Monday, January 30, 2012

Butterfly Winter




The day after most of our brief snow accumulation bled away in warm temperatures and misty rain that followed quickly after the snow, I walked in the marsh along Quincy’s shoreline which I visit repeatedly during the year. The path was squishy, with some patches lasting longer here mainly because a few of us have compacted the snow by our footsteps, so it melts slower. Otherwise, another mostly sunny, mild January day. Actually, more factually, this was an unusually warm day even for this turncoat January, and the temp would rise to about 60. It felt that warm in the marsh.
Then I saw the butterfly. It was black-winged – a Morning Cloak? Or maybe a day-flying moth. But though I cannot identify species I have observed butterflies quite a bit in recent years, they visit our garden, and I know, we all know, how butterflies move. This moved like a butterfly. I don’t know suspect it’s going to be happy with its surroundings long-term, but it flew across the trail in front of me and disappeared among the trees.
Maybe it was the recently melted snow, but the world had a fresh and shiny finish to it. The sea looked blue and creamy, as if someone had poured milk into it. The sky was a darker blue, and with so much light sent skyward off the leftover fast-melting snow it seemed deeper than winter skies usually are. The clear blue above showed autumn dense against the bare limbs of the taller trees.
Besides the butterfly, the day warmed up some other creatures. I saw birds, chickadees among them, working among the thickets, and stopped dead when my ears distinguished the characteristic woody pat-pat of the woodpecker. I could see nothing at first, but kept looking steadily at a close at hand bare-limbed tree. Finally, the woodpecker rounded a branch and leapt into focus. It was tapping not far above me, not apparently aware of me. Slowly, silently, I unzip the camera case. The thing is half out when the bird takes off. Not hearing me, in no particular alarm. It was just time to move on.
A red-headed woodpecker, I decide, with the skeletal spine-and-ribs white marking down his dark-colored back.
On my way out, almost back on the main path, I flush a rabbit out of a thorny patch of thicket, where I had no idea he was hiding just a yard or two from my path. I would not have noticed him. But he skitters away, his puffy white tail blazing his whereabouts. He shoots through the weeds and onto the main path, and is gone by the time I get there.
The marsh has attracted one more visitor this winter, a posse of Canada geese, grazing in the yellow marsh grass across the marsh in the direction of the school, the only large birds I see this day. But they see me come round a bend in the trail and stop and stare. I am far away, to far for photography, but perhaps at a shooter’s distance. Do they worry about intentions? Or do they stare at me simply because I’ve stopped to gaze at them.