I was sitting in the living room the other day reading a book about Basque peasants called In a Hundred Graves when a cooper's hawk landed on a branch just outside the window.
I think it might have been the most beautiful hawk I've ever seen. I've seen plenty of accipers in my day; the buffy, wavy, reddish-brown stripes on their chest is often lovely, standing in contrast to the soft blue-gray wing and back feathers. This one had the added virtue of looking relaxed as he perched on the branch, rather than steely-eyed and ever-alert for little songbirds to eat.
Or maybe it was just that I was relaxed, and the bird was right outside the window. I was tempted to leap up and run for the camera, which was on top of the piano on the far side of the room, but I would have spooked him, I'm sure. Better just to observe and enjoy. (That's a fake photo you see above, as you probably noticed.)
He changed his position once or twice, fanning his feathers as he did so. Then he flew off, dropping and then rising as he swooped around the corner of the house and out of sight.
That was the start of a beautiful evening. The next episode involved some short-ribs left over from a weekend gathering, a single turnip, some carrots, and a couple of Pillsbury pie crusts, which Hilary and I transformed, with the help of some thyme, nutmeg, onions, and garlic, into one of the best pasties I've ever had.
When I got up this morning it was snowing, but the day was warm, and I decided to go for a morning ski—the first of the season. They've been making snow down at Wirth Golf Course, a few minutes from the house, for weeks, and also building a big new ski chalet. I happen to like things the way they were...but I'm also of the (minority) opinion that skiing is a exercise in woodsy solitude rather than feverish and hectic competition. I'm still wearing choppers and fish-net long underwear on the ski trails, and until recently Hilary was still using bamboo ski poles.
All the same, we benefit from the artificial snow and the sophisticated grooming techniques that have made Wirth Park among the best skiing destinations in the Cities, and I don't begrudge the city its annual $75 skiing fee. Yet I'm afraid the feature that excites me most about all the new construction is the café that's going to be inside the chalet. Maybe they'll serve pasties?
I had a hard time finding my way to any new show from the parking lot, what with the ground torn up by the tracks of big vehicles and snow machines going full blast alongside the trails. So I headed out toward the woods on thin but natural snow. That's my preferred route anyway. The gate at the far end of the par three course was closed, and there was a lock on it...but the gate wasn't actually locked, so I opened it and went on into the woods.
Beautiful fields, woods, trails. The tracks of a single bicycle. And squirrels everywhere. As the trail looped past Twin Lake and curled back toward the half-built chalet, I began to wonder if the gate at the far end of the loop might also be open. It's the prettiest section of the trail. The problem is that the gate stands right at the bottom of a hill. I would have to come to an abrupt stop, or more likely just fall down, to avoid crashing into it.
In the end, I prudently walked down the final hill. The gate was locked. Rather than retracing my path, I decided to crawl under it. It was a tight squeeze. As I was lying on the thin snow, halfway under the gate, I noticed, looking up, how beautiful the trees looked that were arching above my head. Each species offered a different silhouette.
And I was reminded of my dad, who died a few months ago at the age of 94. I never considered him to be a poetic soul, exactly, but when we were up north, he liked to lie on the ground on his back and take pictures of the trees above his head. I think it may have reflected a sense of peace that he didn't experience all that often.
This one's for you, Dad.