Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Snow sounds, angry birds, & the silence you want

The ancient trellis behind me, heavy with snow, suddenly and for no reason dumps its bounty. The sound is the swish of a full skirt made with yards and yards of fine silk. As I awkwardly turn, bundled tightly as a toddler sent out on days like today, I see the angry jay who’d been screaming all morning. He sits alone on the lowest branch, hard to miss in the white winter wonderland formed in mere hours. Below him flutter nervous, dark juncos snacking on the nearby feeder’s refuse. I will them all to be silent so I can hear the dense snowflakes cut the air, one of the few reasons I like returning to my grandfather’s farm outside St. Louis. Snow falls with uncharacteristic aggressiveness here.

As the jay is not cooperating with my request for silence, I thread my way between broken-down farm implements down the hill to the catfish pond. Here, childhood summer days were spent tossing dry dog food onto the pond’s surface with as much quiet as children could muster. Then we waited, fishing pole at the ready, for those huge catfish mouths, surrounded by slick, thick whiskers, to emerge from the pond’s depths, silently gulp the food, and return to the cold bottom waters. Today, the pond was frozen over, as it likely had been for weeks, ice rough from winds stopped by the nothing surrounding the farm.

I continue past the pond, heading into the thick woods where childhood Me had found arrowheads and deer scat and geodes waiting to reveal brilliance or dullness. I move with less certainty than l‘d like. I pass my grandfather’s favorite tractor, now rusted and nestled in leaves and snow, which he placed here with a slightly jovial announcement so we could all visit it after it failed to start one fall Saturday. His small attempt at comedy didn’t fit with his normally sad, humorless demeanor, and it left the cousins and I confused and a bit scared, as children become when steady adults act unpredictably.

I stop in the woods expecting silence but instead hear the rattle of birch leaves, like my grandmother’s old, ill-fitting windows during a storm. I shift to the left to peer at the stream below me but stop as my parka’s whispery rustle drowns out the faint rattle of the leaves. The ivory birch leaves are thin, and a narrow scrap of sunshine lights them from behind as they sing in the wind.

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