photo by Dana Wilde

The other morning I walked up my driveway and along the road to look at the beaver pond which fascinates me to no end, for some reason, during all seasons but especially at the very tail end of fall.

Four ducks were paddling around there. The water was slate-gray and flat, in that hunter’s stillness November balances on when the air is chilled, but not yet wintry. The trees are bare. Their branches are gray and skeletal, and ragged white clouds knot in dark blue sky. Hardly a breath of wind.

Up a short, steep bank of dead grass, over white-green moss and juniper, under cedars and tattered spruces I made my way to the edge of the pond, which is held back by an outcropping of ledge and a leaking makeshift barrier of deadwood and leaves. A hundred feet or so across the pond is a beaver dome of piled and interlaced sticks. By the far shore were the ducks. They looked like black ducks.

I watched them glide around on the shale-like water. From time to time one stuck his head under and after a pause came up spluttering and spraying beads of cold water around. They meandered in the direction of the beaver dome.

Suddenly there was splashing and wingbeats, and they were airborne, rising like seaplanes. The strange thing about this is how they all spring together – not one after the other, or three following one who panicked, but all at the same instant. They flapped almost in unison and climbed smoothly over the water and the beaver dome, then the frost-crusted hayfield beyond.

About the time they crossed the shoreline, a great blue heron arose like an apparition from the reeds the other side of the beaver house. It was shaped like an assembly of joints, with sharp head and long neck, immense pointed wings and slate-blue sticklike body. It had the angles of a pterodactyl and the beauties dinosaurs lacked, and it was, amazingly, totally silent.

Its wings stroked slowly and powerfully, moving without pressure, almost, over the wet leaves in the autumn chill. It seemed to float through the air, headed westerly behind the ducks.

Weeks earlier in October, as I was walking up the driveway near the house, a motion over the brook in the fir woods twicked the corner of my eye. I hesitated and turned, and saw a gray-blue winged shape rise from the brook, waft up through the trees, and vanish. It was noiseless as the woods. It had the size and shape of a heron, but how could a bird that large navigate through hemlocks and pines? I wondered if I hadn’t seen a woodland ghost leak from a crack between two seconds.

The heron over the pond also ascended in complete November silence. The pond surface was undisturbed, and all I heard for some moments was water trickling out through the stick dam and across rocks into the gulley by the road. Everything had paused, as if taking one last breath before winter, and then was quietly gone.

Dana’s collection of essays on the Troy woods and beyond, The Other End of the Driveway, is available from Booklocker.com. (http://www.dwildepress.net/thedriveway/)