On an icy-cold bench overlooking the forks of the river, at the old train bridge, where it crosses the rivers.

Song sparrows rule the underbrush, but I have seen scarlet cardinals, blue jays, thrushes, buzzy coteries of chickadees, bluebirds, downy and pileated woodpeckers, big hawks with barred tails, and I heard a crowd of crows burst into angry laughter.  I looked up into the pale sky, still icy with morning and glazing with strato-cirrus, and saw what I think were sandhill cranes, migrating lazily, turning a few circles.  They were big, the size I imagined they would be, and they were mostly a pale yellowy-white, with black wingtips.  They seemed to skate, or to swim like fish, so free, so high.  They drifted like lit dust in attic air.

How little birds know of us, and how little they seem to care.  This is why I love them, or one of the reasons.  Their lives, and their life’s work, they withhold from us as if they knew we couldn’t respect it.  Their lives seem hidden, and how rare it is that we see their deaths.  What we see of their movements we must therefore attribute to enjoyment, exuberance, and chutzpah.

A cardinal, so blood-red, sat up there on a bare tree branch for so long, several minutes at least.  I thought he might be watching the sparrows in their endless, restless searching.  Which made me wonder—what will he eat?  Will he find enough through February and March to keep alive?  And then: how could he not?

.   .   .

I’m a naturalist, and I can’t help it.  Never have been able to.  I have hope for the natural world, and it continues to interest me more than the urban, more than the virtual.  I hope it always will.

Even sitting on a downed branch, looking out over a field of dry grass stubble, I’m entranced.  Papery husks and stalks, feathery seed-heads sprawl over the hillocky ground, reflecting sunlight with the colorless glint of spider-webs.  Sparrows, wrens, and what I think are phoebes flutter out of the grass huts, perch wisely on tall Johnson grass stalks, then tear off with small chirps, rapid wingbeats.

Lumps of dark, plowed earth lie in a long strip at the edge of the field, and they interest me, too.  How long mole- and worm-tunnels rest underneath grassroots, and then a tractor and a shiver and up they turn, ears open to above-ground sounds.

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