I made French toast from the leftover loaf of coarse bread on Christmas morning. Everyone gathered in the kitchen and took turns eating at the small table as the toast came out of the skillets, thick and hot and golden brown.
Afterward we opened the gifts. This year there were useful and useless presents—garments and books, gift cards and money, toys and electronic devices. I retrieved A Child’s Christmas in Wales from the small marble-topped table in the parlor and read Thomas’s section on the presents. When I got to the part about the “celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow,” my granddaughter hugged her stuffed slice of bacon toy to make it say “I’m bacon!” and everybody laughed.
We redd up the boxes and the wrappings and then I took the dog out for a walk up along the ridge to the power line cut where you can look out over the wide expanse of the valley. Off to the northeast the Barndoor Hills lay nestled in at the base of the far ridges.
The dog and I stood for a moment surveying the scene when a cacophony drifted in from across the valley. Louder and louder came the cries. Breathlessly I studied the far ridge line, which began to undulate, as though inked in by an unseen hand in real time. Then suddenly the whole line lifted up against the backdrop of the overcast sky. Black dots appeared along the now broken line as bleating and honking reached a deafening crescendo in the cold air.
Closer and closer they came, companies and battalions of geese flying in formation, rising up across the grey sky, a massive ornithological sortie. There must have been three or four hundred, perhaps more. In a moment the sky was filled with the deafening cries of geese as they passed overhead.
The dog and I stood stock still with our eyes raised.
A few breathless moments more and the entire gaggle had disappeared over the second ridge to the south, leaving no trace but an occasional stray bleat.
It was only after the last straggler had gone that I realized my heart was in my throat.