This Side Up

Winter can't be that far away


It was the calm after the storm.

The air was heavy with moisture, the trees dripping from Saturday’s downpour and wet leaves plastered like sticky labels on the driveway and the car. It was warmer but you knew the weather was resigned to autumn even if we were lucky enough for temperatures to climb into the 60s.

The bay was calm and reflecting the gray clouds of early morning. Conditions were ideal for a paddle to Conimicut Point although even at 6:30 it was darker than I liked. I’d wait.

Ollie didn’t know what to make of it. He’s accustomed to my morning excursions and patrols the yard, sniffing at what critters have visited over night until I return. Then it’s time for breakfast, although he doesn’t always respond to my whistle or Carol’s calls. That streak of independence, or perhaps passion for sniffing supplants what we assume would be the most compelling instinct of all – a few leftovers from our dinner the night before mixed into his kibble.

I put Ollie in his pen, fetched the Sunday paper at the end of the drive.

Ollie watched. I had broken the routine. Usually he’ll voice his impatience with a single howl, but not this time.

By 7 conditions on the water hadn’t changed. Flat and smooth as glass. The sky brightened. I released Ollie to the yard and then lifted the boat, draining it of rainwater and carrying it to the seawall. Ollie immediately went on patrol although from his lack of attention – he can be absorbed smelling a single blade of grass seemingly for ages – I assumed Saturday’s rain cleansed the yard of intriguing odors. I left him to his work.

Bay waters, usually muddied by storms, were remarkably clear. I glided over sands flecked by white shells and stringy hairs of seaweed a good five feet below me. Long undulating waves, probably from a passing tanker or tug although I hadn’t seen any bay traffic, gently lifted the boat. The passage to the point was uneventful. The point beach was deserted, no fishermen, no one walking a dog, no cars parked at the boat ramp. Many houses along the way were buttoned up for the winter. Patio furniture was gone and beach toys including paddle boards, small boats and jet skis had been put away. Moorings were vacant, some already replaced with winter sticks.

But I wasn’t alone.

A flock of Brant Geese, the first of the season, followed the shoreline. They were cautious, taking to the air and landing not all that far away. Give them another week or two and I know from experience they would pay little attention to me.

They are the true harbingers of winter. When they arrive and the cormorants and terms leave, snow can’t be far behind. Likewise, when they fly north in May if not sooner, it’s time to pack away the winter clothes and get out the screens for the storm doors.

Brants are good company. They’re sociable birds unlike seagulls, which seem to tolerate your presence unless they believe you have something to feed them, or Osprey that surely are the wildest of our shoreline visitors. I’ve had Osprey follow me from 40 and 50 feet above, I expect drawn to the swirling pools left by my rowing that resemble schooling fish. They catch on quickly and leave.

The Osprey have gone south by now, but I have the Brants with their constant chatter for cold weather friends.

When I got home, Ollie was contentedly chewing grass. He paid no attention to my return, which is pretty much Ollie. After putting the boat and oars back on the rack, I gave a whistle. He raised his head, but he didn’t come.

Finally, he was ready for breakfast and raced to be let in.

But having been on the bay and finding the Brant, I knew what needed to be done. It was time to unearth the dahlia tubers, get out the storm windows and put away the porch cushions. It was the calm before the winter.


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Thought the dog, not the human, was supposed to fetch the paper!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018