Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Last Sunday

There’s one Sunday every year that breaks my heart. It’s the last Sunday of the summer, and here in Oswego it’s often a sunny day, the kind described as cool and crisp, the kind described as brilliant. The sky is blue, the clouds – if there are any clouds – are swift-moving. Because it’s already more fall than summer, I can smell wood smoke in the air. Although the leaves this year have barely begun to change color, there are drifts of dry browns and yellows and a few oranges already on the driveway and the deck, collecting up against the rock walls and lining the road. Fargo, my cat, who goes outside for approximately three minutes every morning, has learned that if she steps on one it’s okay, it won’t bite her. It’s this particular Sunday, every year, that fills me with emotions I can’t entirely identify, although there’s some percentage of yearning, of longing, some percentage of simple sadness, maybe some not-so-simple regret. There’s a whole pharmacy of unnamed feeling in me today, and it’s not because of summer or wood smoke or dry leaves. It’s because of the geese.

They’re leaving. Great lines of them – some in aerodynamic V-formation, some in straight lines, some in patterns that might best be described as disorganized, a few in couples or straggling solo – fly directly over our house on their way south. “South” is relative; some geese head for Florida or Texas, but some are content to rest in southern New York or Pennsylvania. Plenty over-winter here in Oswego which is, technically, south for the Canada goose.

There are days when hundreds, even thousands fly their routes, and I’ll hear them in ten or twenty minute intervals. On this, the last Sunday of summer, I’ll go outside every time they pass. I look up, I scan the sky. There are so many leaves still on the trees this year that it’s hard to spot the birds; their calls echo off the ridge we live on and I can’t tell which way to look. Eventually though they’re right overhead in a big open patch of sky. This morning the sun was rising when I heard the first group and the bodies of the geese were lit from below and shone. It was an orderly contingent, row after row of V’s, like a parade, and although there were probably only two hundred their calls echoed for several minutes, bouncing off the ridge and back, as though the sky were full, for miles, of honking birds. Closer to earth, the local birds were more active than usual. I don’t know if they’re agitated or inspired by the calls of the geese, or if they hear them at all. But the trees were being stitched, it seemed, by dozens of robins and cardinals and the occasional crow. Seeds from the black cherry tree fell like rain drops – I could see them being released, landing in the grass, bouncing off the garage roof – and on the driveway I found a composition that included two red feathers, hundreds of maple leaves, and small round white cherry stones that looked like punctuation.

Every summer, on this Sunday, I wonder what it is exactly that calls to me when those geese head south. I have felt it since girlhood, feel it only when I hear the geese in autumn or when I stand at the edge of the sea. Maybe it’s some combination of mortality and urgency. Maybe it’s just the recognition of beauty.

Maybe someday I will categorize every subtlety of longing and gratitude that I can isolate. But today, I listen to the geese. I go outside, I look up. And they are there.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. I am here, much further south (Chincoteague), looking for birds heading even further south. There is so much movement at this time of the year--at least out there. And we stay put, building our fires. But for me, like you, it's the Canada geese that signal the end, then the beginning, that honk haunting and magical, full of longing and hope. Thanks DCS