A black silhouette of a crow alights on the phone wire and pole outside, and then stands still as stone.
I look past it, up at the fog, a gray blank, a cool, still, unyielding cover over everything as far as I can see. This nonweather has no pulse, no variation, no obvious challenge to me, but now I begin to think of weather differently. I feel tested in some new way by this, but the test seems unclear, the rules vague, aggravating.
In winter, a heavy downpour or a lightning storm rivets my attention. Its danger is exhilarating, violent even; it reminds me that disaster may come at any time, and I may be called upon to be resilient and resourceful, face frightening things and stare them down in order to survive. My ancient forebears could have survived great threat from the forces of nature in order to survive. In a storm, the drama of side-slanting rain slashing past my window reminds me that I exist, that there is a wild form to life and its patterns, but there is a known potential for harm. I am thrilled when I think how severe the drenching cold would be if I were caught in it. I feel the wild pulse of danger; it is palpable and immediate.
But, fog? It is brooding, persistent, dully unchanging, and instigates a creeping mood, misgivings, and uncertainties within me. The insidious sameness of it day after day and its tendency to negate any sense of being in step with time and natural cycles is unnerving. I make no plans, feel there is no potential for the day, have no sense of progress or accomplishment.
Now there are several dark crows sitting on the phone lines outside my window, walking back and forth on the thick wires, the small feathers on their shoulders ruffled by a slight breeze. Their folded wings are hunched and the black-on-black forms look like cutouts from the sky rather than living birds, a sort of negative space, placeholders for real birds that will arrive once the sun shines again. I've heard no songbirds lately; the spring migration is long over. The crows, unlike the songbirds, reside here; they're just biding time, patiently resting, and provide commentary with jagged monotonous cawing, a tuneless punctuation for the fog's gray sameness.
The fog diminishes any sense of the passage of time, makes me feel as if I have entered a limbo or suspended animation. I find myself listening to things that might help me sense differences in the world. When the fog is draped so heavily on us for so many days, even the accustomed afternoon wind fails. In a preponderantly fog-bound existence, it's light out and then it's not. Day is simply not night, and then night replaces it. The stars, the sun and moon are missing. Those now-unseen heralds of change in the universe cannot tell me anything in the fog. I'm on my own. I have no inner resources to cope with the monotony of these doldrums. I may be just as lost as if I were in the wildest storm. What saves me from this uncertain sameness when I am used to the signs and contrasts, cycles and rhythms of nature? What shall inform me of life out there, of my ability to live?
Sitting quietly here at my table, I watch the silhouetted crows whose small black feathers lift and fall in the light air, and I feel my heart beat. It's almost quiet enough that I can hear it, too. I hold very still and breathe quietly. All my attention is on my heart, its rhythm, the tiny cycle of lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. It's so reassuring, and yet so basically natural; I always take it for granted. I look back at the crows and imagine their beating hearts, small as they are, and the beating hearts of every creature on the planet.
The crows shuffle their wing feathers and settle on the wires, facing east. Again, they are very still. They seem to become two-dimensional images of themselves for a moment but then spring into full form again as I sense that they, too, may be feeling the beat of their own hearts and awaiting subtle changes in the world.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way