Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Gift Upon the Shore

One learns to love the turning of the seasons and particularly winter when she lives this far north, but there is a part of the psyche which settles into plangent mourning each and every autumn. As I wander into my eldering years, the feeling of mourning becomes more intense with every passing year. What am I talking about? I am already there.

All summer long and well into autumn, I ramble highland lakes and rivers, watching geese and loons at sunrise and listening to their calls for hour upon golden hour. At sundown, I return to the lake with camera in hand and find a quiet place on the shore to watch as the great herons hunt the shallows, striding through the dusk on their attenuated but wonderfully elegant legs. The twilight hours (in particular ) are downright magical and full of color, and really, I can ask for nothing more in life than these intervals: the presence of the birds, the play of the sunlight (either rising or setting) across the water, quiet ripples striking the shore, the wind in the reeds or the music my canoe paddle makes as it slides through the water.

One late autumn day, I arrive and find the waters silent and deserted - during the night, the loons and the herons have departed, and the geese have risen from the waterways as one and climbed high into the moonlight, heading south and swiftly away from the winter which they have already heard dancing through the leaves and rattling the treetops. The starlings and swallows are already long gone, and the telephone lines on which they were lined up like iridescent bobbins a few weeks ago are deserted too.

Somehow or other, I manage to get through the several months of winter and deep snowy cold which are the norm here, but it is not easy going, and there are times when I almost despair of springtime ever putting in an appearance - I am sure that must be obvious from the tone of some of my deep winter postings here. I do love winter, but it is a long cold stretch of time to get through, and there are times when the season weighs heavily on my shoulders, when I am filled with a longing so intense it almost brings me to my knees.

Then there comes a morning in March when I hear the whirring of great wings in unison and ecstatic avian voices calling overhead. I look up and out over the lake, and I find myself enfolded in a joy too fierce and wild and intoxicating for description. Hallelujah, the geese have returned.

When the flocks pass overhead singing their return, I feel as mad as the proverbial March hare and absolutely drunk with elation. Without the mournful partings of last autumn, would I know these fierce and tender joys? I would not, and that is something I would do well to remember in January when the north wind howls through the eaves of the little blue house in the village and I stand looking over a beautiful but almost empty landscape of snow. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever learn....


Debbie said...

Good Morning, Sister!

I got chills as I read your offering today and am smiling fondly at you. You have such a gift of sight *and* are then able to paint, beautifully, what you see with words so that others are able to catch a glimpse of your vision!

Stopping by to thank you for adding me to your blog roll and to say "I'm still with ya" on your word for the week.

Lovin' twinkles,
Prairie Star

Anonymous said...

i can relate cate...the other day while chipping away at the thin layer of frost on my car (a month ago it would have been ice), i heard th chickadees in the nearby bushes, and it made me smile to think that at least someone what's up and coming!

spring ~ officially 4 days away, i've just bought my first seedlings ever and can't wait to begin from scratch!


Marcie said...

Cate, Those are lessons that I am struggling to learn as well. This has been my year to try to embrace winter. I have had moments of acceptance and moments of despair. The going and coming of the wild geese is a story that perfectly captures the emotions of this struggle. How beautifully you wrote it. Thank you.

Shelli said...

I wish I could bottle up some of our warmth and send it to you. I would have a hard time getting through a long winter. You are a courageous woman and write so beautifully. May spring be in your heart if not at your doorstep.

kate said...

How well you put into words what I often feel during the winter ... that feeling of mourning. It seems to get worse every year. My elation when spring arises grows too. So well put!

I used to have a recurring dream (more a nightmare) that it was spring and all the snow had melted, and I waited and waited and nothing in my garden had survived the winter.s

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful essay. I feel the same way about autumn. I want to capture as much of it as I can before it goes, and I always look at bare trees with a little fear that they won't leave out again. I can't describe the elation (yes, perfect word) that I felt when a neighbor's elm put out it's leaves a few days ago, and the feeling I have when I see wildflowers by the side of the road this time of year.