Birds in the off hours.

It was a beautiful day, the kind of sunny that teases and tricks this time of year. All day I kept feeling sure that I'd be able to ditch my coat sometime soon. All day I was wrong.

At about 6:45 p.m. I headed out to see what I could see. Surprisingly, what rose to my view again and again were unexpected birds:

a vulture taking off from a tree (turns out those circling birds weren't hawks after all, a thing one might think I'd know by now)

that same vulture, flying away

geese in a field (I think these are the same ones I saw last week, though I have no real basis for that thought)

and even a heron.

These three were only the tiniest fraction of the birds I encountered--the birds I, for the most part, frightened all the way through my walk in the environmental center's prairie. No matter how quietly I tried to tread, hoping to get a better look at which birds were sending up which songs, the birds inevitably heard me and popped out to another thornbush, another curled fall of whispering grass. And so standing still and looking up had to do, for tonight. Sooner than I'd have expected, it was enough that they were everywhere to be heard while I tried to get the best silhouettes I could.

And tonight let me be a lesson to you--though this one might be confusing and/or convoluted because I'm still trying to work it out for myself. On my way back up the hill, thinking about how beautiful this place where I live is, I turned around a couple of times to look back at the valley I was leaving. Each time I looked back, it was more lovely than the time before, until suddenly I looked back and up at the same time and found the moon slivering its way back from newness (accompanied by no less than Venus, which will serve as first star seen tonight if it's all right with everyone here).

Now, I'll admit to having looked back a lot lately. Longtime readers will remember that precisely this time last spring brought a series of lovely strangenesses into my life, and as I tick past a series of one-year anniversaries, I can't help but think about what a peculiar twelve months I've had. And once I've called them peculiar--sometimes very sweetly so, and sometimes downright terribly--I don't have much more to say about them; it hasn't been a year for feeling as though I've figured very many things out. In fact, it feels as though the opposite of figuring things out has been taking place at every turn: it's as though this year has been designated the year of unraveling.

On the other hand, unraveling isn't always a negative thing. All manner of things are knitting up with my being now in ways that they weren't even a year ago. Last March 21, I stopped in town to get my mail on the way home after a truly uncanny experience with a body of work that I now know much more fully, and because snow had fallen on that first day of spring, covering all our crocuses, I stooped in the blue evening to take pictures of those other bluenesses: dusky snow, dusted flowers. Back then, I still felt a bit self-conscious about all the pictures I was taking. And look at me now--or, perhaps, look at me looking back at my looking and how it has changed.

What I'm trying to say is that looking back isn't always a negative thing, either. Of course I believe this, being a scholar of memory. There's a crucial difference between reflection and regret. I'm seeking my balance point between them these days.

Of the many things that have not changed in the past year, at least one can manifest itself in a photograph: once again--though he has faded ever so slightly--the dragon welcomes you to spring.