Festival of the Trees #7 appeared a few hours early last night — I presume the host had a party to go to, unlike me — and was one of the last things I looked at before going to bed at around 11:45. The rain was loud on the roof. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard a distant rumble. Thunder, I thought. But in January? It was followed by a second rumble a few seconds later. The surprise of it woke me enough to look at the clock and realize that it wasn’t thunder I was hearing, but human beings marking an arbitrarily designated moment of time by discharging guns and explosives. My first thought of the supposed New Year — “Thunder!” — had been a delusion.
I woke eight hours later, grateful for the rare gift of a full night’s sleep. When I stepped out on my porch, coffee mug in hand, I was greeted by thick fog and the honking of Canada geese. They flew right overhead, so low that I could easily hear the wing beats, though the cloud hid them from view. My first birds of the New Year had been invisible.
I was reminded of New Year’s Day 2000, which began here with a thick snow fog — and with the turn of the millennium still a year away, contrary to the widespread popular delusion. Looking back, it makes me a little sad to realize that the tenacity of that delusion prevented us from enjoying a really memorable, planet-wide millennium-ending celebration on December 31, 2000.
Ten minutes later, a single crow flew in and landed at the top of a tall black locust tree at the edge of the woods. Unlike the “maybe crow” in the poem I just linked to, though, there was no doubt about this one’s identity. At least, not on my part — for all I know, the bird itself was in the middle of an identity crisis. Corvids are certainly smart enough to be capable of self-awareness, and thus also self-doubt, I suppose. Anytime you see a crow by itself, you have to wonder what it’s up to. It sat there silently for less than a minute, then flew off to the southeast. My first omen-like observation of the New Year had been — as always — highly ambiguous.
My first mammal sighting was of a gray squirrel — no surprise there! — perched on the head of the dog statue in my front yard, chewing open the hard shell of a black walnut. This silly game, taking note of first things, had led me to focus on a scene that was no less charming for being commonplace.
After a while, I got up and fetched camera and tripod for a few pictures of the fog. This galvanized me to lace up my shoes and go for a walk — one of my very few, inflexible New Year’s customs. I didn’t realize until later, when I uploaded my photos to the computer, how much trouble the camera had focusing in the fog. My first photos of the New Year were out-of-focus!
I was getting pretty hungry by this time, so I only took a short walk. I noticed that a couple of the power poles appeared to have fresh bear markings on them, though most likely they’ve been there for a couple of months and I only noticed them today because last night’s rain made them stand out. The bears are probably all in hibernation right now, though as warm as the weather’s been, I wouldn’t bet too much on that. We’ve seen bears out wandering around in Januarys past, whether from insomnia or an improperly triggered internal clock, who can say? Something like a rumble of thunder might wake them up.
Another New Year, 8:30 a.m.
Like a bear making claw marks
on a telephone pole,
I decide to take roll.
squirrel on the head of a concrete dog,
Here, I answer.