No Ducks

This time of year is a temptation to denial. Although we have already had one snow, around the time of Sandy, it didn’t stick, and the fall in Maine has been glorious – one sparkling day after another. The bugs of summer have gone, even the crickets silenced by frost, but the seductive voice behind your right ear says, “Maybe winter won’t come this year.”

Sure, you prepare: next year’s wood has to be stacked to dry, screens taken out, the lawn mower has to be drained and stored, noisy snow tires substituted for the summer treads, boats turned over and tied down – you’re a fool in Maine if you don’t get ready for cold weather. Still the siren song calls you away: Maybe this year will be different.

Until this morning: It’s my habit to give the horses their morning grain, to allow my wife to sleep in. They whinny and stomp, good-naturedly willing me to hurry up and get the oats and Trotter sluiced into their feed bins. Simon, the barn cat, is more polite (or more satiated with mice) and he waits patiently for his kibbles, regally perched on a bale in my line of view.

Usually, the clank of the tin lids on the barrels also alerts the ducks, who start quacking their way across the road in anticipation of their corn, as I usually dribble a scoop’s worth along the edge of the pond for them. But not this morning: the pond is iced over, so no mallards at all. I go over anyway, leaving the corn spread along the edge of the crazy geometrics of the shell ice in case they come back when the day warms up. But I suspect that corn will go to the mice; the ducks have left for points south.

“They’ve got the urge for going, they’ve got the wings to go,” wrote Joni Mitchell, in her own song to the oncoming winter. Of course winter’s been coming all along, but the departure of the ducks is a solid and unmistakable message.

This is not a lament; I love the seasons here, and look forward to the snow and cold, if not to the inconvenience of dressing and undressing. I loved California too, but I missed the changes that mark the real calendar, not the Gregorian one of our datebooks and travel plans. The real calendar watches how high the bees build their nests (‘Gonna be a lotta snow this yeah,’ says Adam). The real calendar requires gloves on a run. The real calendar thins the light and makes the sky higher.

I can see the horse’s breath as they puff their thanks over the flake of hay I toss to tide them over – given the choice they never stop eating – until Quan decides in which field they will run this short day.