Word Sketches from Early Winter

"Text, reading and photographs by Robert Towe"

From my nature journal, December 26: Night rain over, the cool air breathes rich fragrances of wet earth. Winter morning sun breaks out through rows of low stratus, rolling across the shadowy purple hills. Emerald-silver lights play in the sparkling pines. Sun rays brighten the rusty colors of autumn’s last oak leaves still clinging loosely, drooping from their twigs. Sparrows have flown out of dark thickets to sing their liquid jingles in the new day’s fresh and warming light.

December 27: Sitting by the roiling river in low flood after three days of steady rain. Sun has already fallen into the winter trees, gone below a black shoulder of hill. The turbid lashing waters turn from ruddy brown to hammered pewter, reflecting the last light from the pale sky. The final kayakers have pulled their bright plastic craft to shore and gone home for the night. So I am left in winter twilight with the ancient wild river alone. How it crashes over rocky shoals and stones forever, making froth and ocean sounds. As the forested slopes of the river gorge darken, the foamy rapids rush brighter down the dusky light. Suddenly, flying a hundred feet above the river a great blue heron glides north with a slow pulse of wingbeats. His smooth and graceful sweep---a thin and silent silhouette etching across the empty sky---such a contrast to the chaos of waters crashing below.

December 28: A warm rainy winter so far, pastures glowing green as May. Spreading its wide branched life above the verdant fields, the great white oak stands in the sun, its broad mesh of shadows sprawling down the hill. The old donkey stands under the big oak, motionless, as if thankfully meditating on the warmth of the winter sun. His long-legged shadow stretches fifty feet down the steep north slope. Above him in the bare limbs a flock of winter robins stops for a few minutes, chirping and clucking exuberantly, like an April afternoon. They fly away as quickly as they came.

December 30: Out over the green fields a flock of blackbirds is blown, scattering like black confetti thrown to the stormy springlike breeze. In the far pasture the horses gallop across the wet land, long tails streaming behind them in the warm moist wind.

December 31, 3:00 a.m. I stand outside in the darkest, starless hours, last night of the year. Slowly, the thick clouds open a few moments. The luminescent night covering glows like a shroud of worn silk, torn by an old December moon. A great horned owl booms his winter mating song from the dark oak woods.