You couldn't ask for a more auspicious beginning to the annual journey! The sun is bright and the sky a clear blue on this first day of the first full week of the new year. Across the channel, the trunks of the island's big bankside sycamores gleam as if newly whitewashed. The river is up and slightly muddy with run-off from recently melted snow. Right now, the temperature stands at 21˚F, but there's no wind and it doesn't feel all that cold; predictions are we'll hit the mid-30s this afternoon.
With the snow cover of recent weeks now gone, the yard and woods on the island have reverted to a winter dress of various browns and grays, with only the odd bits of green—grass, briar, cedar, honeysuckle—showing to add any hint of color. After all that white, this landscape—even though brightly lit—seems strangely muted, almost dull. Moreover, without the sharp definition of contrast, the distant view through the trees and understory bushes is muddled.
I count at least seven gray squirrels scampering around on the ground and clambering in the box elder by the front door. There could be twice that number, as my view through the window is limited to a narrow wedge of land between the cottage and the riverbank. Besides, virtually any number of squirrels engaged in being their usual morning-frisky selves becomes near-impossible to track and tally.
The seed feeders are doing a fair business with chickadees, goldfinches, house finches, and red-bellied woodpeckers, while cardinals and doves work the scattered cracked corn. But most of the feathered crowd appear to have eschewed my free meals for the fun of foraging their favorite thickets. I don't blame them—wild food must taste better than the same old store-bought handouts—the equivalent difference between another fast-food sandwich and good home cooking.
Robins are working their way along the washed-up clutter of sticks and leaves and bits of bark along the river's edge. I can't actually see them feeding, as the waterline is out my view below the steep bank. But the flock is in constant, birds shuttling down and back up again from handy overhanging limbs to the narrow band of mud and sand where they're scratching out breakfast.
As robins usually do, they're whistling while they work. In spite of the double-paned glass, their lilting, familiar notes come pouring through…the brightest of sounds on this bright January day.