Monday, February 20, 3:10-4:10 p.m.
The view north from the hill (our shared driveway runs along it) is both panoramic and intimate. In center foreground is the little no-name creek where it comes out of the willow thicket and crosses open pasture and the old homestead. Immediately upstream are the huge, old willows, just downstream our neighbor’s Scottish longhorn cattle and old buildings—unpainted sheds, the old house--of two generations back of her husband’s family. Stretching “straight” north is cherry orchard, rows of bare trees in February a deep plum color against patches of snow, deeper the farther back one looks in the receding row, where individual trees are lost in a fuzzy, magenta-purple mass. Almost to the center horizon is a farther group of willows, their branches a vivid orange-yellow, while off to the northeast from those willows lie yet more distant hills, each less detailed than the one before it, until finally deep blue claims the farthest shadowed reaches. On a sunny, clear winter day, cold breezes from nearby Lake Michigan make for a chill in the air.
But to look north from here is to gaze on a slant, as Newtonian straight lines seem all to be laid on an angle here. This is owing to the shoreline of Lake Michigan as it tapers gradually to the end of the peninsula, and the slanted impression is accentuated by hills and perspective. Rows of cherry trees follow the curves of hills and converge upon another at the ends of their blocks. Lines of old fence posts stagger off-plumb as if the posts will collapse any minute like ranks of drunken soldiers. The newer, taller fences, built to keep deer out of the orchards, also form irregular quadrilaterals, not simple squares or rectangles.
At this distance, the cattle are almost abstract in shape. Shaggy-coated and long-horned, they animate the view with their slow, Paleolithic pace, their occasional deliberate steps bringing about a rearrangement of elements in the kaleidoscopic scene. The three are burnished russet, a color like the Crayola crayon ‘burnt sienna,’ and the last a soiled off-white. Massive shoulders and chests taper to narrow hindquarters and long tails.
Off to the north a chickadee calls. Backlit by afternoon sun, two small birds in the tallest ash tree along the driveway (all the ash trees volunteer growth) twitter and fuss before moving on with quick, swooping darts. From upstream there is the sound of steadier bird activity, and once something large and white and graceful flies overhead, a gull or a snow bunting. Soon, in spring, the tangle of trees and brush upstream will be filled with birdsong, echoing and bouncing as if the cut through which the stream flows were a brass bowl. Soon, but not yet. In the snow between driveway the drop to stream and lower orchard are trails of deer, but the deer are too wary to venture across this open ground in midafternoon.
Below, on the bank of the snow-covered stream, a pile of rocks bears witness to the labor involved in the clearing of these fields. Perhaps barn snakes and others are passing a sleepy winter there.
As afternoon shadows lengthen, the cattle lie down. Two face west, the direction of the Lake and the wind. The third, the big white steer, faces northeast with his body but turns his head regularly to look in the same direction as the others. Dignified, at ease, they wear their horns like crowns.