The sun cleared the gray furze of trees bordering Juganine Creek and lifted like the vision of something we once knew and had forgotten, some blazing minor star now ascendant, and a cardinal sang and a Carolina wren, and the frost glazing the truck melted away like a bad dream.
I was on my way to work as I am always on my way and there was little time to stop and relish the moment. Gritty-eyed, dazed from lack of sleep, I stood there for a moment lost in a mathematical puzzle. How many part-time jobs do I have—five, six? I’d been up since 3 a.m. and now off to a second job and my brain lagging behind my feet.
Dew runneled like sweat off the truck as I opened the door and set the camera bag on the front seat. A small duffel with notebooks, an iPod and a pair of binoculars went beside the driver’s seat, and a cooler on the floorboard. When the door slammed a flock of sparrows darted from the brush pile in a breathless lunge, thicket-bound. I longed to track them with the binos but didn’t have time.
And yet the moment was there, ripe for the plucking, requiring nothing more than my attention. What could I give on such a fine morning to feel human again? To feel free? Surrender was all, and for now it was too much.
If we let it, life can make us feel like a hunted beast, harried and hounded to ground. A long bitter winter only intensifies our discontent, and in that three-week twilight where frost and ice give way to rain and thunder our desperation deepens from unfulfilled anticipation. By February’s demise we are desperados all.
But there was something different in the air, a heaviness, as if the air itself were solidifying. The south breeze was redolent of moisture, and it required little imagination to sniff the salty tang of the Gulf so far away. Oddly, I remembered stepping off the ferry in Cozumel several years ago. Maybe it was the warmth of the sun, the sudden quickening after the prolonged cold, or that scent in the air that smelled of sea breezes, but for a moment I was on the jetty and the waves lapping the wooden dock splintered the sun’s reflection into a thousand dancing shards of light. A small cluster of soldiers watched us, their assault rifles incongruous in a sea of half-naked flesh. Beyond them the beach was littered with sunbathers and great-tailed grackles, and beyond the town the coastal scrub and Mayan ruins called out their siren song.
That selfsame sun now erasing the memory of frost on the rounded hills above town brought me disconcerted back to earth. I thought of how one job will soon be jettisoned and a sort of freedom regained, how these fields would soon be mine again, and a garden planted, and perhaps another Spanish lesson or two to hone my minimal skills. For next time. Across the street, the cardinal whistled and cajoled and demanded. For all creatures, spring is a time for dreams. I wished him luck, got in the truck and dreaming drove away.
By afternoon the sky turned gray. Thin pale clouds at first filtering in from the west, thickening as the afternoon wore on, and whatever warmth the sun had brought bled away even as the light bled away into a gray nothingness without texture or substance. The wind shifted to the north and grew teeth. When I arrived home birds were silent, flitting restlessly through brush piles and splintered trees, the battered victims of last December’s ice storm. I unloaded the truck and felt the increasing bite in the air. Underfoot the ground was spongy and damp but crusting already. We were on the cusp of spring and other transformations, and though the birds knew it and I knew it, it remained out of reach and our hands grasping could not grasp it yet.