As I drove up the east shore of the long lake, the sun was setting behind high, thin clouds, coloring the sky and the lake with a diffuse, warm pink. The lake was almost still, full of peach and blue reflections. This was not a glory sunset, full of autumn fire, nor was it the grudging sunset of midwinter, extinguishing itself behind clouds before the fires could properly begin. In spite of the snow banks lining the road, remnants of the previous week’s three-foot blizzard, the air seemed somehow softer. The outlines of buildings across the lake were slightly blurred, and the geese drifted in on gentler wings. Even though the ground was still covered with snow and the maples were not yet showing their first flush of red, spring was coming to the wintry land. I stopped by the road with my camera, hoping to capture the subtle textures of this first breath of spring, knowing that I would fail.
Our winter-resident geese had been joined by others moving north; they covered the little bay by the village where I lived and filled the nights with their squawking. I fell asleep to their complaints, heard them grumbling still during the night, and woke to them at morning. People there spoke with enthusiasm of the geese, considering them something special and moving. I will admit that the long vees coming in to the lake in the dusk were beautiful and romantic, but there is nothing more mundane and ordinary than some farmer’s field full of ungainly bodies with self-important long necks grubbing for leftover corn. I wondered sometimes what the effect of their droppings was on the lake — or whether they made their deposits only where I wanted to walk.
When I came in from my efforts at photography, I built a fire in the fireplace, heated up a bowl of the asparagus with aioli from the deli, and turned on an improbable television special in which Luciano Pavarotti sang to and in honor of World Cup soccer players — or football players, as the rest of the world terms them. Life is full of strange juxtapositions: garlic and asparagus, Pavarotti and the World Cup. Just over two weeks earlier I had been snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, floating through clear water inhabited by luminous, multicolored corals and fish. That week I shoveled snow and went cross-country skiing for what I profoundly hoped would be the last time that season.
There was a raccoon that came to my back porch each evening that late winter to eat the bird seed dropped below the feeders. At first the raccoon made me uneasy, but it occurred to me that his (or her, perhaps — there’s no way to tell with that heavy fur coat) normal food supply must still have been buried under three feet of solid white mush. Even raccoons have to eat, and the mourning doves could spare some of the bounty knocked down by the jays and finches. Before I turned out the lights in the kitchen and went upstairs to write a little and get ready for bed, I looked out the back door at the raccoon, who had usually run away when I opened the door but surely always came back when I left, no matter how often I would wave my arms and shout. He was scrabbling in the snow with his front paws, picking up seeds with both hands together. I tapped lightly on the glass of the door and we stood there for a few moments, looking at each other across the barriers of domestication and species, united in the night and the snow and the coming spring.