Thursday, December 4, 2008
Except for our few days in New York, I've done my usual tromp through the woods every morning. I haven't been doing Turn Outward posts primarily because nature has been so damned peaceful. Winter is a still season here. It gets chilly enough that a lot the wildlife semi-hibernate, or at least wait for the warmth of the day to get out and about; yet we rarely have any dramatic winter storms or brutal cold to report. Our winter, for the most part, is just a lull between the brisk, busy fall and the budding of spring.
I was thinking about the quiet yesterday as I walked toward the lake. We'd had some rain, and there were perfect frozen droplets resting on the fallen leaves. They crunched underfoot, and that was about the only sound I could hear. A couple of woodpeckers were hammering away somewhere in the distance, but no one was singing, no deer or squirrels were rustling the leaves. I found myself looking around for some sign of a vole, or even a cricket. Nothing.
The lake has a little thumb, almost a lagoon, that presses into a shaded hollow. It's prime catfish territory, so there's often someone fishing there, but I found it as deserted as the rest of the park. I stood staring down at the dark water, feeling a perfect solitude, so zoned out that I didn't hear them coming: Blackbirds, that is--one of those enormous winter flocks that seem to come from nowhere; grim, noisy flash mobs that suddenly fill the world, and then just as suddenly disappear.
They landed heavily in the trees on the opposite bank, and the air vibrated with their chatter. It's thrilling and slightly creepy to be in the presence of all that combined avian energy. I was happy to have my reverie disturbed, but I felt sort of surrounded--then I realized I was surrounded: A second large flock, a mixed group of finches, had quietly taken over the trees on my side of the lake. Their twittering was a gentle counterpoint to the loudmouth blackbirds, and they flitted between the branches as lightly as the leaves they sent falling.
Wheat Field with Crows, Vincent van Gogh, 1890.