January 21st

It was a dark day. A wash of grey clouds shed gentle tears of cold rain and sleet, tickling my nose like pins and needles. No silver lining or shafts of sun came to dispel the gloom. The weather grieved with us. About four o’clock, I walked out to pay homage to the firecrest, which had returned to its customary wintering grounds on campus. He graciously showed himself within seconds, close to where he had dissolved back into the Wilderness woods on Monday morning, still zipping tirelessly through the tree-rooted clinging ivy.

When the clouds won’t lift, we have to grab on to whatever light we can find. The firecrest keeps his close. It’s in the cloak of gold on his shoulders, in the intensely bright badger-stripes on his head, in the river of flame on his crown, in his lime and leaf green feathers that possess a strange luminosity even in the half-light, in every perfectly judged flit between ivy leaves.

How else can we manage in this sad world, but to gather light and carry it with us? I don’t envy the birds’ ability to fly so much as I do the ease with which they inhabit their lives. They are travelling light, in more ways than we imagine. Effortlessly themselves. The simple act of watching birds is no cure-all, no panacea for the wounds and scars we carry. But to watch them – beautiful yet fragile, alive yet mortal – is at least cathartic, at best transformative.

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