Saturday, March 19, 2011


There is a bird here with a mango-orange belly and a brighter back; it perches quietly for the most part, its more somber colored wings thrown over the raucous color like a black coat covering a party dress, until it’s startled into flight, throwing off caution and the coat alike to wing away with an alarmed chrr-chrr-chrr to warn its friends. I disturbed a flock of them this morning, stood for a moment while they flew chattering away: they were annoyed at the surprise, and didn’t hesitate to let me know it.

It disorients me whenever this happens, whenever they rise up out of the gray-brown scrub beside me: my first thought is, inevitably, orioles! -- though we’re several degrees of latitude too far south for them -- followed quickly by the thought, the sense, of spring.

Spring is of course far from us here. We are in the height of summer, the months when everything is dry and crackling underfoot. Even when we passed through what could be considered springtime, it never truly felt like spring: the wind here never has that damp smell of living growing things running riot after a long winter sleep. There is something visceral about that smell, the particular scent of dark earth warming the frozen seeds within it, some ancient instinct tied deep down to silently announce yes, yes, spring: light and life and newness, and seeing my fake orioles jars that instinct uncomfortably in the half-second it takes me to remember where I am.

Spring will be coming soon to the States, ice melting slowly away through rain and the steadily tilting earth; the dirty mountains of snow in parking lots will gradually give way to tulips and road repairs, wood smoke subsumed by the tang of new asphalt, the smell of it hot in the back of your throat. I hear the cherry blossoms are out in Washington DC already. By Easter, perhaps, the lilacs at home will be in full bloom, every garden an eager chaos of bulbs and weeds exploding from the ground, desperate for space and sun, while the peonies dip their heavy heads down to earth for the ants to shelter in. Robins will lead the orioles north before the goldfinches arrive to gossip and scold en masse at the feeders.

We will keep our own coat on a little longer, here, quiet and moving slow beneath the sun -- the heat stronger every day. There is no snow to melt except for what I have in a little can marked INSTANT SNOW (for the purpose of decorating Christmas village miniatures,) but the rain will fall on us too, eventually, slowly turning the whole country greener, the jungles deeper -- a dangerous sort of green, a green I’ve never seen in the north: too thick and wet to be fully trusted. We’ll have corn again, and wobbling foals, and colors dripping everywhere from the flowers tucked away in unexpected places.

And my mango-bellied bird, who is not an oriole, will still be waiting quietly in the bushes, ready to fly up and tip me off-balance from the sudden shock of orange streaking out into the sky.