The butternut chronicle: Nov. 18, 1998

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series The Butternut Chronicle


For those who just tuned in, I’m transcribing and reworking the notes from an old journal consisting almost entirely of thoughts germinated and observations made while sitting on my front porch. It ran from November 1 through November 19, 1998.

I woke early, grabbed a shower & took my coffee up into the field to watch the Leonids. Between 5:20 and 6:00 I counted thirty-three streaks of light. I found myself slowly revolving in place with my head back, sometimes stomping my feet to keep warm: an Indian kind of dance, perhaps, accompanied by a vague though prayerful longing. All the while, a pair of great-horned owls were calling back and forth between the ridges and Venus shone bright as a searchlight. Even as the stain of light from the east spread across the sky, even as the earth’s atmosphere grew visible, meteors continued to flash in its inverted pan. Thirty-three: one for each year of my life. These are all the stars I wished upon, I said to myself, knowing full well they were nothing but grains of dust.

Out on the porch at 8:12. It has turned into a glorious morning. I crane around to admire the rosemary blooming on the other side of the window glass: two pale blue, almost orchid-shaped flowers at the end of the longest branch, which bends like a lazy N or half an infinity symbol.

1:15 p.m. Forty-five degrees now and still cloudless, but the stench of cow manure freshly spread on some field down in Sinking Valley makes it tough to sit outside. I count myself fortunate, though, that the pulp mill in Tyrone went out of operation back in 1970, and that none of those massive hog farms one reads about elsewhere have been built here yet.

All afternoon the butternut gets a thorough grooming from nuthatches, chickadees, even a downy woodpecker – sometimes all in the tree at once. Between 2:45 and 3:30 there’s a steady procession of squirrels back and forth between the woods and the walnut tree on the slope behind the house. For whatever reason they have abandoned their usual caution about crossing open ground today. At 3:20 I watch one squirrel pause for a drink in the stream. It crouches to sip in a very feline manner, takes its time. Then it climbs the butternut as high as the Thinker’s usual post and takes time out for a thorough scratch.

By 3:30 the sky has gone white. It’s very still. Much to my surprise, the smell of manure has already completely dissipated – guess I complained too soon. The downy is working over the smallest dead branches – there are quite a few – and I’m enjoying the range of tones he manages to extract along with whatever grubs or insects he’s after.

Around the same time, a small flock of chickadees demonstrates their species’ versatility. Some ride weed stalks and cattail heads halfway to the ground, dangling head-down like a dried plant’s dream of heaven in a huge winged seed. Others fly up to the tops of the walnuts and black cherries at the woods’ edge to raid old webworm nests, while still others hop around in the butternut, poking and peering under every loose piece of bark. They could just stay at the birdfeeders all day, but what would be the fun in that?

At 4:30 the Thinker crosses the road about fifteen feet off the ground and follows his usual arboreal highway down the splay of butternut limbs to his favorite spot. All’s not right with the world, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be.

Series Navigation← The butternut chronicle: Nov. 14, 1998

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