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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Four days to Christmas

December 21, 1980

The wind is up this morning, spreading its chill across the river top with ice forming in those places where the water stagnates.
No flies greet me here as they usually do in summer, but bits of leaves play tag in the wind, sometimes clinging to the ice-encrusted branches from which they fell last fall.
Christmas is four days away and I sit here on the river side celebrating the first day of winter with my river friends, none of them human.
A few pedestrians brave the cold, but they don’t know me. Most people street their cars up River Drive to one of the highways for the long but apparently necessary trip to Willowbrook Mall with no mall open on this die of the river on Sundays.
Cracks grin at me in the ice, each surrounded by tiny brown wrens that stand knee-deep in the stony cold water, strafing for scraps, previous prizes that the bottom still holds and each bird needs to survive.
Wrens occupy the tips of stones that stick up from the ice in deeper water, too, while barn swallows slice through the air above them, snatching the few remaining insects from the sky.
Above these, gulls cry in their hunt for larger prey, cat fish or crap that take to deeper mud at first chill, immune to this aerial bombardment until hunger brings to the surface and the villains pounce.
Several ducks float in the open water between the cracks, a white mating pair and a lone one of black and white with a red beak, who stays so still he seems a monument, unmoved by cold wind or current, making no effort to scavenge, the way all others around him do.
A strange calm pervades this place, even with the shrill voices of the gulls and the steady flap of water seeking to escape the ice. Even the huff and puff of cars above does not disturb this peace.
The sun winks down through the bare tree limbs but provides no warmth. It merely emphasizes the flaws, giving shadows to the old tires and car bumpers, and glitter to the shards of glass.
I shiver and ought to hate the child that nips at every inch of skin I expose. But there is something special about the river at times like this, the cold erasing the stench, stripping this place to its most necessary elements – the bones of its most barren existence revealed.

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