October Leaves in a Huff

It is the last day of October. The winds of superstorm Sandy will deal us only a glancing blow. At first light, inland morning gales smell of sea salt, strong and steady out of the Northeast. Shards of it break into the southern mountains, whistling through trees on ridges, we hunker below on Goose Creek, tending to business, vigilant. Battering winds buffet our friends who live up top where the sun sometimes shines, though today there will be warmth and light only high above the grotesque, pinwheel shadow-cloud of Sandy.

High over the barn roof, at the end of the valley, two ravens hold their position as if painted on the sky in airborne rheotaxis, like small fish holding position against the invisible current in a stream, lest they be swept away to sea. These birds are made of black metal, wing beats audible from a half mile away. They are among few winter-long residents here. I would miss them if they decided to find accommodations in south Georgia, instead.

Especially in the absence of almost all of our summer birds, the raven’s high, course croak on a freezing-bright day in January, will demand that as often as they call to me, I shield my eyes against the sun to find never more than two, circling in a kettle of frigid air — more often than not, chasing each other in play.

Their pebble-in-the-well kerplunk (my own peculiar name for that call, but if you heard it, you would understand) is always a source of glee (for them first, and then for me!), a chuckle if ever bird were capable of such.

▶ NOTE: This is another snippet,  from the monthly journal part of  a Floyd County Almanac. I’ll post the second short part tomorrow.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. You are such a wordsmith. I love the way you make me feel as though I am there witnessing the ravens soaring through the air.

  2. Beautiful writing, Fred. I believed you would have only crows in the East, and that ravens were for the Southwest. Ravens are always a treat to observe and hear during our travels in the desert.