Thursday, April 9, 2009

On the Cusp

That we are on the cusp of a new season became manifestly clear to me as I ran down the Farmington Canal Trail in Hamden this afternoon. I had my dog Ginger with me and the first thing we encountered as we trotted on the pavement was a pile of poop. I saw the pile at about the same time that Ginger smelled it and we both noticed something peculiar that made us slow down and 1) take a closer look, (me), and 2) take a deeper whiff, (Ginger). Being olfactorally challenged myself, I can’t say what Ginger noticed. What I saw was a bleached-out, grayish pile of crap with small slivers of bone and bits of teeth and fur embedded.

I am pretty sure it was coyote scat. In fact, a few months ago, back when the sun was setting at 4:30, I saw a coyote cross the trail as I was running very near this exact spot. It was probably the same individual that left his calling card there on the trail. As I finished my examination of the poop and Ginger strained at the leash to be allowed to continue hers, the cloud that had been blocking the sun blew a little farther south. The change was stunning. The air got ten degrees warmer and I looked up to see a deep blue sky punctuated by dramatic dark grey clouds.
Where even just five weeks ago the woods were relentlessly brown, tan, and grey, there were now patches of vibrant green where the skunk cabbages were unfurling their flags and staking out their yearly claim as earliest bloomers.

We ran on and Ginger became reluctant. First she slowed and then she stopped dead. I looked to the left and there were four large wild turkeys in a clearing about thirty feet off the trail. Something about them freaked Ginger out a bit. What I noticed was the flash of bright red coming from their wattles. It stood out like the little girl in red in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

I managed to drag Ginger on and not even a half mile down the trail an Eastern Bluebird flew directly in front of us and landed on a branch just off the side of the path. If you have never seen an Eastern Bluebird, then no matter what words I use to name the color, you will not be able to picture it accurately enough to do it justice. What comes to mind is the image of an avian black hole, only the bird somehow manages to gather only blue from all around and then, instead of swallowing the blue, it reflects the most amazing shade back out to the world. It really was spectacular.

And now this may sound like piling on—like I am making this stuff up—but I swear it is true. Just then an osprey flew overhead and it was clutching a fish in its talons, heading to its nest to feed its young. The bird flew low enough that I could tell that the fish was still alive.

By this point in the run I was aware that the place I had spent three days a week all winter, running alone through rain or sleet or snow or ice or shine, was waking up to spring. There were more people, more birds, more plants, and more life than there had been in many months. And I must admit that I had mixed feelings about the whole deal. Part of me really liked having that trail and those woods to myself. If it took cold temperatures and icy footing to do it, so be it. I certainly won’t begrudge spring its chance to shine. In fact, I love the signs of color and life everywhere. But I think maybe I just wasn’t quite ready yet.

That run today went a long way to getting me ready, but it also performed a valuable service for me. It gave me a chance to see the trail almost as I have seen it all winter with its greys, tans, and browns. But sprinkled right on top, so startlingly as to be almost garish, were the colors and signs of spring.

I ran a little farther—to the point right around mile 5.5 where the trail goes under a road—to where I had seen a hawk perched much of the winter. I used to imagine that the hawk was waiting stoically for spring and whatever came with it. Today, the hawk was gone. But in the understory of shrubs and bushes there was a brilliant flash of red and a sharp series of chirps. I caught sight of a male cardinal—resplendent in the crimsonest crimson there is as he sang for a potential mate. He was fidgety and loud and certainly IMpatient to get things started. He looked me in the eye much the same way the hawk had just a few short weeks ago during a heavy snowfall. Only, the cardinal wasn’t preaching patience. His chattering call seemed to say, “What are you waiting for?”


  1. Chris,

    I sent you a Facebook message about a month ago & got no response. I then found your blog & commented on your last blog entry, but again got no response. So I'm dropping another comment here just in case you didn't see the others. I thought it might be nice to catch up with where our respective lives have taken us.

    Hope to hear from ya.

    Marc McLaughlin

  2. Happy Easter, Marc! I will write you a real letter through Facebook today.

  3. I sympathize with Ginger regarding her fear of the turkeys. Last week, during a run on some rustic roads around campus, I encountered a flock of wild turkeys, and the largest one, obviously threatened by my intimidating size and girth, came running out at me, wings spread, screaming wildly. I retreated.

    Two weeks ago, I saw a hawk dive from a tree on Mt. Carmel avenue into the Quinnipiac River, and then emerge with something indistinguishable in its beak. Wildlife abounds! Happy spring. --T.