Spring is being difficult this year.
I get up at six a.m. It is the first of May, but the kitchen thermometer reads 30 degrees F. The furnace heaves and harrumphs in the basement, and does another burn of fuel oil that costs so much it might as well be Napoleon brandy. A dozen shivering deer browse at the edge of the field by the red pines. I sit in my study upstairs, and suddenly a bright red cardinal comes and beats his wings against the window, trying to get in, almost petitioning. Withdraws to branch. Now he tries to fly in a second time, in much agitation. He seems to be confused by a trick of reflection, sunrise playing against window glass.
It is too early in the morning to be literary, but I think of the wonderful couplet at the beginning of Nabokov's "Pale Fire": "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/by the false azure of the window pane."
We live on a farm in upstate New York, at almost a thousand feet. The air is thin and sharp, and we barely have the first green in the trees. The buds are diffident this year. They're no fools. A couple of weeks ago, we had a balmy but ominously windy afternoon (a savor of tornado in the air), and that night a blizzard came hammering down and left us in eight inches of snow. Cars pinwheeled off the roads in the whiteout.
The cardinal is back. His eminence hops from branch to branch outside the window, nerving himself, and now tries to come through the glass again. This time, he does not touch it as he did before. He has learned the barrier. He flusters and flutters toward me much agitated, cross and twitchy, his miter-crest flattened against his skull, bright eyes lively in his blackface mask. He cannot get through to the other dimension.
Just before the blizzard came down, a friend and I saw a large, unfamiliar black animal working across the open field toward the stream below. It moved in nonchalant undulation. Not a beaver. Not a bear. It had a large bushy tail, and short legs. It was a fisher larger than a marten, a sort of superweasel the first I had seen here. Did he sense the blizzard coming and look for shelter in the dusk of the hemlocks below? The other day a neighbor talked again about sighting the two mountain lions. The coyotes are flourishing on a diet of deer and rabbit.
Blizzard or not, it is good to see so many of the animals (as they say in the British army) all present and correct. We do not take that for granted anymore. Every time I see bulldozers in the forest, and new raw earth, and a new house going up a few miles away, I feel like a beleaguered animal myself (the scribbling nimby, a shy but evil-tempered rodent), driven out of habitat.
I flick on the television set. Suddenly the world comes beating its wings against that windowpane as well; Elian and Hillary and all the rest of the day's agitation trying to get in. And bitter memories eight years since Rodney King, 25 years since Saigon. The television news is confused, overexcited, and beating its wings against the window of the brain. False azure, indeed.