We vowed to swim until November. Rushing in and rushing out does not constitute a swim. You have to stay in long enough to assess how it is different from yesterday, or the day before. For my friend, that means “catching” three waves. For me, it is until I become aware of my vital organs. When they feel like little lumps inside me, it is time to get out.Two weeks ago, we were taking some of our longest swims. Today, I could only stay in about five minutes. It was near dark, the sky purple with night, and more bad weather coming (there are still potatoes in the ground). But, relax; looking west, where the dune banks are just dune banks, this empty, painterly section of beach is stunning. There, no houses loom to skim the structure of sand and wind. A scarlet rim where the sun has gone; a lone monarch glides down, into the brush and goldenrod. How well the rogue maintenance—discarded Christmas trees—anchors this favorite and unholdable place.
I’ve heard plenty of hypotheses about the popularity of vampire tales and sitcoms, but to my knowledge no one has floated the possibility that the fascination is the projected angst over how many ticks surround us, wait for us. The parasitic, bloodsucking creatures are more realistic and far less seductive than their undead counterparts. They can never be your friends, much less lovers, a bitter truth if one considers the ticks’ ubiquitous success.
The park at Poxabogue was once one of my favorite places to walk. There isn’t enough parking to attract an organized horde of people. There, off the beaten path, it is more likely to discover a homeless camper or a creepy mycologist than another birdwatcher. An essential part of being “in” nature is being a little afraid of it. But, gradually, I had become too afraid. I stopped going there, because no matter how well the trails have been cleared and kept, once the binoculars are lifted, the proximity of everything is magnified, and how easy it is for the rapt watcher to swerve or stray too close to the thicket.
So perhaps it was the shift in the weather, the promise of cold, the north wind and dying vegetation that lured me from the initial clearing, where we stood with easy views of warblers, through the black pines and across the little prairie, down to the drying pond’s edge. The pond, once allegedly and mythically deep, is all now shallows. Out in the middle, a small flock of yellowlegs is foraging. A cooper’s hawk comes fast and low, straight for them, and we hold our breath, sure we’ll see a kill. But the wading birds flush in all different directions, and the hawk does not seem intent on catching one. He continues his arrow-like trajectory into the woods, leaving the shore birds to recollect themselves; their cries of alarm turning to flight calls, they circle and land again.
From another vantage point, another migratory hunter pays us a call. An osprey, with a perch in his talon, attempts to land in the tree we are leaning against. We are close enough to see the blood running down the silvery fish. When my friend lifts his camera, the hawk decides to dine alone, and flies back across the pond to another empty tree.