It is becoming blustery. I am sitting on the porch watching a great blue heron in the field, willing myself to be as still and patient as she. Mostly she is motionless, but occasionally I am rewarded by a shake of the head, a turning, an opening and closing of the bill, a stretching or contraction of the long, sigmoidal neck. The bird’s long legs which allow her to wade through water and tall grass look fragile and awkward through my binoculars. When she flies from one spot to the next, they dangle underneath her like an airplane’s landing gear, tucked up close against her body only as an afterthought. But now she is standing still as a tree, head slightly cocked, watching for movement in the grass. The royal cascade of grey feathers from throat to chest and the cape-like hood over her muscular wing gives the bird a mythic, godlike quality. A bright yellow eye in the middle of a black stripe and a stylish cap of feathers shooting backwards from a streamlined head add to her fabulously alien appearance.
The clouds are moving so fast and so high that shadows projected from the east pass over field and forest like a time lapse film. Shape shifting as the light changes, valleys, hummocks and trees are illuminated and seem to rush by as the heron stands still, the center of the stage. When the sun hits her, she gleams.
The chokecherry tree in the field underneath which I buried my old cat, Daffodil, is clapping the last of its golden leaves. The forest beyond the beaver ponds is warmed by oranges, scarlets, pinks, and yellowing greens.
Animals like the heron that are born to bide their time: what does she think as she stands motionless and waiting? What poise and concentration is needed in order to detect a scurried movement or a glimmer of scales? What is time to the heron? Does her mind wander? I find it challenging to watch and wait alongside this creature. I am a part time, partial observer: I fidget, I write, or read. I think of other things. And look up to find my subject has moved. Now there is only a disembodied snake like neck poking up high above the shoulder deep field grass, her head tilted one way and then the other. Is she listening?
Yesterday my daughter Atalanta found five-year-old Itzel standing stock still in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes were closed. She left him to himself until he opened his eyes and began to move about. What were you doing? she asked. “I was feeling what it is like to be dead. Now I know.” He has been talking about wanting to know what it is like to die but without the staying dead part.
The crickets are still singing but their music is reduced from a symphony, to a series of quiet songs. Last night the katydids still sang at dusk. The children and I noticed bats at sunset, and a long line of geese high in the sky just after the sky turned a soft scarlet gold.
A chickadee has landed on a branch just above my head. She is singing her “who are you” song. Short musical trills. I have seen several black squirrels over the last few days, and last evening, a porcupine who, with a typically stilted, deliberate gait, hackles partially raised, headed off into the woods as I stopped to shoo her from the road.
I will avoid the term Indian Summer. It is of the white man’s making, likely originating sometime in the 1700’s. One account says that it means a fool’s summer, a false or trick summer, a term connected with lying and trickery which may be attributing this trait to a people.
So I will call it either All-Hallows’ summer or Saint Martin’s summer to describe this unseasonably warm spell that we are feeling in the middle of October. A last taste of the season of warmth.
I just came in from feeding the animals, planting horseradish root and picking the last ripe grapes in the almost dark. Tonight I will wash and simmer them, and save the cooked mash for making grape jelly later in the week.
The clouds are gathering, dark and piled up. the wind is gusting and racing around the house and barn, shushing through dry leaves and rattling the metal roof of the barn. A unsettlingly warm wind that smells of the ocean and rotting grapes. Next to me the screen door opens with a slow creak then slams shut. It does this again and again. In a moment I will take my little flashlight and venture out into the evening to pick kale for my dinner. The season of eating out of the garden is likely over as of tonight. The tomato leaves hang like limp rags, the sunflowers lean at acute angles, joining to form geometric shapes with their huge stalks. In the collapsing, shredded foliage of the garden, 5 big orange pumpkins are revealed. They glow in the last light.
My neighbors brought me a basket of succulents, cutting from burro’s tails and others. I spent the last of the day arranging them in pots. They are linear, vine-y plants that grow in spirals, loops and cascades. In one pot I fashioned a sort of living mandala with them. If they take root, they will be a Christmas present for Atalanta (I neglected to water her burro’s tail plant last year and it died). The others I put into a big pot where I had in the summer repotted some cacti. They will be elegant there. I also repotted 2 little hem stitch begonias. Begonias seem to like this house. Those particular plants were from a dear friend of my mother’s who died many decades ago, way before my mother’s own death. But these long lived plants remain diminutive as they thrive. Sometimes they shoot up shy pink blossoms. My other begonia which has almost died numerous times, was from my mother. This year, I retrieved the little table upon which it used to sit when I was a child. It may have felt the familiarity of place because now it is thriving! It sits by a southern window and this past spring it gave me two months of fabulous flowers.