Ten years ago this spring, in the darkness before dawn, I switched on my headlamp, dialled in my compass, and set forth into a chilly Arkansas swamp. Dressed head to toe in camouflage and lugging an arsenal of camera gear, I wandered alone that day through lowlands of oak, cypress and sycamore, through muck and icy water, and through my own hopeful apparitions. After about 10 miles of this, in the golden hour before sunset, I found a dry rise in the land, propped myself against a fallen tree, and waited for a resurrection. … On this final evening in the swamp, like every other, I waited for an ivory-billed woodpecker to return from the dead. And on this day, like every other, the woodpecker never came.
On my way to work in Peacham Bog I am blood walking. Black flies swarm in a frenzy at my ears. Deer flies turn my right hand into a lobster claw. Mosquitoes are rendered quaint by comparison. But this is the least of my problems.
At age 55, here in the woods of Vermont, I now need eyeglasses to read my compass. And I fall more often while bushwhacking. It’s a matter of my clinging to a pace I kept in these forests three decades ago. My brain wills me forward faster than my legs can respond.
Perched on a rocky point along the Maine coast, the snowy owl is languid, a predator without country or concern. The wind and the sleet don’t matter. Crashing waves don’t matter. You don’t matter either. The snowy owl doesn’t care that you’ve driven halfway across winter to see a bird on a rock. The snowy owl doesn’t even know you exist. So you peer through binoculars and watery eyes at a creature from a place painfully colder than Maine or Ohio or Minnesota, or anywhere else in the US that these Arctic owls are showing up in huge numbers this winter. As it rests, or naps, the owl ignores its role in the Harry Potter legend or even in the drama of a warming planet. Then you cough or curse the wind chill, and the owl spins its head your way. From a snowy owl’s eyes, the Arctic speaks.
Hillary Clinton’s secret service agents were on to me. I knew it the moment one of them began talking into a microphone hidden in his sleeve. As I maneuvered through a crowd toward Hillary, two agents advanced on me. “If you don’t leave now,” one of them, the tall one, said politely, “we’ll take you out of here.”
And so ended my chance to interview First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Woodstock, Vermont, on June 18, 1993.
Not long ago, Ruth and I were browsing at Bear Pond Books when she came upon Carl Safina’s latest masterpiece, The View from Lazy Point, still in hardbound.
“Well, I guess I’ll read your copy,” she said.
I looked back with a sheepish grin.
And then Ruth announced: “Oh, right … it’s on your Kindle.”
Shoppers stopped shopping. Employees stopped working. Their looks were like arrows through my heart. I withered. I shriveled. Right there in non-fiction. It was as if Ruth had announced at a PBS party that I watched Fox news. Yeah, it’s true. I own a Kindle. And it’s finally weighing on my conscience. Read on (or listen on Vermont Public Radio) »
Blackbirds do it. Chickadees do it. Even educated emus do it.
Some birds are cheaters. Their trysts, dalliances, one-morning stands, and other infidelities would constitute a racy script for a wildlife soap opera. Among the rest (or the restless, as the case may be), polygamy, or “many marriages,” ranges from casual to calculating.
On a crisp, sunny day in September, after what was probably a typical summer for a dragonfly, a Common Green Darner took off and began to migrate south. As it cruised past the summit of Vermont’s Mt. Philo, with Lake Champlain below and the Adirondacks off in the distance, the dragonfly crossed paths with a Merlin.
Our ending had a beginning, a night fixed in my memory like every other event in our life together. On that night he didn’t reach for me, didn’t wake me with the caress that had always made us glow. (My first attempt at writing fiction.)
In the sensitive matters of reproduction, birds seal it with a kiss. Not a peck. Not a smooch. Birds instead do it with the cloaca – a rear opening in male and female through which waste, sperm or eggs all must pass. We call it the "cloacal kiss." Among ducks, however, there is no kiss. Not even dinner and a movie.