January 2009

Monthly Archive

Confluence: a river blog

Posted by on 30 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: Confluence: a river blog, Uncategorized

Confluence: a river blog © 2009 by Karl Meyer

Confluence: entry one, January 28, 2009

I spent an hour walking in the snowy woods along the edges of a ridge that presides above the confluence of the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers. I walk there frequently. It’s a jumble of shorter and longer trails, some up, some down. You can pick your length and pretty much get what you want from a walk just ten minutes beyond the center of town. It’s an extension of the Pocumtuck Ridge, an ancient basalt escarpment that extends two miles to the north, and maybe six miles south of here. It’s interrupted by the water gap here where the Deerfield was forced to enter the Connecticut from an upstream angle due to this ancient rock formation. There is energy along this corridor.

As I walk the morning is cold, in the teens and sunny, but otherwise unremarkable. A few tufted titmice are beginning to hold forth with extended notes, foretelling their anticipation of spring—still months distant. If you take any one of the trails diverging from the main paths you can generally have a solitary walk in these woods. Noise from the outside world is not excluded completely, but it is generally a distant muffle against the sound of your own footsteps. As I circle down and then up along the shoulder of the ridge tumbling toward the Deerfield, I note through the trees for the first time that the river, half-obscured by my angle looking south from this ridge, is snow covered and frozen. I don’t recall that from last year—this being my second winter walking these trails.

What are remarkable, apart from the prints of snowshoes, skis, people and dogs along this trail, are the easily identifiable deviations of the wild creatures. Of most note are the tracks of coyotes which lead off in bee-line fashion at steep angles from the beaten paths, veering toward ridge lines and bounding down hillsides as they go about their wild business. It is pair bonding time for this species. These woods are busy each night as dusk descends. Rising up the hill from a site near the mouth of the Deerfield, comes a steady low hum and then banging echoes of a metal recovery works. Beyond that and opposite on the Deerfield sits the sprawling and sometimes busy track grid of the East Deerfield rail yard—still a significant switching station here in the Northeast. From there the rumbles of idling locomotives and the chain-slamming start-ups of train vibrate the air.

As I finish my loop here I am angling up hill with a view north toward a gap in the ridge with pure blue sky looming above. Something pulls my eyes in that direction and I’m struck with the absolute blue of the sky spreading beyond that snow covered lookout. It is such a deep blue I am momentarily dumbfounded—the stuff that you might pick out of the pure selections offered from a computer program for brochure printing. Only this is the real thing: deep, clear, clean blue. It is a saturated natural canvass, and one that I scarcely remember coming across before. There must be some interplay of sun, snow, and ridgeline color, and the angle of late-morning January light that has caused it, but all I can think is that it is magnificent.

I’m trying to capture this in my head, azure?—cerulean??—I’ve never been good with color descriptors. A speck glides into view against that canvass. It slides across with a flap or two of its wings, and then simply floats northward above the ridge. Though it is perhaps a seven hundred feet up there is no mistaking this raptor. White tail, white head, dark body—strong, flat-winged glide: bald eagle. I count back in my head and realize that this will be the ten year anniversary of the return of naturally nesting bald eagles to the shores of the Connecticut. That nest is less than three miles from here. It’s possible that’s where this bird is heading. Against the blue I’m reminded of the eleventh hour attempt by the Bush Administration to turn back many of the tenets that brought this species back here for the first time in over a century—the Endangered Species Act.

A Fun Depression

Posted by on 29 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: A Fun Depression, Copyright 2009 Karl Meyer

A Fun Depression © 2009 by Karl Meyer

A Fun Depression: blogging through

Entry 1: January 25, 2009

Since early fall–when the scale of this financial debacle was becoming glaringly clear, I have mentioned to friends the idea of making this a “fun depression.” Heck, by then most of us had already been steeped in a stew of depression for the past eight years. The idea of a depression was nothing novel. In all cases the “fun” idea was favorably received: a small attempt at a bailout for the psyche for what was at hand—and of course for those gloomy days predicted on the horizon. So, this is my call to arms: let’s have a fun depression!

This one doesn’t have to be your parent’s depression; your grandparent’s market crash. Let’s wade into this downturn with the idea that there’s room for a few laughs. There is no need for the rest of us here in the rabble to OWN the damned thing. Let’s have a little fun with this ugly puppy, engineered by the greedy. Let’s let THEM be grim for a bit, and we’ll keep plugging along with a joke, and a story, and a grin from time to time. Like the last one, this one just ain’t ours. And once again, all we have to do is figure out how to endure it!

I’ve been trying to decide on a first Fun Depression entry, and it’s been somewhat daunting. You don’t want to head out on a downturn with a wrong turn. But then, over-thinking things has a whole rash of its own pitfalls. So, here goes:

Blog One: “A lone swallow in a dreary winter.”

“A lone swallow in a dreary winter,” I heard someone use this phrase this morning on the radio. It’s possible you’ve already guessed the chap was British. I was delighted upon hearing the phrase—so descriptive, quotable, delivered in that clipped way. I looked it up, but could not track down a specific reference. Still, it does have a literary flavor. His subject matter—birds, seasonality? Actually, and you might have guessed this too, he was talking about the financial market. That lone swallow referred to was a British bank called Barkley’s, I believe. It appears they actually made some money this quarter—as opposed to other banks in England teetering on the edge of default. Hence–his metaphor.

But gosh I liked hearing it. Loved thinking about that “lone swallow” out there. Here in Western Massachusetts the idea of a swallow—flocking, or on its own, in a winter with a good foot-plus of snow cover on the ground, is quite the image. A swallow set against these sub-freezing January days is a cheery thought indeed. Too bad he had to confuse such a splendid bird family with the cold realities of the banking industry. That is a mixed metaphor. Still, you can’t argue with his dreary winter characterization. I’m not quite sure why I let these “market” programs into my living room any more—they were the ones that helped whistle us right into the graveyard. I’ll have to be quicker on the button next time.

And yet, I like a lone swallow in a dreary winter. It has a utility to it, as well as some poetry. It could be describing that last swig from the bottle in some chilled January cabin in the north—or an apartment like my own for that matter. The beginning of a novel? The final act of a desperate debtor or market manipulator?? In the end, I’ve taken it to refer to my own winter circumstance. Here, I’ve deconstructed it into a mix of the literal and figurative in my own life: my little, suction-cupped bird feeder, fastened to the front window of my living room. It has been there for six weeks, full of seed. I saw two chickadees visit that first week, and the shadow of what might have been a nuthatch. Though it’s still full, they have been the sum total of my feathered visitors. I’d put the thing up to brighten my dark winter days.

As it turns out, they were my lone swallow in a dreary winter. Plural, of course. And yet, I haven’t minded missing them—the birds. Much. I’d debated picking up this rather modest thing—a stand alone perch that holds maybe a cup of sunflower seed smack against the middle of a west window. The neighborhood is rabid with gray squirrels, so this was the only site where I could hope to dodge the marauding rodents in any meaningful way. And, I knew having a few birds bounce around just beyond the glass pane would brighten these long, cold days.

So, I spent a little cash—which is somewhat scarce at the moment, and bought both feeder and seed. Once installed and filled, I’d waited. And waited. It took most of a week before I caught the quick flit and perch of first one chickadee, then another. They came in succession, stopping, glancing around for predators, then craning in for a seed and quickly flying off. “I’m in business,” I thought. These visits came closely on the heels of that shadowy retreat of what I believe was a nuthatch (white breasted, likely—I just got a glimpse.)

Unexpectedly, sadly, that was it. All she wrote. A lone swallow in a dreary winter. Day in and day out, that little, clear-plastic feeder sits smack in the center of my living room window–suctioned on invisible glass like some strange space ship hanging in the air. It’s still full of seed and promise. Day in, day out, it remains unvisited by birds; unmolested by squirrels. I guess I’ve taken to seeing it as a fun depression’s first artifact. It fits the bill. Its promise was of purple finches, goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, maybe the odd red-breasted nuthatch. What it delivered were two minute- waltzes, from a pair of skittish visitors. Lone swallows in a dreary winter.

Well, toughen up old chap. Chin up old boy. Barkley’s is paying a dividend, and if I look far enough across the parking lot my friends Tracey and Michael have a gaggle of birds at their feeders. Perhaps I should be grateful there’s been no run on my bank.

In the end, my feeder is just exactly what it was when I brought it here: the promise of birds. This is Plato’s quintessential bird feeder; his perfect chair. It’s purely, the notion of itself. The longer it sits there, the more I appreciate it. It’s a time capsule, really, at this point. In a week it will be February. The sap will run. Six weeks from then, it will be March—my little space-ship feeder still suctioned and full at the window. A week after that, we’ll be approaching the equinox. I may just be looking out through the window past that feeder then, and there it may be—a lone swallow in a dreary winter. As promised. This one will be a tree swallow.