Wednesday being Yom Kippur, and traditions having shrunk a bit, I take my retreat in two brief installments on the shore of Spy Pond, among the trees behind the baseball field, not far from where Matt and I heard the wing-claps of a flock of swans about ten years ago.
The idea used to be to find a meadow, a glade, a rock, somewhere private, and take stock. Sometimes this was when I was also fasting, so the contemplation would lapse into dozing, irritability, or feelings of virtue. I would ride my pen through random observations of nature and the passage of time, mixed with important revelations of self-improvement. This time I've given myself about fifty minutes, like an appointment with a shrink. I'll settle for a good think.
I seat myself on the thick roots of a maple tree, back against the trunk. I have a nice window on the pond, framed by the maple's overhang and some compound-leaved saplings. Locusts, maybe. I watch a cormorant not far off-shore swallowing a small fish. I don't get excited about cormorants. They resemble loons, the way they sit low in the water, but they're more angular. Their beak tilts upward. They're loons that turn out to be cormorants. I watch this one dive with a quick slithery pounce...then pop up somewhere else a minute later.
A caravan of gray, laden clouds rolls along the horizon opposite me, betokening rain. The trees are a mixed palette of greens, some yellow, a peek of orange. This balance will change.
Why I do this: 1. Because it feels good to let things happen, randomly: wind in leaves, squealing gull, creaking tree; orderly cloud flow and wind-riffled pond surface, punctuated by the peekaboo appearance and disappearance of the cormorant. 2. Because it feels good to describe things.
The cormorant has climbed up on a big round orange buoy and it is holding its wings outspread like an orchestra conductor. Cormorants have a raw deal. They do not have the oil glands that ducks, geese, loons, and grebes have, to keep them waterproof. So they have to air-dry their wings like clothes on a clothesline between their series of dives, otherwise they might get water-logged.
It strikes me that I have been given a good symbol for the day of atonement. We all have our challenges. I've got Parkinson's, self-absorption issues, motivation issues, etc. Ya want a list? The point is, you've got to meet your challenges with wings outspread. You've got to get on the ball (keep your balance), open your arms, feel the wind, and keep your chin up. All this I learn from the cormorant. Whom, may I add, I will no longer disdain as a low-rent loon.