Christmas morning my wife took sick.
At the last minute we had to cancel our plans to host Christmas dinner. For the first time in forty years there would be no roast turkey with all the trimmings on the big table at the house.
I found the remnant of a loaf of crusty bread and hastily concocted a breakfast of french toast with a bit of bacon on the side.
My wife retreated to the bedroom upstairs while I cleared the kitchen table and did the dishes.
Afterward, I donned my padded vest, pulled on my woolen cap and stepped outside into the sharp cold winter sunshine. I ambled down the street to the center of town, then turned northwest to follow the road to the park.
Footsteps of previous visitors had iced up overnight. I found it easier to make my way through the crunchy snow along the margins of the path.
I skirted the frozen pond, blazing a trail through the brush under the bare towering trees at the far edge to the point where the two streams meet. The current had kept the water open in the center; great swaths of grey ice clung to the shoreline. Nothing moved in the quiet stillness: no winter bird, no air, no cloud in the sky.
Shortly, I turned and retraced my steps. Fifty yards further up along the bank I paused to survey the barren landscape. My eye glimpsed a grey shadow dart across the ice at my feet as a big bird dropped from its perch high overhead and floated over the dark open water.
A few powerful beats of its great black wings propelled the bird high above the river. Deftly, it dropped and circled, then climbed higher, then dropped again. With each pass overhead the brilliant white tail and white head flashed in the mid-morning sun.
Finally, the eagle turned and banked; then, with several more wing beats, it sailed off over the tops of the far trees.
This morning I thought to return to the point to see if I might catch another glimpse of the eagle.
Rather than make an approach through the town, I cut across the cemetery and picked up the trail along the river instead.
Several birds shifted in the trees on the far shore. One grey-blue form suggested a likely kingfisher, but I hadn’t brought my binoculars and couldn’t make a positive identification. Somewhere overhead a carpenter bird tapped out its coded message on a decayed limb.
As I stood there in the frozen snow, a small grey bird darted suddenly into the brush along the near bank and piped amidst the branches. Perhaps a sparrow, I thought; but no: this bird was uniformly grey.
Curiously, he flitted from branch to branch, seeking sustenance of some sort, finding nothing but a few lone winterberries, which seemingly held no interest.
Closer and closer he came, until finally he got to within several feet of where I stood.
Here he paused momentarily, bobbing nearly upside down on a fine twig; and eyed me briefly, revealing a bright yellow swath along the center of his crown: a little kinglet, meticulously surveying his vast winter wooded domain.