Sunday, November 3, 2013

November light

Sea vultures (well, really turkey vultures....) Credit: Leslie

November again.

Friday night I saw a spectacular meteor east of me—I happened to be looking up at a dying light at the Atlantic City Garden State Parkway rest stop, and a wide swath of glittering light arced towards the ocean. Unexpected light the first night of November. A sign?

Yesterday, as I was loading the car to go clamming, I felt a clump of leaves stuck to my bare foot—I mindlessly tried to scrape it off with my other foot, but it felt a tiny bit too doughy for leaves, I took a look—a dead gold finch was stuck to the bottom of my foot. I put my sandals on, figuring I would wash my feet in the back bay that held the quahogs. And that is just what I did.

This morning a house sparrow crashed into the patio door, falling to the porch in a twitching ball of feathers, then lay on its side unconscious, heaving tiny sparrow breaths. I considered kindly killing it.

After several minutes, its beak opened but its legs remained splayed sideways. A few moments later it blinked, then used its beak to prop itself into a sitting position, where it sat for about an hour.

I slid a quahog shell full of water next to it, one of the clams I had raked and killed yesterday. The sparrow held still, then looked at the water, and eventually took a sip or two. 

Quahogs on the edge of the back bay, in late autumn light.
The blustery breeze ruffled the bird’s feathers; its eyes continued to stare at nothing, looking as hung over as a bird can look.

And then he was gone, leaving a small white pile of bird shit, as though a tiny tube of toothpaste had been spattered on the deck. I checked it for blood, and saw none.

Leslie and I took a walk on the beach today—a flock of vultures was gliding low near the bay’s edge getting ready to feast on the dead. November is a good time to be a vulture.

My foot, not a vulture's. Credit: Leslie
Leslie and I found a freshly dead loggerhead turtle, its magnificent shell cracked, probably caught by a prop from one of the hundreds of boats out on the Delaware Bay yesterday hunting for stripers.

November is a tough month for a lot of reasons—there’s a reason that we recognize the dead among us. All Saint’s Day. Samhain. Día de Muertos. The anniversary of my sister’s death. Those around me know I do not do well when the shadows grip.

The light is dying, and many of us will not be here when it returns. In this part of the world, few of us fear starving during the lean days of winter, but our bodies remember. Each and every one of us comes from a long, long line of creatures that have seen what darkness can do.

We share pieces of DNA from the critters we were over 3 billion years ago. It’s good to be reminded of our mortality, as we struggle through much of the nonsense that passes as productive work these days in the classroom.

 I don't get this whole thing, but I get enough to know what's real and what matters.


Tracy Rosen said...

Oh, I know what you mean. 50 odd days until they start getting longer...

doyle said...

Dear Tracy,

We should both hibernate!

Jenny said...

In spite of complete awareness of the days shortening and the coming of winter (not a favorite of mine), I can't help but spend much of my time in awe of the beauty of the trees and the light pouring down on them. This brief period every year is the most gorgeous thing I know. One day I'm likely to be in a car accident because I'm so distracted by the beauty.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

The light is indeed incredible, and the trees have been spectacular this fall.

The radiometer sitting on my windowsill, however, only spins at about half the rate it does in June--it knows.

Tom Hoffman said...

In less natural news, it takes a long time to get the bottom of a skateboard bowl in Scotland to dry out when half of it is still in shadow at noon.

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

That's as natural news as anything else. I keep meaning to blog about the skaters in my neighborhood. They're the last few kids I see outside anymore, and they are well aware of the elements.

(Most kids hardly even notice the rain around here anymore....)