Waiting For Spring

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 7:30am
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The geese are moving from noisy flight to noisy landing to noisy swimming. They are the big Canadas, singularly beautiful when they were few, with their softly brown bodies and black velvet necks and spots of perfect white. That was a long, long time ago, before their numbers grew exponentially and they became a bona fide nuisance. Now they are legion, their incessant chatter annoying.

We are all waiting for spring, finding evidence of new grass in places that were mowed last year, and seeing a hint of green, an underskirt to the lingering neutral tan of March, a wash of color that shows as the morning frost is drawn into the air.

It is not March, it is April, when I await egrets, silent and graceful, lifting from the rim of the pond on their wide white wings, as has been the case for nearly 30 years, now. They were not an expectation of spring all that time ago when someone came up to visit my new puppy, my sweet little Shad, and saw life in what I dismissed as an errant white stick on the far side of the pond. 

Back then, it was herons, great and blue, that roosted in the tall scrub brush, bayberry and shad, at the edge of the swamp that is the north end of that pond nestled behind my house. They flew a graceful circuit every evening, as the day was drawing to a close, the sun slipping from the summer sky.  

Cattle egrets, little white guys, had been around but their tall cousins were not so commonly seen and it was a few years before I came to anticipate them.

It is April and what I do not expect to still be about is a snowy owl. It was pointed out to me, a speck of white amidst an array of slowly disintegrating hay bales, left to return tossed back to Nature on my neighbor's bank lot on the far side of the pond. The great bird must have found a comfort there, a haven in an earthbound aerie, or good hunting.

Today, there was also a swan swimming at the edge of the water, over where it creeps into that north elbow of swamp, a spot generally out of sight. Swans come and go, but never stay, part of the reason the annual stay of what can no longer be the same egret confounds me. There is grass aplenty in the fields for the geese, but none growing up from the bottom of the pond.

It is still high, that pond, winter and springtime high, the decodon, the not-a-real-willow water willow that circles much of it, remains dormant, nearly submerged. It is usually the latest plant to green, the earliest to turn back to a purply brown, its crazy stems arching back into the water.  It thrives, the books say, at the edge of bogs, and this was a peat bog, shallow and mucky.

It will come to life and draw water up from its sodden roots, and by mid-summer where there are now only gray twigs there will be masses of lush green. The level of the pond will fall and the series of uneven stepping stones along its edge, ones I recognize from memory, will re-emerge, an old wall. 

They are all about the island, these oddly placed walls at the edge of water bodies, some running through them, visible only in the driest of summer seasons. They may have been boundaries, but they seem more a misbegotten effort to contain animals, keeping them from doing what they are wont to do, walk into the muck from which they must be pulled.

The white birds are quiet, the egret and owl and swan, all of them displaying varying degrees of elegance and majesty, then into their quiet world come these honking creatures, loud in their enthusiasm — or in their get-out-of-our-way pronouncement — so non-Canadian in their brash behavior.

There are days the great expanse of water to the east is the ocean, brightly blue, fiercely green, wildly white, but today it is a sea, silver, isinglass. It stretches out to a horizon, one moment clearly defined by a bank of sky-colored clouds, the next vanished, erased by some trick of atmosphere and light.

I lean over to look out the window, and see a dark ribbon rippling on the water on the landward side of the buoy, not a rogue wave but the wake of a vessel already disappeared behind the hill. Ships have been passing all day, some near, others miles out to the east, hanging on the edge of the world. They were back-lit black in the morning, white in the afternoon when the sun struck the cargo stacked on their decks. 

The smaller fishing boats, closer to shore, have a profile that is fundamentally unchanged from my earliest memories but for details of technology and size. It is the cargo ships that will always look odd to me, their decks stacked with containers, yesterday great white boxes filled with automobiles, sailing from Quonset to Jacksonville, per a maritime tracker.

The big ships used to pass closer to shore, especially if they were bound for Providence, and needed a pilot, often flown over from the mainland and ferried out from the Old Harbor on the little Lispaso. One summer day, a tanker seemed dangerously close, looming over the field of the old farm next door, and a visiting cousin and I ran over in time — we were sure — to see it pivot from certain grounding on the beach. We were kids, we didn't then know how long it took a vessel of that size to turn. 

In elementary school, a teacher augmented a lesson about the curvature of the earth, drawing on the blackboard what we might witness on a clear day. Only the towers of those vessels would be in sight, their hulls hidden below the horizon, an image never forgotten.