Down on my knees

Down on my knees
Sanding and wiping
The hard wooden porch deck
Preparing to lay a coat
Of stain
On this clear morning
After rain
A bleating of geese
Breaks through.
I pause, sit back on my haunches,
Careen my neck
To glimpse the V-formation
As they sweep overhead.
Had they heard my prayer,
If indeed I were praying?
No matter.
Grace is grace,
Wherever found.

2017©Brian T. Maurer


Of time and the river

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. —Thoreau, Walden

My friend and I both agree: we have never seen the river so shallow as this year.

For the first time in as long as we can remember, certain rocks, previously hidden, are now visible, having risen Brigadoon-like from its watery depths. What was once the beginning of the sluice that diverted river current to power the turbines in the old mill is now clearly outlined by the sweep of river rock just west of the bridge, and the bases of the concrete abutments downstream are readily apparent where the old Tunxis bridge once spanned the gorge.

We dip and swing our paddles beneath the bright sun and faultless blue sky. The old blue wooden-ribbed boat glides silently through the clear water. Arrayed along the sandy river bottom, the last leaves of autumn are clearly visible, a patchwork of yellows and browns.

Shortly, we kick up a gaggle of six Canada geese. Their wide wings beat the air, lifting heavy bodies off the water’s surface in a cacophony of honks and splashes. In formation they fly upriver, then at the last moment diverge at the steel bridge, four birds ascending above, two below.

Gradually, we move upstream against the current; continually, it beckons us back; but still we force our way forward against the flow of water.

Scoured trees stand sentinel-like, guarding the brambled banks. Any number have been undone, strangled and broken by the ubiquitous yellow-orange bittersweet.

Eventually, we turn the canoe in a grand sweep and begin our descent, drifting downstream, no longer fighting the force of the current.

A red-shouldered hawk drops from its perch and silently disappears into the woods.

As the thin current carries the blue boat along through the mirror of blue sky, past the leafless trees, now stark in their late autumn nakedness, soundlessly we become one with the water and the overhead expanse, drifting through momentary lapses of time into the eternity that remains.


Morning portrait

A cold front had moved in overnight; overhead, wispy cirrus clouds dotted the sky.

The surface of the river lay finely polished at first light. Already the waxwings were flitting about, performing their aerial acrobatics high above the water. Directly opposite, near the entrance to the cove, a great blue heron rose up with a series of sharp squawks.

As I emerged from the trees and stepped out onto the sandy point, a gaggle of Canada geese waddled into the water. Out in the middle of the river a large heavy bird was already bleating a warning.

One by one the geese paddled toward him as he led the gaggle upstream, sounding off with a good deal of regularity. His honks were echoed by another goose close behind. The two took turns, the second playing off the lead, until at one point the honks overlapped and merged into one.

Steadily, the others followed along behind. I counted eleven in all.

I turned and retraced my steps through the woods, skirting the duckweed-choked pond nestled beneath the trees. Nothing stirred the coarse green surface as I sauntered by.

Later, as I ascended the road toward home, a frenzied honking rose from the river behind me, filling the air. I turned and shielded my eyes.

Overhead in single file the Canada geese flew, eleven in formation, silhouetted against the rising sun.

In the pauses

“Only in the pauses between things, in the brief contemplative spaces of just being, can we catch a glimpse of love itself.”
Gerald G. May, The Awakened Heart

I was up early this morning, clearing the overnight snowfall from the driveway in anticipation of the next storm, which is slated to start tonight and continue through Monday into Tuesday morning. The NOAA site is predicting 8 to 14 inches for our area.

The streets in the village have taken on the appearance of Olympic luge runs, with snow piled high on either side; the surrounding wooded hills sit in sentinel silence, dusted with confectionery sugar.

As I herringboned the driveway with the snow shovel, a gaggle of Canada geese passed by low overhead. You could hear their wings beating the air, and for several seconds the sporadic honking was deafening. I paused to watch them melt into the morning greyness of sky, thankful for a minute of rest before resuming my Sisyphean task.

The long winter of our discontent is not without its moments of common grace.

The moon, the leaves and the swallows

I awoke with the light of the full moon streaming in through the bedroom window. Shortly, I stepped out the back door into the street. A light rain had fallen overnight. I set out at a quick pace on my early morning walk along the black streets dappled with yellow leaves glistening under street lights and the full moon.

The previous evening I sat at table next to the wife of an old friend. Unexpectedly, we had met at the annual March of Dimes fundraiser. Earlier we browsed the food booths in the great hall, sampling specialty dishes served up by chefs from local area restaurants. Now we rested at the round tables, listening to the local news personalities as they made a plea for contributions via the silent auction.

I don’t recall how the subject came up, but at some point my friend’s wife mentioned that they had taken up birding. As an avid birder myself, this bit of information intrigued me; and soon we were swapping bird stories. She told me how one of her twin daughters had been pursued by a low-flying flock of sand cranes during a family camping excursion. I told her about the time the Canada geese came honking in waves across the valley early one winter morning. Then she took a deep breath and told me about the tree swallows in Lord’s Cove.

Lord’s Cove is an extensive area of brackish reed marsh and tidal wetlands situated between Essex and Old Lyme on the Connecticut River. They were kayaking the salt marshes one late September evening, when suddenly the sky was filled with swarming tree swallows. “There must have been tens of thousands of them,” she said. “We were engulfed by the sound of the roar of their wings. Then all at once they converged in a funnel and dropped down into the tall grass on the island and were gone.”

Tree swallows Lord's Cove

An auctioneer had ascended the stage and began the bidding on the big-ticket items. Later I learned that my friend’s wife had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma the previous year. She saw her oncologist every three months. She told me she had come to trust him; and for the moment, she felt fine.

I neglected to tell her the story of the wild geese I had seen gliding down in formation to a field filled with corn stubble, their wings arched high to soften their landing.

I made my way back from my early morning walk as the moon broke through the clouds above the far horizon. As I turned the corner by the church at the end of our street, the wind picked up and a shower of golden leaves engulfed me, gently slapping the still glistening street beneath my feet.

"Hunter's Moon" 2012©Brian T. Maurer

“Hunter’s Moon” 2012©Brian T. Maurer

Christmas Day, 2010: A magical moment

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.