Notes from Sagaponack


After three warnings, I should have known better. Three different dogs, three different days, three different hens. I can take my losses from the hawk, mainly because the hawk is a wild bird and my domestic flock figures into his survival.

But to the domestic dog I owe no such favor. Nor to the domestic owner who is never anywhere to be found.

I chased the fleeing animal with my shrieking, raving, wrath. Dogs are fast, and as fast as my rage carried me, I knew that I’d probably never catch up. Just once, I want to chase the owner in this very way.

The frost was a noteworthy event this past week—hard and late, the landscape painted white. From my bedroom window I surveyed the lawns and fields, watching the runway as it began to glimmer. I got up and went out. It seemed like a good morning to find the coldest spot on this farm.

I harden plants off on the south, full sun side of the greenhouse. I am always hesitant to put plants out. After being reared in the greenhouse, the vicissitudes of the true growing environment will try a plant’s fortitude.

All these plants were sheer ice. I pulled off the row cover in hopes of moving the cold air off. Row cover, though it has heat-retaining properties, also shades to an extent, and discarding it would speed the remedy of the rising sun. Only the climbing sweet peas remained damaged, a few digitalis too.

Out in the field, the asparagus—all of it that had made it above the ground—was ruined. Flash frozen and now thawed, not pretty.

To no great extent, barn swallows have arrived. I am used to seeing these birds in greater number and hope they have been delayed by only the cold, wet weather and that more will be here soon.

“No barns,” my mother gloomily ascertained.

Also passing through was the rose-breasted grosbeak. I see this bird almost every year in exactly the same place, in the elm tree above the chicken yard. But I see him just once, never more. He sings a single verse and then flies away.

This time I saw him twice. The second time he landed on the porch rail and my father, who had never seen a rose-breasted grosbeak exclaimed, “Look at that beautiful bird! What kind of bird is that?”

I no sooner turned to confirm my answer when a grackle landed on the seed covered rail; the common bird intentionally scared off the unique bird.

And my father’s excitement turned to scorn “Goddamned, no good, grackle.” He finished pulling on his coat and headed out the back door. I wondered which bird would more heavily influence his day, if at all.

We have yet to see the catbird but orioles bring the sound of pure, warm sunlight into the backyard. They are attracted to the fruit trees and though the apple isn’t in bloom, the pear barely is. This satisfies at least one male who spends all morning there, calling.

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