Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Drawing In

As I wrote here last week, the golden days of our Indian summer have ended. Himself is still able to ride the ebike to work, but he departs under skies heavy with ambiguity. Will it rain? The forecast says no or unlikely, but the dark horizon offers no assurance.

Yet yesterday, the threat evaporated and the opaque grey sky gradually, meekly, surrendered. White valleys opened in the sky, vivid yellow light illuminated the golds and greens of the fading foliage in the wood, and, at last, clear blue shone overhead. Sometime after lunch, our friend and neighbour, Edith, suggested a walk.

The two of us strode the perimeter of the fishing pond, its brown surface reflecting the tops of the trees that surround it and the sky above.

‘No swans,’ I said. ‘Last week there was a swan in the morning, at least for a couple of hours.’

‘Yes,’ said Edith. ‘They come for a short time in the spring, then in the fall, then go away.’

I agreed, recalling the swans on the pond when we were first considering the flat on Katzenstraße. ‘They never seem to stay during the summer.’

Under the sun, it was soon warm enough to take off our sweaters. I worked my trekking poles, trying to hold them loosely and keep an even pace. We followed the path past the community allotments and the football pitch, then turned right to walk along the bank of the Saalach as it runs northwest, forming the border between Germany and Austria. It had rained heavily over the weekend, so the river ran wide and more turbulent than usual, its high waters the colour of milk chocolate.

The trees lining the bank were thick, so shade dappled the path. It was littered with bronze scalloped oak leaves and pointed acorns with round caps. But only a few; most still clung to the trees.

At the Spitz, that arrow-shaped point of land at the confluence of the rivers Saalach and Salzach, we stopped to watch the rushing waters, the wider, deeper waters of the Salzach subsuming the smaller Saalach as the mingled waters poured north. Then, turning south along the Salzach, we could see the sun through the interstices of thick leaves, its light lemony but low.

‘We should plan to walk most days at 2,’ Edith suggested. ‘It’s the best light of the day.’

I worried about walking in the snow, which will come soon. I started out one day early last winter, nearly slipped on the ice, and turned back. It was the end of my walks last year.

She reassured me. ‘It’s better after the early snows. You get used to it.’

I lifted by trekking poles and pointed to the rubber tips. They come off to unsheathe a point, like that of a ski pole. ‘And I’ll wear better boots, too, my hiking boots with lugs.’

We were back to the pond by now. Near the shore, small black waterfowl clustered.

‘In German, they’re called Blässhuhner,’ Edith said. ‘Like hens, only with the white mark,’ she said, pointing to her face.

‘It’s nicer than the name we called them in America. Coots.’

‘Funny,’ I added. ‘I didn’t see them all summer.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘They stay hidden then and come out in the fall.’

I didn’t ask why. I only thought how, in the eighteen months we’ve lived on Katzenstraße, I’ve come to know the rhythms of its seasons: The twittering small birds in the winter eating the seed I put out, the swans skirting the ice in the spring thaw, the blackbirds’ song and the croaking of frogs booming in the lengthening evenings of later spring, the swooping bats in the warmth of summer twilight, and now, the new gathering of small birds building flitting under the eaves, swans on the pond again, and Blässhuhner in the fading days of fall.

Today’s promised sun and warm never materialised. Outside my window, a rush of leaves whirl down, spinning on the wind. Tomorrow rain is forecast; the next day will be sunny but cold, dipping down toward zero. Evenings draw in, as the light fades quickly under the full harvest moon.

Last night, at the end of a mild, not cold, day, I barbecued the last of the chicken on the bone, working by porch light. Along side the grilling chicken, I put an acorn squash, the deep green ovoid split length-ways. It came out delicious, with a smoky deep sweet-savoury flavour I’d nearly forgotten, the taste of fall.


  1. Nice post, Lorraine. I had to look up an image of coots/Blaesshuehner. Can't remember ever seeing them live, here or there.

  2. Hi Christina,

    We used to see coots in the ponds in the Santa Monica Mountains, specifically at the base of Old Boney, the mountain near our house in Newbury Park. The part there is Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa. But they seem to be, in my memory at least, part of the landscape of the California I once knew.

    Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Hm. Your response makes me wonder how much attention I pay to the world around me. Going forth I will keep an eye open for coots - and probably still miss so much else...

  4. What one sees, another misses, focused as she is on what the first one misses.