It was one of those late winter days that felt good and looked awful. Light-jacket weather for my walk in the Forest Hills cemetery, but it was that dysphasic moment in the calendar where the air is soft but the ground’s still hard. Many grassy areas were covered with old snow, and where it had melted the ground was just trampled-down runty brown grass. Still, it was good enough for the hundreds of geese in the cemetery that day. They were everywhere, in large gaggles and small trios and duos that preferred to graze away from the crowd. They ambled warily away from my approach, except for a lone white-feathered bird who actually came up to me. I wondered whether this bird was shunned by the other geese, because it was the wrong color. Maybe she just wanted company. What can you do except talk with her? So I spoke to her in a comradely tone, as from one introvert to another, and she looked in my eyes between nibbles of the miserable grass.
Odd, such a pretty day, and all the colors on strike. I saw a nesting pair of woodpeckers – there was a welcome spark of color – and some birders pointed me to the nest of a great horned owl, watching implacably over two owlets, whom I could also see. All of us were happy, looking at those birds. I also paid a visit to my statue, and yes it feels like “my” statue, the one I described to you about a year ago.
He still moves me, and not only the man himself, but also the sentiment of the people of West Roxbury, MA, that this is how they wanted to honor their civil war dead, not with the usual “brave fighting boy” but with this enigmatic creature. He looked even lonelier than usual in the empty cemetery, surrounded by all that wan light. I think of him standing there through all the nights, alone, watching over the darkness and thinking his thoughts. Does the spreading light of morning console him? I don’t suppose it does.
His face is a rictus of enigma. Today I realized there was something about him that seemed fatherless. He lives with his mother and three sisters, one older and two younger. The older sister is engaged to marry a man who works in the county courthouse in Dedham, MA, but they’re waiting until the war is over. Everyone misses everyone and no one knows why.
In winter, does the snow cling to him? Everything else does. He’s still too young to be haunted, but I’m not, and he haunts me like no piece of public art I have ever seen. But in case you’re picturing me wandering about the headstones in some soul trance, let me assure you that I often ask, why isn’t “Bacon” buried next to “Sandwich,” or “Chu” next to “Swallow.” And where’s the “Mayo” family in this melancholy smorgasbord?
A day later my wife Karen Odessa had a few free hours, and we went to the Arboretum, “The Arb” as it’s known to us locals. The novel I just finished reading (Lily King’s latest) has a scene set in “The Arb,” featuring Bob The Dog, a basset-hound that wouldn’t run even if you let him off the leash. The Arb was less austere, albeit it was only a day later. There were gregarious clusters of snowdrops and even a crocus or two. But the best thing was a catbird we heard before we saw him. He was perched on a holly bush only just above us and almost close enough to scoop him up and bring him home. He put on a concert with few parallels in the natural world. We must have stood there ten minutes, jaws agape beneath our masks, and this little bird never made the same sound twice. I swear he knew we were listening. “I’ll show these boomers…” When we heard the clamor of a cardinal in the vicinity, the catbird mimicked the other bird’s voice. That kind of thing makes me happy for days.
Yesterday I got my Covid vaccine. It was the Johnson & Johnson, which I’m now calling the “Masters & Johnson” (the side effects are amazing) though I demurred from sharing this feeble joke with Sarah, the nurse who gave me my shot. She held out the syringe and said “Here is your Covid vaccine Mr. Theise.” That was quite touching. I wondered how many people are tempted to weep when they get their shot. The setup was brisk, efficient, calm and peaceful, and I thought how fine it was to witness the Public Health system caring for all of us; how lovely it was to see anypublic system doing what it was designed to do, to heal and improve our lives.
I’ve been – all of us have been – so knotted up this past year that we barely even feel relief when it comes. I remember driving over the mountains once in a snowstorm, and how I felt when we descended and the snow turned to rain, and I could let go of my vice grip on the steering wheel, and actually blink my eyes again. That relief flooded through me, but this one is different. The knot is tiny and tight, and you’d break a fingernail trying to loose it. I felt numb as I left the clinic, but on the car ride home I was singing along to the music and loving the dark blue waves on Jamaica Pond.
Yet later I felt sad. I don’t know quite why. After the election I felt like I could let my shoulders drop and take some deep breaths again, but then came January 6th and the old dread came back. It’s like I have a glacier inside me. But getting the shot gave me a hope I couldn’t push away. Sometimes it hurts when the blood flow returns. Maybe that was it. I sat there in my little pod among all the other pods as we waited for our fifteen minutes to pass so they could send us back out into the world. I wanted to hug them all. We made it, I’d say to my fellow vaccine receivers. You people are angels, I’d say to the health care workers.
It is March 14th, and today I heard the first dawn birdsong of 2021 in Roslindale. Yesterday the sun cleared the rooftop of the house next door, and came into our kitchen in the morning. I got my shot, and my wife gets hers on Wednesday. Every grower in “my” portfolio from whom I requested samples is sending them. No one declined. A German friend torments me by posting Facebook pictures of almond trees in blossom, while we rejoice over a few little snowdrops. But it’s fine, it will come, it always does, and the broadening light will once again gleam upon all the perplexity of the world.