A thankfully silent greeting to 2017
The sky was brightening. It was the first day of the New Year and we had already been to Green Airport to drop off my daughter Diana and her daughter, Natalie, to catch a 7 a.m. flight to Chicago, where they would connect with another flight to Jackson, Wyoming.
This was the Christmas letdown when the family, after packing bags, conducting frantic searches for misplaced cell phone chargers and hugs and kisses, go their different directions to resume “life as normal,” if there really is such a thing. Ollie came with us to the ride to the airport. He sat in the back with Natalie and Carol. It was 5:15. No one was on the road. We didn’t see a single car on Airport Road that seemed to accentuate all the more the silence of the pending departure. Not even Ollie, who usually offers some commentary, made a sound.
The terminal was busy, but not overly so. About 15 sleepy-eyed people – perhaps still recovering from celebrating the New Year – stood quietly in front of the American ticket counter. Diana quickly made out a nametag for the bag Carol supplied so that she could get all her gifts home. Natalie, her knit ski cap pulled down over her ears, watched. We hugged one last time. Diana promised to call when she arrived. Jack and his family left Saturday and we had already heard from them.
The curtain had come down on Christmas 2016.
We got back to the house ablaze with lights but eerily silent. It was too early for breakfast. Ollie went to “his couch” to sleep; Carol checked her email and read.
The bay was calm and the tide rising. Clouds stretched like strings across the horizon. The first day to the New Year was going to be sunny. I decided to row to Occupasstuxet Cove and watch the rising sun on my way.
The bay was flat. Usually with first light gulls take to the air, and at this time of year rafts of geese and ducks float just off shore. The Bryant geese are the most talkative, chattering among themselves in muffled tones like they’re constantly checking up on each other. It’s comforting. I didn’t spot any gulls, ducks or geese.
I launched the boat and slipped on poggies – mitten-like covers to the oars to keep my hands warm – and with several firm strokes was leaving a wake to the stern. The water was black, reflecting the brightening sky, and in the distance Conimicut Light winked. I settled into a rhythm, the way I imagine a long distance runner finds a groove where they feel their body can keep going and going.
It wasn’t long before I reached Cole Farm. Winter mooring sticks studded the waters of the beachfront community. I craned my neck to watch for them. While I have hit a few, I didn’t want to risk breaking an oar.
Clearing the last of the moorings, I followed the shoreline that had given way to marsh grass as it formed the neck to Occupasstuxet Cove. Then, to my surprise, I spotted the Bryant geese just offshore where they should be. They were hardly 50 feet from me. They were strangely silent. One bird was flapping its wings as if to take off. The wings kept flapping, and instantly I knew it wasn’t for real. It was a mechanized decoy and the geese I was seeing were made of foam.
I brought the boat to a stop, extending the oars so that it wouldn’t rock.
The scene was convincing except for that silly bird that kept flapping. Two men stood up from behind a reed blind on shore. They wore camouflaged suits. Sitting in a rowing scull in front of two duck hunters isn’t how I imagined I would be welcoming 2017. What do you say?
I tried “happy New Year.” They loosened up a bit, but weren’t exactly in the mood for a conversation.
“Bryants?” I said looking at the decoys.
“A few ducks in there, too,” one of the hunters offered.
“Any birds this morning?”
The men shook their heads. The ducks and geese have a lot more sense than I credit them with. There was good reason why I hadn’t seen any on the bay.
“We’ll be seeing you,” one of the hunters said. It was my cue. I pulled on the oars. I wasn’t going to hang around. The men dropped behind their blind.
The scene was silent as I paddled home. No shots rang out over the bay, although I suspect more than one group of hunters was lying in wait. It was a silence I appreciated until I got home and was reminded that Christmas is behind us.