Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter Comes to Quincy

I step outside today, it’s late morning, the sun is shining brightly, and my breath immediately forms a steamy veil that covers my face. It’s shockingly cold. Impossibly cold. Not really, of course, since it’s December and the thermometer reads a seasonable 28 degrees. But it feels like another world to me, after a month of forties and occasional fifties.
But it’s not only me. The leaves of the rhododendron bush lose their greeny soul to a deep, sub-freezing night and droop. Warmer temperatures will bring them back; colder nights will cause them to pull all the moisture in their cells inward to try to preserve it from freezing.
Cold nights mean big days at the bird feeder too. After putting the feeder away for the summer we’re back to buying bird feed again, black-shelled sunflower seeds, which so far have drawn a busy tribe of little brown sparrows. One of them has a patch of red on the back of his head, but he flocks with the others. A couple of tufted titmouse too today, gray and crested and swooping in to take their chances with the others. Underneath, the squirrels are busy and multiple.
To combat squirrels climbing up the feeder this year, we’ve come up with a mixture of oil and hot pepper which we brush on to the metal baffle and the curve of the pole right above it. Some squirrels fly – no other word for it – right over the baffle, brace their back feet on the pole, lean over to the feeding ring and suck the seed out of the feeding tube. Their oversized presence on the feeding ring scares away the birds, leaving us with the prospect of watching fat squirrels feed instead of happy, chirpy birds. So far an application of cayenne, chili pepper and sunflower oil seems to chase them away for a couple of weeks before wearing off.
So the winter routine begins.
But if the nights aren’t achingly cold and the wind’s not searing my lungs, I like to walk in them. Here’s a poem about early winter nights.

Winter Transit

Anybody know where this world is going?
On a chilly, brilliant winter night,
Chinese spices smarten up the air
The city bus hums nostalgically into my sight
Ten, twelve faces frozen in the light,
The very same ones every night
A rumble from behind, a second sighting
– a two-bus astronomical transit! –
Passing like ships in the night
Catty-corner, a calligraphed tree imprints its shadow
On the speechless pavement, while from on high
Jupiter’s celestial eye casts an unwavering gaze
On the first night of the first month of winter…
Only one hundred more such tales to follow
Everything changes the same