A bird’s eye view

I arise early this crisp autumn morning, determined to make a day of it.

Out the door before sunrise, I stride down Winthrop Street, cross Main and cut through the empty lot behind the pub. Sauntering over the bridge, I face an endless string of southbound traffic; but the din melts away the moment I step into the woods.

I discover a shortcut to the old blue-blazed path and follow it deeper and deeper into the wood. It crosses what had been a narrow brook, now dried up in the long summer drought. I begin the diagonal climb up the ridge below spruce and hemlock, gingerly picking my way along over stretches of broken basalt rock. It isn’t long before I reach the top.

At the summit I step off the trail onto the rocky ledge high above the gorge. At my feet runs the river; directly opposite, nestled among the maples and oaks, lies the hamlet, now partially illuminated in the morning sun.

sunrise_cliffs_10-6-2016

Off to the west a blanket of grey mist floods the far valley. Directly across from where I stand, the Barndoor Hills rise up from the valley floor. Roof-lines of houses and the spires of two churches wax sharp in the morning light as the sun cuts through the stands of trees behind me.

I bring my binoculars up to pan the landscape, then let them fall gently against my chest. I drop my gaze to the river below to study the current. It meanders by the old mill, then slowly picks up speed, forming ribs of white water as it cascades down past the old bridge abutments into the gorge.

Suddenly, a shadow flashes across my eyes. I glimpse an airborne form floating over the river below. A big black bird pumps its broad wings, then soars through the air, its white head and alabaster tail blazing in the sunlight.

Momentarily mesmerized, I scramble to reach the binoculars at my chest. I ease the eagle into focus and follow the final few wing beats before it disappears around the distant bend.

sunrise_river_10-6-2016

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Turbulence

As I sit at my desk, pecking out a rough draft on my computer, the small dog paws repeatedly at my thigh. I offer some temporary solace, reaching down to scratch her ears and neck. She drops down on all fours, only to rear up again shortly after my hand returns to the keyboard. Finally, I let out a short sigh and decide to pack it in: nothing short of a walk will do, it seems, even though we’ve just come back from a morning stroll around the block less than an hour ago.

I zip the collar of my fleece up to my chin, reach for my coat, don my hiking boots, pull on my wool cap and gloves, snap the leash on the dog’s collar; and we head out the back door at a brisk pace down the deserted street in the winter cold.

We turn right at the end of the block and continue down the long grey ribbon of sidewalk to the center of town. Today the school yard is barren, devoid of children. A solitary car sits in the parking lot outside the barber shop. No one, it seems, wants a haircut on this last day of the year.

We round the corner onto Main Street and wait for traffic to thin out on the highway. Despite the crosswalk, no vehicle slows or stops for us to cross. The dog shivers and lifts her nose in the cold air. Finally, the last northbound car disappears over the crest of the hill, and we scoot across the tarmac to the other side.

I let the dog off leash at the old mill and trudge along the loop of frozen gravel road to the bank of the river. Patches of white water bubble and churn in the current. Overhead, billowy clouds press against the backdrop of pure blue sky.

I snap the leash on the dog’s collar as we approach the mill. Linked together once again, we descend the short slope to the concrete retaining wall, built to withstand the torrents that continuously lash against it.

At the top of the rise we follow the great curve of road to the cul-de-sac, then hop the guard rail and pick our way through the remnants of last summer’s brush to the concrete bulwark where the old bridge once stood.

We peer over the edge into the gorge. Just below our feet white water boils against the old bridge abutments, leaping into the air as it scrubs them clean in its turbulent descent. Mesmerized I stand, unable to tear my eyes from the torrent.

We retrace our steps back to the mill, cross the deserted highway and pick up the road to where it intersects the blue-blazed trailhead. From here we follow the leaf-strewn path through the forest back down into town.

A lone dog barks and pads back and forth behind the invisible electronic fence in a front yard, his cinnamon tail erect, curled into a full arc above his back. Tragedy has come to this house over the course of the past year; the couple that had lived there has dwindled to one.

We cross the street and huff up the hill toward the house. The air is cold on my cheek. Despite the gloves my finger tips have turned numb.

We step through the back door into a warm kitchen. I pull off my cap and gloves and rub my palms together. I unzip my coat and throw it over the back of a wooden chair.

A cup of hot coffee restores feeling to my fingertips, but the turbulence of the white water in the river still churns in my soul.

Haiku dog walk

White terrier stands
Head tilted, one brown ear cocked—
Eyeing the black leash.

Ski cap tight, warm gloves
Bulky fleece coat collar zipped—
Door creaks, biting wind!

Titmice perch and peck
Feeder spills, swings to and fro—
Grey squirrel attacks!

Hound dog approaches
Straining at the taut choker—
Vicious snarls exchanged!

Rough coat buries nose
Beneath cinnamon needles—
Organic treasures!

Starlings sit on wires,
A bar of slurred sixteenth notes—
Bird’s eye notation.

Photo eye captures
Afternoon winter debris—
Frozen artifacts.

Stark limbs stretch skyward
Broken branches snapped in two—
Matchsticks on cobalt.

Sudden shot echoes
At wood duck and white water—
Turning tail, dog yaps!

Silver skillet rests
Over open orange flame—
Welcome kitchen warmth.

Copyright 2012 © Brian T. Maurer

"Two Take Flight" 2004 © Barry H. Penchansky, M.D.