The swans are back.
We watch for them every winter, anticipating their return to our fields, lakes, and sea shores; the southern end of their annual migration. They begin to arrive at the end of November, a few more each day, until - quite suddenly, it seems - there are large flocks of them gathered throughout the valley.
This morning our grey weather has returned. The brief, snowy interlude has passed, and it is raining. The clouds are so low that the mountains that encircle our valley seem to have disappeared, and the mist rising from the forest blurs the boundary between land and sky.
Farm fields, edged in tall dark ranks of fir and spruce, hold silvery mist in their hollows, the swans appearing like ghosts within it. Adolescent cygnets, still soft grey, can disappear entirely into the the translucent swirls, appearing again like apparitions right before you.
The lake, its waters perfectly still, reflects the silver sky above so perfectly that you can see the clouds more distinctly by looking down than you can by gazing up.
Along the shore, swans mingle with geese and ducks, the elder statesmen of the waterfowl world, maintaining their aloof dignity even as their neighbours squabble and gossip all around them. Less than graceful on the strand, they move into the water and transform from stolid matriarchs and rounded worthies to something more akin to angels.
A flotilla of grand, white birds sails across the water; silent, graceful, its movement so smooth that it barely ripples the surface. They don't take from the reflection of the sky, but add to it: A symmetry of silver and white, forming perfect heart-shaped Valentines each time a head is lowered to touch the water's surface.
I am not their only audience.
Heron sentries posted along the edges of the water pause from their quest for small silver fish and raise their heads to watch the swans sail past.
Gulls, ever noisy and inquisitive, swoop and dive around them, and are completely disregarded.
An eagle circles overhead and then settles in the bare top of a tall, dark fir tree, his keen yellow eyes watching their progress as the flotilla sails beside the shore.
There is a sort of peace to be found in regarding these creatures, in feeling the rain on my face, in watching the movement of the birds, and in admiring the quiet beauty of the scenery. I am reluctant to leave it. My fingers grow cold so I stow my camera and don my gloves. I open my umbrella. And still I stand and watch, and listen, until I know I can linger no more.
I return to the warmth of my car, and then to the warmth of my house, grateful for my time with the swans this morning, and for the camera which allows me to save their images for another time. I make a cup of tea and get breakfast on the stove. I return to the routines of my day.
This afternoon when the sun is setting, I'll see the swans again. They'll wing past my window on their commute from estuary to inland fields, still as silent as ghosts, and seeming to glow in the light of the lowering sky: A gift of the season.
I hope that wherever you are today, and whatever you are doing, you'll find the time to pause, and look, and listen to the world around you. I hope that the gifts of the season are yours to unwrap, and that they warm your heart, capture your imagination, and lift your spirits. Have a joyful day.
Monday, 1 December 2014
Something fairly amazing happened here this weekend: On Thursday, we had record high temperatures, but then the weather changed and on Saturday morning we woke to snow.
Two things happen when it snows here:
The first is that drivers panic, and with some good reason. Our mild temperatures mean wet snow that packs into a layer of ice, and day-time thaws in sunny areas followed by night-time freezes can turn our streets into asphalt skating rinks. When you combine that with the fact that, because we have so few snow days each year, few drivers here buy snow tires, you get some fairly spectacular results.
Wise drivers choose to stay off the roads as much as they can on snowy days, making the busy streets outside my home much quieter than usual. That quiet announces the presence of snow before we even look out the window. We are always grateful for it.
The second thing that happens on a snowy day is that people go outside. We know that the snow will last but a few days before the rains return, and we want to enjoy the landscape's brief but oh-so-beautiful transformation. Parks are busy with children at play, and walking trails see a lot of traffic.
The trails are still quiet, though, in the early light of a weekday morning and, although the centre of the trail has been well travelled, the snow on either side is largely untouched by human traffic. It tells the tale of forest creatures coming and going across its expanses; the story narrated in footprints of birds, deer, raccoons by a pond, and even this morning a single bear, who made his way up the steep hill beside the trestle, used it to cross the river and then headed down the hill on the other side.
Most of the forest near the trail is coniferous. The broad fans of evergreen branches catch the snow and the needles hold it, making layers of white and deep green that follow the contours of the hillside in a rhythm; a Christmas-card-perfect picture of winter.
In places there are alder groves, their silvered trunks rising from the blue shadowed snow like swift brush strokes on watercolour paper, ending in branches as delicate a tracery as lace.
Near the water, the cottonwoods crowd, their bare branches holding the snow as they reach out over iron-grey water.
This morning I hear the high pitched scree scree of two eagles calling to one another from the tree tops. Their white heads and black feathers make effective camouflage in the winter scenery. Even following the sound of their voices, I'm unable to distinguish them amid the snow and branches.
Content to know that they are there, I cease looking for the eagles and carry on along the trail, my patience rewarded by the sight of a magnificent, white-headed giant, soaring along beside me at shoulder level as it follows the course of the canyon below.
On my way home, I pass by vineyards, the grapevines bare and sculptural now; black twisted arches marching in rows across rolling white fields. The yards are edged by willow, its yellow ochre twigs standing out against the monochrome of snow.
In a sheltered field near the road, a flock of swans are breakfasting on the grass beneath the snow. They've chosen a spot where the snow layer is thin but, even so, they blend with the landscape. Were it not for the soft grey cygnets among them, I might not have noticed them at all.
Overhead, great flocks of geese pass by on their morning commute from inland fields to estuary. They are growing in number now, our year-round residents joined by their migratory cousins, with vees that sometimes number close to a hundred. They're flying very high this morning, far enough above that I can't hear their calls but near enough for me to admire their swift-moving silhouettes against the pale blue and shell pink of the early morning sky.
I'll continue to enjoy the flights of geese and swans as they wing past my window while I work today, grateful for the theatre nature so generously provides. I'll pause now and then to sit in the sunny spot at the end of my couch and watch the world go by. I'll admire the way the snow crowns roses in the garden, and smile at children making snow angels on our yet-untrammelled lawn. I'll enjoy the contrast of comfortable warmth and chilly view, and savour this snowy day for the special treat it is.
I hope that your morning has been a happy one, that your busy-ness has room in it for quiet and reflection, and that the day brings you a thousand small gifts you can unwrap with the anticipation of wonder. Have a joyful Monday.