The morning sun throws its light across the tops of the distant pines, turning their tufts a brilliant green against the grey backlit sky. Shafts of sharp light stretch across the expanse of back yard. The flower beds lie freshly edged, their black earth turned up to face the sky.
The same wind that stirs the branches of the distant pines stirs something in me as well. I pull on my boots, grab my old felt hat and binoculars and step outside. The morning air is fresh after yesterday’s soaking rain.
I head out toward the far hills, striding down the street past an idling car. Inside a man bows his head, thumbs flying across the key pad of his cell phone.
Just up the street the call of a phoebe resonates through the crisp morning air. He sits on an overhead wire that leads to the house where the young woman with lymphoma lives. A light still burns in the vestibule.
Slowly, I track the muddy leaf-strewn path that leads up the hill and around the bend. Spotted violets dot the edge of the trail, shivering in the early morning air.
At the top of the hill near the concrete water tank I turn left and follow the rain-soaked path up the gradual incline of the old carriage road. I pause at the first bend to look out at the stand of decayed hemlocks, their stark broken branches bleached white in the sun.
Two additional switchbacks and I step onto the rock that juts out at the end of the overlook. I train the binoculars on the far ridges, blue across the river valley, filled with mists.
Further along, the rocks lie covered with moss, wet with dew. The cut where the power lines cross the mountain provides a view of the city to the southeast and the Barndoor Hills to the northwest.
Once more I enter the woods, steadying the binoculars to keep them from bouncing back and forth against my chest, lost in thought.
Suddenly up ahead, a brown flash darts across the path. Stock still I stand, feet planted firmly on the small outcropping of traprock. Ten yards before my eyes a small brown bird perches on the bare branch of a birch tree.
Motionless we stand, regarding one another. The bird boasts a limpid eye ringed in white, a speckled buff breast, a white throat and cinnamon rump. He chortles a brief burst, clearing his throat. Silently I wait. Again and again the bird chortles, several times over the ensuing minute, then drops to the ground among the leaves.
I ease a few steps forward, binoculars at the ready; but the bird flits down through the brush and into the forest.
Within the hour I descend the mountain to the sound of cars whizzing down the main road, commuters on their way to work.
Back home I kick off my muddy boots, settle my old felt hat on the rack, and retire my binoculars to their case, carefully wrapping the cinnamon brown leather strap around the center of the twin eye pieces ringed white with tear salt from four decades of use.