Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The summer sky, at twilight
There is something so hushed and eternal about the expanse of summer sky just as the day is drawing to a close. It really is a timeless feeling for me, a moment of all summer skies blending into a singular twilight. I could be any age at all, youth and childhood still so close enough to touch. And yet it is a bit melancholy as well; perhaps the timelessness stretches in both directions, and I am simultaneously old as well as young.
This evening I walked my new dog up and down the quiet streets of the small town I have just moved to. A block from my house is a large grassy square, the perfect showcase for summer skies, with the steeple of a church poking up against the horizon. As the slaty gray tinge to the clouds grew steadily darker, the evening became spangled with the flashes of fireflies.
Even when not actively birding, I am a birder still, and aware of the odd wheeling flight of a chimney swift overhead, the darkening shapes of starlings and grackles bobbing across the grass. The repetitive broken cadence of a robin singing, just as the last trace of light slowly vanished. The peenting of a nighthawk overhead.
There is, in dog-walking, a certain natural antidote to melancholia--especially in walking a dog such as a dachshund, with floppy ears bouncing as it trundles forward as fast as it can on stubby legs, much too comical a sight to allow one to stay solemn.
Perhaps that is a good thing, as birding on a summer evening sometimes leaves me wistful. I think it is the fragile beauty of birds and the world they fly through, and the knowledge that, despite the feeling that a long summer evening could last forever, it will not.
I was flipping through my Bird Journal from 2009, a summer where I frequently dashed off in the evenings for an hour or two of birding after work.
June 8 -- Comlara State Park -- At first glance, everything still-what a contrast from a month earlier, in full migration. Very good look at olive-sided flycatcher; indeed, he was preening his olive sides, perched on top of tree, in dead branches, as field guide claims is his wont.
June 10 -- Comlara State Park -- First bird sighting-oriole going to his nest! By visitor center. So precious. So many blackbirds, scolding me to protect their young. "New" sound for them, a kind of chirrup. So many flashes red "epaulettes." Light poor -- the lake was so still, like a mirror. Found myself entirely solitary.
June 13 -- Comlara State Park -- Experience of standing on bridge, with wetland on either side, surrounded by aerial ballet of barn swallows and raucous crying of red-winged blackbirds, very magical. The gray overcast light reinforced the feeling of solitude, almost otherworldiness. Then--the flash of white, black and red of red-headed woodpecker flying in.
July 13 -- Comlara State Park -- Twilight at Comlara, very peaceful, almost magical. The reflections of pink and red from the setting sun reflected across the still lake; the way the light both softens the outlines of shapes and yet emphasizes the presence of the item itself, tree trunks and branches stark against the sky.... I sat on a wooden bridge listening to the water trickle, watching the fireflies like lights strung through the branches.
It is pointless to complain, and perhaps silly to mourn (and yet it does feel a bit like mourning), to think how those special moments from just two years ago are vanished not only as a point in time; but the place itself has changed. As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts, a forest of towering wind turbines has been erected all along the park's edge. The view in the above photo is gone -- the sky now studded with giant turbines.
The blackbirds still scold and chirrup, the swallows still dart and chitter. (The red-headed woodpecker has not been seen in over a year, however.) I am sure that fireflies still spangle the soft night air.
But Comlara is spoiled now for me, and I am somewhere else. In the timelessness of summer I am, conversely, ever mindful of transience.
This post is neither narrative nor description, just a drifting summer's mood, a whirl of impressions, a train of thought no more tangible than the darkening sky.
But maybe, reading this, you might have felt something similar--if only a flicker of recognition, like the firefly's twinkle, you might have thought, "I've felt that too."
And then it's gone.