14 April 2024

Archive for December, 2009

A lull

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Looking west.

This morning when I stepped out onto the back deck I heard a white-breasted nuthatch beep-beeping among the branches of a maple in the little north yard. The voices of crows, too, sounded from somewhere the unseen distance. The temperature overnight had dipped to about freezing, but a brilliant morning sun had already begun to melt the husks of ice on the low flat places where collected traces of yesterday’s rain.

Ring-billed gull.

At midday, about a half dozen crows gathered in a green grassy yard across the road. They appeared to be haggling over a morsel of food. Above them, about a dozen gulls—ring-bills, mostly—circled against a brilliant blue sky. But precipitation’s in the forecast. A chance of two to four inches of snow.

By evening clouds had moved over. By late tonight, as I write this, a few flakes circle like flies in the porch light. It’s about 34 degrees (F) still.

I’ll be surprised if we get two to four inches of snow.

Purple gloaming

Sunday, December 27th, 2009
The twilight was a purplish red.

The twilit hillside.

Today came wind and rain. The rain fell steadily throughout the daylight hours, and the wind blew steadily from the south at about ten or fifteen miles an hour, with higher-speed gusts that roared in the spruces up the hill. The temperature reached about 46 degrees and hung there. I spent a long time looking out the south window at watery, windy grayness. At one point, three crows flapped jerkily past, west to east, windblown.

After 4 p.m., as the sun set behind the even cloud cover, the world outside turned a strange purplish red. I brought out my tripod and snapped a shot of the leafless winter hill.

Beech Hill in winter

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

View from Beech Hill, Rockport.

I have a thing for Beech Hill, a bare-topped coastal outlook only about three miles from where I live. In this rapidly waning decade I’ve hiked one or more of the hill’s few trails perhaps a hundred times a year—mostly in spring and summer. I can’t recall the last time I headed up in winter. Well, this afternoon I hiked Beech Hill.

It was a revelation.

I headed up in flurrying snow and temperatures in the low-30s (F). I chose the lower wooded trails. In open areas, our few inches of local snowfall so far this season have already melted away, but on the wooded hillside everywhere was snow-covered ground. The whitened contours of land combined with the leafless hardwoods and twiggy understory to give a wide, clear look deep into the trees. In fact, without the thick berry brambles encroaching on either side, the trail seemed unnaturally open. It felt strange not to have to dodge or dip or sidle through. In a couple of places I even lost my bearings and had to look behind me to place myself. So much richness missing, yet such a penetrating view into the intimate foundation of the hill.

Beech Nut.

A few humans had left tracks on the trail, along with at least two dogs—one large, one small. Off to the sides I spotted several places where deer had crossed, leaving their distinctive cloven-hooved tracks. Here, where a wave of black-and-white warblers moved through one year; there, the muddy stretch where I’ve flushed more than one woodcock; and here, the tree where I spotted the yellow-billed cuckoo last spring. Now, no mud, no ferns, no raspberries, no high-bush blueberry blossoms being visited by comely female ruby-throated hummingbirds. I thought of the birds now far away, in what might be considered their true home country, and wonder how it could be that last May seems still so near. Then it occurs to me that next May is even nearer, and I feel a surge of expectancy. Finally, I realize that right now is all I’ve got, and right now is spectacular.

Between the trunks of trees, in winter, you can glimpse piles of stones put there by farmers guiding teams of oxen who knows how long ago. You can get a good idea of where the fields ended and where the woods began. You can plainly see the corner of a stone wall that’s invisible in summer yet now so clearly delineates its boundaries. Today, curiously, twice along the trail, I noticed some species of flying insect perched on a patch of snow.

Winter fly.

I saw only a few chickadees, a single golden-crowned kinglet. I heard a distant crow. Beech Nut, the hut atop the hill, hunkered amid the brown and white and gray. The cold air stung my nose and fingers, thrilling me. As you may gauge the true measure of a person stripped of clothing and dignity, down along its eastern barren, lacking its seasonal greenery and perfume, today I saw the very backbone of Beech Hill.

Bird Report is a (sometimes intermittent) record of the birds I encounter while hiking, see while driving, or spy outside my window. —Brian Willson

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