Sunday in the Park
November 11, 2006
Friends of a feather
Ah-honk! Ah-honk! Ah-honk! The musical notes force my eyes to the skies and there, in perfect formation, are maybe 40 Canada geese. Long necks in full extension, black wings flapping, sleek white bodies. It turns out to just be a test flight, perhaps stirred up by a dog, or a human. next day they have returned to their place on the pond at the golf course in Park Meadows. I silently thank them for their return but I know it will be short-lived. Any day now, they will be in formation overhead and they will keep on flying south somewhere for the winter.
My "Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds" tells me the largest of this breed can weigh up to 13 pounds. Hatchlings are led by parents to grazing meadows by lakes or ponds (that would be us, I think). In the winter, apparently, breeds of geese mix freely, but come spring, they return to their ancestral home. There is a time, the guide explains, when the adults molt all their feathers at once and are flightless for a few weeks. And finally, in a single migration, the parents pass on to the children, all knowledge of migratory routes. Species of this bird are endangered and protected — in the same category as the peregrine falcon, bald eagle and whooping crane.
I don’t remember the geese being here when I first moved to town nearly 30 years ago. Of course, the golf course wasn’t here when I first moved to town, so perhaps they were hanging in another ‘hood back then. I became conscious of them a few years back. And their sound and sight never fails to release something in me akin to wonder. I didn’t know the part about them losing their feathers all at once and being flightless and therefore defenseless for weeks. Growing up a coastal girl, it reminds me of the life of a crab that loses its shell for period of time and is vulnerable to the world until he grows a new, tougher shell.
Humans are like that, but consider the period of being vulnerable as scary and a bad thing. The inability to flee when we want to is also defined as a frustrating, often frightening, period. But in time, the feathers grow back, the shell grows stronger and options to take flight open up again.
The weather was nice enough for a few hours on Saturday to plant the bulbs that had been in bags in the garage for weeks. In my closest, the sandals have been replaced by the Sorrels, the tank tops by turtlenecks. The curtains are back up, not to keep anything out, but to keep the heat in. The freezer has a big, fat chicken for thawing on some Saturday and making a giant pot of soup on Sunday to last for days. All the tea canisters are filled; there are dainty cookies in packages in the pantry. And just last week, I made a pilgrimage to Dolly’s bookstore and gathered up a few new novels to feather my nest with. There are stacks of firewood in proper places and new candles stuck in antique candlesticks.
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Without regard to the calendar, The Season is rapidly approaching in town, too. Retail stores are filling their shelves with new merchandise. Newly hired bus drivers are learning their routes around town. Skis are being sharpened. Snow tires are appearing on cars. The days of preparation will give way any day now to a tsunami of seasonal guests and events and weather-created challenges and joys. This time of year, when the trees are just barren and the ground is gray as is often the sky, some folks feel not anticipation, but a kind of sadness, a sense of impending dread. My friend was telling me she feels vulnerable right now, not the strong spirit she is in summer or winter, or the hopeful creature she is each spring. Fall does her in. It is the whole death metaphor. The trees, the leaves, the flowers, only reinforce her grief.
For years I have watched her repeat this pattern. She has used The Fall to kill off relationships, jobs and living situations. She either drops or gains weight, dyes her hair or dramatically cuts it, starts or stops wearing make-up again. She is, for weeks, untethered. Then somewhere in December, when the complete white blanket of snow has covered the naked trees and they became lacy and enchanting, she catches snowflakes on her tongue and starts wearing long scarves she wraps around her neck with enviable flair. She is fine. More than fine. She is happy and productive.
I worried the first few times I witnessed this metamorphosis take place. I may have even suggested medication. My friend, instead, carved out chunks of time for meditation. Angst-filled walks, but walks nonetheless. Dark nights of her soul fed with tea and sympathy and a full measure of tears. With the luxury of time, that can appear to be wisdom. I have discovered my friend has a natural molting time of her own. As predictable as the geese in formation. I have come to be rather envious of her shell-less period.
The predictions for the days ahead are for all kinds of weather — snow, rain, sunshine, high winds. For some, the unpredictability is unsettling. For others, it is a time for reflection. And for yet another group, it is thrilling, all that anticipation. As for me, I find it all of the above. So I will do my best to prepare for the days ahead. Find the flannel sheets, the ice scraper for the car. Have the teakettle ready for when my friend stops by to talk. Which could happen any day this week, perhaps this very Sunday, in the Park&