal a sleeping field mouse a couple of Decembers ago.

Since that time, Alewife has been landscaped, to its benefit. Trails established, wetlands protected, new marshes encouraged. More of a wet meadow. Less of a hobo jungle. (But still also an industrial park.) I didn't see the original bird box, but I found another pair of boxes sharing the same pole among the scrub. I leaned my bike against a post and ventured in. The box I approached was just a bit too high to allow a good peep-in. I looked around for a boulder, something to stand on. Nothing. I considered my bike. Too unstable. I reassessed. If I left the box alone, I'd avoid waking up a sleeping mouse, and possibly rendering its abode too dangerous to stay in. Or I'd avoid being disappointed at seeing no mouse at all. Two commendable avoidances.

So I let sleeping mice or no-mice lie. Returned to my bike and was rewarded by a hoarse cronk of a great blue heron, likewise unseen. I rode on through the industrial park, whose cranes were the unfeathered variety. Around to the upland forest of silver maples and wetland, maybe Little Pond. Heard the thin whinny of a downy woodpecker, unseen as well. It was mild for mid-December, the sun falling to its last hour, and I felt a closer bond to the month than any day so far. This is my place, it seemed to be saying with a shy pride. Not a beautiful place, but home. The brown drab weedy mien I'd disparaged weeks ago now seemed only appropriate. No need to gussy it up with lights or cover it up with snow. The truth is, December is about sleeping. Sleeping field mice, dormant trees and plants on hiatus. So, pipers piping and drummers drumming: salute the ebb, the 4:12 freefall. Light candles if you wish, but the winnowing of December, at least the one in these latitudes, calls for darkness and suspension.

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