Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Nullity of Blackbirds

March is ready to come onstage: the lion is pacing in the wings.
He's as restless as a willow in a windstorm. He's as jumpy as a puppet on a string...

Exhibition baseball games start on Saturday.

Red-winged blackbirds may have already arrived! I must go and listen for their ringing telephone calls out in the marshes fringing Rock Meadow in Belmont. It's appropriate now to be thinking of spring. The snow no longer inspires dread. The forecasts have changed to rain, snow's mortal enemy.

So I am back at Rock Meadow, my old stomping ground. I put on my boots. The meadow is still deep in snow, despite the intermittent thaws, but it is uneasy, late winter snow. It's hard on one path, soft on another, spiculed with ice crystals or yielding to islands of matted grass. It carries the impressions of ski tracks, boot holes, boot treads, and pawprints or hoofprints. It's a codex? incunabulum? pentimento? Pictorial history, anyway, of the whole season. Just walking on it or in it means something: how enmeshed I still am, or above the fray; how yielding it is, or obdurate.

I pause to listen. No ringing telephones in the distance.

Here's what I do see. A fragment of bark in the snow with a round pale green splotch of lichen. I pick it up, nudge up my glasses for a nearsighted close-up. It has tiny tubes here and there, like Shrek's horns, and in other places it's pocked with tiny pits. Its color is that celadon green that always brings to mind my mom's pale metallic green '64 Impala, which I learned to drive in and went on yearnful dates in and listened to "Lightning Strikes" and "Woolly Bully" and the Beach Boys in.

A little further along, I see an oriole's nest, a beautiful thing tied to the end of a low-hanging branch of a tall tree. It's a weaving of natural and human-made materials, grass and colored string and something fluffy or plastic by something woody and straw-y. It survived some fearsome winds and with luck it will be home to another generation of orioles in a few months. As close to now as Thanksgiving is, the other way.

Blue shadows on the snow. A small flock of mourning doves surprised by me from the ground into the trees with an alarming wing-whistling flurry. Soft brown, lissome birds with that melancholy coo or so it sounds. But melancholy only if compared to what?

And from the wooden footbridge over Beaver Brook, the cold water, color of tea, coursing by, and trunks of shoreside bushes wearing necklaces of ice, glassy ledges showing dark shadowy blobs of water caught inside the ice and wriggling through.

But no redwings.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I thawed I thaw a thaw...

Wake up, rodents! Open your beady little eyes! The cardinal's reveille is a-whoop!

I myself have been in a kind of hibernation since early January. My winter coat: one of the four sweaters cast around the house and the same gray sweatpants. My provenance: Cheerios. And some work: a science ms. about the weather and a social studies ms. about Africa. Funny how appropriate the timing was, too. Weather during the endless snowfalls (ice crystals coalescing in the bihexagonal alignment of the H2O molecules) and Africa during the turmoil of Tunisia and Egypt and the Sudanese referendum—but I didn't go there. My Africa was sort of a timeless National Geographic one. I was in a virtual Kalahari Desert with San and Khoikhoi nomads. I attended masquerade ceremonies with Dogon dancers in Mali. Wandered the souks in Fez and Marrakech. Visited sifaka lemurs with John Cleese in Madagascar.
It was fun. It was fraught. And now I'm at the beginning of a ms. on matter and energy. Just as thermal energy is cracking the whip over sluggish snow and ice molecules. (faster! liquefy!) And doesn't stop with the sidewalk's last streaming. (faster! evaporate!)

So the air is full of the energy of crazy liquid molecules running around like kids in a playground until one or two discover they can fly! And they do! (Johnny, you come down from there right now!) And it's all right now, in fact it's a gas! (Johnny, did you hear me!) Yeh it's all right, Jumping Jack Flash, it's a gas gas gas!

We have been cycling through these thaws. A few days ago, the streets of Arlington were lousy with guys buying flowers. Me, too, having shed my sweatpants for jeans, negotiating the creeks of energized snowmelt. Treading the sherbet of softened snow that has gone from soft to hard to soft but slushy like something that's been in your freezer too long. Pressing my tulips together in a frown of concentration. And the cardinals were singing: red, red, red; heart, heart, heart; cherry chocolate, cherry chocolate, cherry chocolate.

But then the thaw day gets framed by cold days preceding and following. Hard days with curb melt turning to long shoulders of iron ice that reflect the red and green of Mass. Ave. stoplights like some downbeat effect in a noir film with Blood or Angel in the title. (I was there. I know. I'm the man. I shoveled. I piled it into a driveway-end mountain range you couldn't back a car around without having a designated traffic consultant get out and give you the all clear. I saw the best minds of my generation driven mad by shovelfuls of snow with the mass of cement and three storms in two weeks and seventy inches in two months. But that was then.)

Today was the king thaw, sixty-six degrees!, equivalent to the disorientation of that other time out of season, Indian summer. That one a gift from the previous season. This one a gift from the next one. Time for a walk to the river to see what other birds are about. And there was a thaw bird. Three hooded mergansers, two males and a female. Or six, with their reflections. The drakes with their bright white casques outlined in black, sailing along like floating art installations. The female's crest a cinnamon brush. And plunk! they dive, because they're ducks that dive, and then, knulp! they surface a few yards downstream.

Later, the usual roustabouts: Nanking nuthatches, find-me titmice, little lord chickadees. But it's the hoodie to whom I award bird of the day, the art of the thaw. Never mind the lightning and thunder that signaled its finish tonight, the chill due tomorrow, the freeze on Sunday, the snow on Monday. Today was the thaw. I was there. I know. I'm the man.