Monday, January 16, 2012


WINTER HAS FINALLY COME TO BIRDLAND, AND FIERCELY IT HAS COME.  Only a few days ago I saw a mosquito. I didn't think anything of it, until I realized it was January. Apparently the little bit of flirting we'd done with winter hadn't been enough to interrupt their life cycle this year. They have been going along in the mild, short days, hatching, feeding, laying eggs, avoiding the minor frost. It was a little bit scary to wonder if we were ever going to get a really hard freeze. Yesterday it seemed to come, bringing snow and blowing it around into swirling, driving furies. This morning is pretty monochromatic. The grey sky muffles the snowscape, and I have to squint to see where the sky meets the edge of the field.

The chickens have been confined to the coop and run for two days. Yesterday was too blusterous (Chickens don't like wind, but don't always have the sense to come in out of it until dusk, so we leave them in the coop on windy days.) and today they are drifted in. They are snug and warm, though, and generous with the eggs this cold morning. We gathered four. The wind has sculpted the drifts into sinuous hills, a graphic picture of the shape of the wind.

This sudden winter reminds me that even the cold, sunless, lonely parts of the circle of life are necessary and good. A few weeks ago, while my boys were home for the holidays I was fixing breakfast and happened to look out the kitchen window in time to see a gang of turkey vultures in the distant field. I said aloud, “I wonder if there's a carcass out there.” I couldn't see what was attracting the birds, but it was not just one or two of them. I was occupied with waffle batter, and the boys were enjoying coffee in their jammies, so their father put on his shoes and walked out to the field to see what the commotion was about. Michael returned shortly to tell us it was a young deer. “It's really beautiful,” he said. “After breakfast we should all walk out to see it.”
It lay in the stubble of beans. 
 We couldn't tell what had killed it, perhaps it was wounded by a hunter or a car? Perhaps illness? It's hard to believe that starvation would take a deer this year, though their numbers are increasing, and after the harvest food would be more scarce. It lay in the stubble of the beans, its head thrown back, its hooves muddied. Dylan knelt and focused his camera. My middle son is an artful photographer. I think the camera helps him focus on ordinary things to find the grace in them. We didn't say too much out there in the field—just stood quietly for a bit, and then walked back to the house. When we reached the driveway I turned back. The vultures had returned to their work.

 A few days later, Ursula raised the alarm. My puppy is kind of a chicken, but always lets us know about any disturbance or intruder. I went to the window and saw a big, red tractor in the field. Jim and Sean were out to finish the work of the birds. I was a little sad, but of course they needed to remove the deer before applying fertilizer in the coming weeks. When I looked again a while later, the tractor was gone and so was the  carcass. I was glad, again, that we had walked out as a family to honor the cycle of life and death in our clumsy way.

 This morning, back in the winter time, I watch from the window as Michael throws the frisbee for Ursula. Her muzzle is sugared with snow crystals and her excitement is palpable. She trots up with the frisbee (which is really the plastic drip tray of a flower pot that she stole) and drops it at Michael's feet. He lets it sail and she carefully watches the trajectory of the flight and bursts into a run like a greyhound from the starting gate. She catches the frisbee in a wild explosion of snow spray, and trots it back to Michael for another round. I watch for a moment more, thinking with wonder of the cycles of life and death, frisbees and snow, and the dance of a little black dog and a big man in a brown parka.

Begin in Beauty; End in Peace; Blessed Be.

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