Monday, 19 September 2011

Upon Loss

Overnight, the snow has fallen. Not much, but enough. First time in a while though - the early morning peace will undoubtedly by shattered by business chaos and schoolchild glee. And stuck in the middle, the parents, doomed to enjoy neither. A four inch white quilt covers the land, but it seems so much deeper on the window sill next to me. I love this time. It's early, not yet light, and most of the world is still asleep, or fumbling coffee into a mug through blurry eyes. Street lamps cast their amber glow across the broad white blanket. A few listless specks of snow saunter downwards, unworried that they are apparently late to the party. Plenty of room for them, anyway. From my vantage point the whole vista seems muted, as though someone turned the volume down on the television. Or just wrapped it in a quilt. It could be a Christmas card, all that is missing is the frozen lake and a puppy somewhere.

Even the birds are staying home today. But in the corner of my eye there's a shadow, a darting movement in the ivy on the wall next to the window. A leaf flutters downward, put out by some hurried step. I wonder how much life carries on in the darkness, hidden from view. The shadow stops, and I see a beak. A single beady eye, peering out at me. Who is this strange, huge creature, my new neighbour? it seems to ask.  Bravely, it hops out of the ivy, cocking its head to one side.

A fat little robin, chest puffed out, legs spread and diffident. You can't touch me, her cocked head says. I'm invincible. She hops further forward onto the snow but recoils back. Weren't expecting that, were you? Yes, it's cold, and yes, it's not quite as solid as the window sill used to be.

She tries again, gingerly placing one foot in front of another. Half way across the window, her delicate footprints are laid out like shadows themselves in the snow. She goes further, ignoring me now, confidence returned, red breast leading the charge. Reaching the end of the window sill, she flaps her wings once, as if testing the cold air for resistance. She finds it the same as always, lifts her head to the cold dawning sun, flaps again, and is gone.

The scene is motionless once more. A car feels its way silently down the road, driver unsure quite how to behave in this unfamiliar land. Slow is good, be gentle. Be humble in face of the soft and awesome power of the heavens.  Our street is hemmed with cars, just wide enough for one to slip down the middle, but there's no room for manoeuvre or error. Infinitely slowly, this car fumbles its way down the gauntlet and disappears round the corner. Safe to crash later, I think to myself.

On the window, someone else has been watching. Another robin. A different one, I'm sure, for a start it's a He. This chap doesn't seem quite so sure of himself. He looks at the disappearing car, then at me, then the thin line of gentle footprints in the snow in front of him. He follows them to the end of the window with his eyes, then back to the start. He takes a hop, and looks around. Where do these tracks lead? Why do they end? And why has she gone? Another hop, towards the far end of the sill. Some snow comes loose from somewhere above and patters down on him, giving the little bird a tiny white crown. He looks more foolish than regal. Sensing this he shakes it off, more interested in the prints laid out at his feet.

Making his way slowly to the end of the sill, the second robin stops and flaps his wings. Will he follow his mate, frolic after her and enjoy the snow day like so many children will in a few hours? He flaps again, unsure, and steps back. He can't do it. This world is too new, too different. Today is not his day. And so he steps away from the edge, and looks at me once more. I can't help you here, little guy.

Head bowed and confidence shaken, he walks back into the ivy, becomes a shadow once more, and disappears into the pale greenery. The only sign he is in there is the occasional dusting of snow knocked from a leaf as he moves between branches. I follow this trail away from the window, but soon the movement stops.

I peer into the ivy anyway, trying to catch any small sign of this little bird pottering about his daily business, but he is now alone in there, invisible to the watching world.

And then, unbelievably, I can hear the dustmen.

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