Teri Orr: Some shades of gray…
It is very noisy — the quiet this time of year. I have taken to sleeping with the upstairs bedroom door to the outside world open — a bit — again. There is a screen door behind it which leads out to the postage stamp porch. The door itself is fully glass — I replaced the heavy wooden one that had a tiny window about 10 years ago, so any time of year I can wake up to the quiet oasis that is still pretty untouched in our neighborhood. There are cottonwood trees and maples and aspens, of course. Giant pines and apple and crabapple. There are birds aplenty again.
I was a neglectful birder this winter. I just couldn’t find the energy to pay attention to so many things on the home front. I finally filled all the feeders last Sunday and it took hours — to replace hooks and clean out winter debris — and do that yard walkabout on the less than north 40 of my little corner lot of the world.
In a matter of hours I was rewarded. Red-winged blackbirds visited and sparrows and cowbirds and honestly I need to drag my bird books out to identify and attach names. With the door open and the feeders filled, I now wake with that first flat light of the day — gray — and somewhere around 5 a.m. the birds start. Although during the night recently we have been hearing the owl who who who is visiting the big pine trees and is a giant creature as evidenced by the phone photo my neighbor captured.
There are small songs and longer ones and I don’t understand the musicality of it all but it works it blends it compliments and for me — it soothes. Somewhere there is a poem or a song about “faith is the bird that sings before dawn” and I have long loved the thought. Before we know the outcome we have faith in its existence.
The gray mornings are otherworldly — mysterious — uncertain — if only for minutes before the sky breaks or stays cloudy for the day and flat light just becomes brighter.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area about 20 minutes from the coast. Gray mornings could last all day. And they bred a kind of moodiness and uncertainty and an undefined longing that never fully goes away — even though I have lived now more than half my long life, right here in Utah — the land of vibrant colors and surreal light. Those days when the fog would suddenly creep in on cat’s paws and move over the hills and cover buildings until all the landscape was simply gray. And ocean itself turned gray. Those days stamped inside me and patterned a certain melancholy that can sometimes find me and catch me unawares.
In the evenings here — after a day of intense light and sunsets that never can be captured fully by paint or camera lens, the gray returns. The trees become silhouettes against a soft warm lavender gray and the landscape again is reduced to monochromatic not kodachromatic colors. And then slowly the sky turns black to wait for dawn.
The seduction of spring in the mountains are these few weeks — when we might still see snow and the green grass looks like a carpet that can’t possibly fade. Underneath is knowledge that our light winter means there won’t be enough runoff and by late June we could be tinder dry again. But for just these few precious weeks, we measure our days in tulips not eaten by deer, the daffodils and hyacinth and just this week tight lilac buds appearing. The crabapple blossoms seem late but of course they are right on their own schedule. We anticipate the beauty and bounty that lies ahead.
Except when the gray lasts for days. And then, for me anyway, the moodiness creeps in like the fog of my youth and it is not quite Churchill’s big black dog that comes to sit on the porch but perhaps a cousin to it.
This morning as I write this column it is overcast — with either clouds or fog — hard to say exactly. And there is a song from decades ago coming to mind that Randy Newman wrote and Bette Midler sang in the movie “Beaches” and honestly I never fully deciphered the meaning in words but I always attached to the mood…
Broken windows and empty hallways,
A pale dead moon in a sky streaked with gray.
Human kindness is overflowing,
And I think it’s gonna rain today.
Some weeks, in some months, in parts of some years, are parades of days in shades of gray. And I sit down with those shadows and shapes and let the fog have its way with me. Not often but some Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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