Just after sunrise, when I stepped outside with the dog, the first thing that stuck me was the unusual silence. Of course, being that I live beside a woods-lined river located in that borderland beyond well-manicured suburbia and what a farmer would consider genuine shaggy rurality, the silence was more conditional than complete; not really a total lack of sound, but rather an absence of the usual background noise.
The only bird sound I heard during my twenty-minute sortie along the riverbank and to various corners of the yard around the cottage, was a single brief peal of maniacal laughter from a pileated woodpecker on the distant lower end of the island across from the house. Otherwise, not a blue jay or cardinal, robin or titmouse—not even one of my beloved Carolina wrens—had yet found either voice or reason to disturb the hush.
Even the river, following its ancient path from source to sea, seemed muted. Though we’ve had several good rains during the past couple of weeks, the water finding its way down and through the long riffle—over, around, under the stones and gravel and those few scattered boulders whose smooth, rounded edges speak of time measured in millennia—the sound of its passage was scarcely more than a stealthy liquid whisper—shhhhhhhh….
The air was damp and a cool you could rightly call chilled. Not cold, but what my grandfather called “nippy.” A temperature that’s been hanging around cold’s neighborhood long enough to pick up certain bad habits. I was glad I’d slipped on a heavy shirt before coming out.
A month ago the sun would have been well up by now. A month ago the birds—in spite of the fact their business of establishing territory and finding a mate, nesting, hatching and subsequently feeding hungry fledglings, had all long passed—were still raising their voices to the rising sun; while that morning chorus might not have approached the joyous volume of May’s, or even June’s, it was still loud and decidedly enthusiastic. A month ago I could have padded around the property’s boundaries wearing nothing more than shorts and flip-flops and been perfectly comfortable.
Now, the silence—or what passes for silence, anyway—along with the later dawn and brisk temperature, was telling. A portent of changing times and days to come.
Looking down the river, with a thick wall of greenery along either side, it is hard to imagine those banks stark and open, leafless; difficult to recall the gray-green color of the water, or a sheath of pale ice along its borders. And yet I know that season is coming.
The light this morning was still warm and golden. But there was the gold of turning maples in there, and of October’s shagbark hickories.
Maybe that’s why the birds were so quiet…because they, too, noticed and understood the light.