Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sight and sound

Remember the Dude? Well, he's back, and as solitary as ever. I thought he'd gotten himself a girlfriend last summer, because I kept seeing a pair on the lake near his usual spot. I tried to photograph them for the blog but could never get close enough for a good shot. It's possible the Dude did find a mate and now he's lost her, but I'm more inclined to think I mistook another bird for him. (Just between you and me, Canada geese look a lot alike.) Still, I feel pretty certain the bird I met this morning was, indeed, the Dude. There's something about his melancholy haughtiness that distinguishes him. A beaver was swimming close by and gave a loud tail slap when I appeared, but the Dude never moved from his place, as if he wouldn't deign to heed a warning from a rodent. It'll be interesting to see if he spends another winter alone here.

Aside from my encounter with the beaver and the Dude, it was pretty quiet on the trail this morning. It was cloudy and chilly, and the woods were damp from all the rain we've been having. The moist air carried scent well, so I got wonderful whiffs of decaying leaves, pine needles and wood smoke from someone's campfire. Most of the leaves have turned but some are still green, so a walk along the trail created a kaleidoscope effect. The world was bright gold, scarlet, green and amber by turns as I passed beneath different clusters of trees. The streams were all running just high enough to create a pleasing babble. There was no other sound except for a few churring wrens, and off in the distance, a red-bellied woodpecker's sharp complaint.

Autumn Rain, Julian Alden Weir, 1890. (I love this painting. Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The crows

There was frost on the kudzu this morning but at least the sun was bright. The birds all slept in, except for a flock of crows that commenced an exceptional racket when I was about halfway through my walk. I tried to follow the sound, hoping I could see what had them so excited, but they kept moving just ahead of me. In fact, I never actually saw a single crow. They were like noisy spirits in the treetops.

Le corbeau et le renard, Jean Ignace Isidore GĂ©rard, 19th century. (If you don't remember the fable, it's here.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"...what gathered in the gloom?"

A lot of the trees are still green and we're a long way from first frost, but the darkness of autumn has really begun to close in. It's about 8 o'clock in the evening here, and it's been raining lightly since before dawn. The day never got bright. It was utterly gloomy. I find myself exaggerating the sound of that word in my mind: gloomy. The gloom is pervasive, as if gloom were the existential state of the world, the essence of being--everything we can know arises from the gloom, rests on the gloom.

The autumn gloom is not to be confused the dark states of the human mind. It's not a reflection or a source of sadness. It's the life-giving darkness, primordial. As I walked through the woods this morning, the deer stared at me through the darkness. Their coats have taken on the shadowy gray of winter, they are part of the gloom. The bright mushrooms are rotting into the fallen leaves, darkening and returning to the decay that produced them.

O gardener of strange flowers, what bud, what bloom,
Hast thou found sown, what gathered in the gloom?
What of despair, of rapture, of derision,
What of life is there, what of ill or good?
Are the fruits grey like dust or bright like blood?

From "Ave Atque Vale" by Algernon Charles Swinburne. The complete poem is here.

Mushrooms, Jan Fyt (1611-1661)