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Winter Solstice

Solstice-2014

 

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

  – Langston Hughes

 

 

Seasonal sumac

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Rhus typhina = staghorn sumac

 

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Frosty fire

 

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One for each night?

 

 

 

 

A closing circle

The silver Swan, who, living, had no Note,
   when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
   thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
“Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.”

-Orlando Gibbons/Christopher Patton 1612

 

December 2nd: high 36ºF, low 29ºF. Previous day’s high, an unseasonable but welcome 61ºF. Condition of pond: open water throughout, after complete disappearance of skim ice formed in late November. Mute swans active:

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Photo above courtesy of Harold McAleer, who also posted this video taken from Rt. 117.

 

December 8th: high 24ºF, low 14ºF, after a 17ºF night. Solid overcast, steady high winds. Condition of pond: almost completely frozen over (though thinly; this isn’t yet the beginning of walkable, skateable ice); wisps of dusty snow blow into traceries that sweep and shift. Mute swans active, but constrained. With a nod to the opening of Citizen Kane:

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Far out from the sheltering banks—

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even further than that—

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is a tiny pool of open water where

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a pair of swams swims in decreasing circles for hours as day and light also decline. Whence this puddle? Perhaps a stable channeling or vorticity in the steady wind keeps the surface agitated at that spot. Perhaps an underground spring, as some allege to feed the pond; or the pumping action of presure changes across its length. Perhaps the birds themselves provide enough motion to prevent overgrowth.

The swans dip, swallow and preen, as swans are wont to do. Mostly, they keep their heads down; wind chill in these conditions may be more of a problem than the relatively balmy and more-or-less invariant 55° water. But a little after the time of (unnoticeable) sunset, temperature and wind conspire to close the diner completely, and they flee—perhaps to the river, where there will be open water in far deeper chills than this.

Stalking alone

Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild. … and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.

Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling

 

Wolves and other canines hunt in packs. Cats, in the main, prefer their own company. There are advantages to each. This magnificent buck, shown here napping in a soft bed

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after a light meal of sunflower seeds and cracked corn, was top dog deer around Flying Squirrel Hollow for several winters in succession until taken one midnight—following what was probably a mutually exhausting chase—by a loud pack of coyotes.

The victors apparently divided the spoils for private dining around the neighborhood, leaving this grisly souvenir near where the photo above was taken:

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A couple of decades prior, feral cats were a common sight in the area. Sometimes mangy, sometimes sleek, always distrustful of humans and clearly at home in their territory, they may contribute significantly to the decline of some songbirds hereabouts: while estimates are variable and controversial, it seems that at least several hundred million US birds are taken by feral and outdoor housecats. So, with due sympathy for the circumstances of pets forced to resume to a level of self-reliance against which they have been bred for several thousand years, not all mourn the recent confluence of the coyote and the cat.

Nonetheless, a few individuals survive, through greater wile, sharper senses or some other beneficial selection or adaptation. One such, seen for a few years in the area, is this confident but highly solitary individual:

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(Photos taken in haste, at extreme range and through windows that could use a wash.)

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With compassion for its victims, one may still respect and admire the hardy loner.