By Keith Michael
Damp. Damp. Damp.
“Millie, I don’t think ‘damp’ is what the crow across the street is crowing about.” Wet sidewalk aside (from a late night drizzle), it’s an oxymoronically bucolic Sunday morning in January: tepid, low mist above the cobblestones, sun ricocheting off the south Meier tower, cloud-powdered blue sky, birds literally twittering. (Though by the time you’re reading this in February, we’ll probably be bemoaning a three-foot blizzard.)
Nevertheless the moist sidewalk is non-negotiable to Millie’s corgi-paws, and down the two front steps she will not go. Balking, she turns around and looks up at the door, willing it to re-open. Yes, I could drag her bumpity-bump along, but that’s no fun for either of us. I drop her off back inside. Maybe later.
Heading out again for my intended trip to the corner deli (half-and-half for the morning’s coffee, tonic for the evening’s gin-and, detergent for laundry in between), that crow is still causing a ruckus from up on a satellite dish—a disagreement with a heard-but-not-seen compatriot crow in the next block. Like air-traffic controllers, maybe they’re directing the mini-V of Canada Geese flying over us to change their flight plans from, uh, eastward, toward a more southerly destination.
A black-and-white blur, nearly ruffling my hair, morphs into a Downy Woodpecker at the corner. After tipping his little red cap and announcing himself with his descending-scale warm-up calling card he gets down to business tap-tap-tapping on a honey locust. He seems oblivious to the dueling Mockingbirds across the street. At this time of year, the Callery pear bon-bons still on the trees are worth defending, and one gray-and-white tail flash thrusts and parries against the other. The message seems to be, “You’re NOT on my guest list, so get OUT!” And one of them does. Higher up, a trio of Robins surreptitiously crashes the party, snagging their fill. But not for long. That Mockingbird isn’t inviting anyone else to his banquet.
A few White-throated Sparrows tsk-tsk on the other side of the corner wall. I can’t see them, but hearing them makes me wonder if they’re asking each other whether they’ve flown too far south for the winter. Isn’t it balmy for this time of year, dear?
I must wait at the light for traffic passing down the Blue Jay alley of Washington Street. Voices blare and feathered brakes screech as one jay slams into his blue-blooded lordly perch high above on a TV antenna while another tries to usurp this lofty throne. Is there never an end to these arguments? Do Blue Jays ever just sit side by side quietly gossiping about the weather, knitting booties for their kids?
As I’m leaving the deli (essential half-and-half in hand), a House Sparrow whizzes past dangling a mouthful of dried grass. He’s headed for the T-bar of a stop light support at the intersection and disappears into one of the open pipe-ends. Really? Nest building? Hello! Hasn’t he heard that it’s winter? Last week I watched a Starling, likewise, carrying nesting material into a window cornice opening, and just yesterday, a neighbor told me that a Mourning Dove on her terrace was feeding two fledglings! Really, I hope that it gets cold soon so that these guys don’t keep fast-forwarding through the seasons.
Turning back toward home, I look up at a ginkgo tree, its branches still festooned with fall berries, which haven’t been blown off by a yet-to-blow winter gale. Blazing red-hot from the top, a Cardinal sings out as though it’s the first day of spring—as though wooing a spouse for the summer is the only item on his To Do list.
The sidewalk is now dry. Maybe if I go inside and have my morning coffee, Millie will deign to go out for her walk—out into a winter wonderland.