~This essay previously appeared in The Gettysburg Review (2013).
The first day it happened, it happened that I was walking over the iron truss bridge. It was surprising what took place. A sky full of birds. It was the beginning.
When it happened it was surprising. Walking as I was: slow, pensive. It was amazing because soon as I reached the bridge – a massive flock soared overhead. The birds wore small cheery voices. And I let many things occur in that moment. I let myself think this was for me. I allowed full entry into the mystery of their coming over my head like a sign. I saw many with their wings out and some with their wings clipped to their sides and thought no matter what the wings were doing, their flight was timed with my walking out of the old woods into the open. Like pointillism, the sky was a canvas and these birds were dabs of paint. Covering the blue in black. And this went on. It went on for a half an hour I would say. The birds dotting everything. Blurring by like brush strokes. It was dusk. They were heading east, to that yellow place where new days form.
The cottage is near the iron truss bridge. It is set in a copse of trees. I have been the care-taker for several months. It was originally built for a miller in the early-1800s. On one side, a meadow stretches to where the tallest oaks rim the grounds. It is said that in spring, over a thousand daffodils flower. But it is winter, so I have not yet witnessed the meadow in bloom. Beyond the majestic oaks is a path that leads to a footbridge, which extends over the mill race, then continues to the large rock formations angling down to the Wickecheoke Creek. The name means Big Water in Native language. Big Water has ever-shifting personalities. I spend hours observing its dramatic moods. When the rains come, the creek rises instantly over tiered rocks with such force it can fracture them. The waterfalls turn loud, like Niagara. Likewise, it mellows after a day or two of sun. Silt settles. The water turns clear. Then one can see the bottom stones. Either way – gushing or lazy – the creek is ever-moving, in an undetermined manner. It winds under the iron truss bridge then curves round in front of a mill house across the dirt road. This stone house was once a saw mill, built by early settlers, dating back to the 1730s.
When Night brought morning, Morning brought another round of light. A shiny color of sun. I woke to the sound of the flock over the cottage. Singing in high pitches there are no words for. I cannot spell the noise they make. They seemed to have come from the very horizon they flew to last evening. I questioned what made them choose this place. In the alcove – which is my bedroom – are two windows set close together above the bed, like portholes of a ship only they are square, made of float glass. Wooden sashes divide the panes. I undid an iron latch and parted the one. The birds were directly above. Sweeping low, stirring the air they breathed.
And later, I caught another flawless performance. The birds returned, signaling dusk. Not a single starling missing. They came riding the wind in V shapes and snake-like formations. When they left, they left me changed – standing in a state of awe on the grounds. The world turned silent after. Dusk settled in deepening layers. Day completed itself. Sky and ground became one entire color.
And so it was, our paths crossed two times a day – dawn and dusk, the birds and I. They started to increase in numbers. Afternoons were filled with songbirds: the yellow finch that stabbed at the feeder, bluebirds, the vibrant red cardinals that played tag with their mates. While others circled in silence over Old Mill: an occasional crow, turkey vultures or hawks.