Thursday, January 28, 2010

Desert Winter

[See "Long Shadows" 23 September 2009]

This morning it is 20 degrees F., too cold for an early morning walk along the fence lines to watch the sun come up, to read tracks in the snow that will have crusted during the night, the book of creatures abroad in the borderland between day and night. The bird migration through Basin and Range is weeks in the future, though the year-round residents are much in evidence. Quail scurry under sagebrush, ravens somersault in winter games, a pair of golden eagles perch atop the wooden cross-arms of electric poles to bask in the strengthening sun, never ceasing their examination of the frosted scrub that hides their next meal. The white background makes them seem larger than life; their feathers gleam as they preen and shake out. Later in the day they will circle hungrily over my friends' chicken-and-duck yard.

Yesterday wasn't as cold; I walked for hours along the rutted icy lanes. Lingering hoarfrost rimed and gilded every twig and bud; the isolated Lombardy poplars lifted their arms white and gold in orans against the pale blue sky. The alfalfa fields are hidden; the pivots are stilled; the silent, barren land seems to shout with gladness. There's an old echo carol, Basque, as I recall, whose refrain welled up to the rhythm of my feet: "How great my joy (great my joy);/joy joy joy (joy joy joy);/ praise be the Lord in heaven on high (praise be the Lord in heaven on high)." All the sons of the morning shouting for joy.


After sunup the temperature didn't matter; the light warmed my back. Overnight the snow had fractaled—infinitely branching crystals; jewels scattering the ridges beside deep grooves of adobe and hardpan—ephemeral beauty become slush by 10 AM.

A brief hiatus for my soul to catch up to my body; to re-connect with reality after days of vans, airports, human mailing tubes. Soon to California, where pruned vines wait gaunt and black in the rain for budbreak and explosion of new life.


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