Hollowtop Smoke Signals
The story of a shivering, warm-weather-welcoming walk
The other day, upon awakening, I peered unenthusiastically out my bedroom window. It was another drab, overcast day. Consequently, my thoughts turned to the coffee maker and its dark brown elixir. Then, just as I turned to go to the kitchen, something on the lawn caught my attention.
There, before my appreciative eyes, stood a male robin. Like a starving prodigal son returned from a tumultuous journey, he pecked feverishly beneath the leafless lilac bushes for food. After observing the red-breasted dandy’s antics, I ventured to the window in my house that looks out onto the neighbor’s bird feeder. Two red-winged black birds were clinging to the feeder’s sides in all their crimson and black-contrasting glory. Again, I savored the avian action. Soon, a western blue jay landed.
Suddenly, I felt as though someone had waved a magic beak, and spring had finally descended on my corner of the world. Atwitter with new found energy, I dashed (hobbled) to my car and drove to the Adkins Road to engage in a warm-weather-welcoming walk. Shortly, I was progressing with what, these days, passes for a “spring” in my step.
Regrettably, though the bird sightings may have been indicative of spring, the climate wasn’t corresponding. That’s not to say it was glacially cold. More accurately, it was a damp, penetrating cold. While pulling gloves over my bluish fingers, it occurred to me that perhaps the blue jay was blue for more reasons than mere genetics. Nevertheless, I was propelled onward by the lingering effects of the bird-sighting-induced euphoria.
One half-hour away from my car, I turned around to begin the return portion of my, so-called, warm-weather-welcoming walk. Upon so doing, I came face to flakes with a veritable wall of snow that had crept up behind me without my noticing. There was no spitting of sparse snow beforehand. The wind hadn’t increased. Yet, within seconds, I was swallowed by a blizzard, and heavy, wet snow was falling around my ears. Never before had I fallen victim to such a sneaky snowstorm.
Naturally, with the sneaky storm came even chillier temperatures. I was already scooting along at maximum shamble speed. To move faster would likely have resulted in an inglorious face-plant onto the muddy road. So, with my head angled downward and my clothes growing soggier with each step, I grimly soldiered on. While shivering uncontrollably, I began to question whether the “spring” birds I’d seen at home weren’t “bogus birds” whose true intent was to lure me outdoors to my demise.
Periodically, I glanced at the surrounding pasture. The blizzard was so intense that, once, I saw what appeared to be an obviously disoriented, still brown and white-mottled, jackrabbit frantically erecting an igloo. I also spied a soggy, shivering coyote that looked every bit as miserable as me. Doubtless, a cantankerous glare from either of us would have triggered a no-fangs-barred brawl. Obviously, the piteous mammals had also been caught unawares by the storm. Then, I noticed that the individual snowflakes were large; about the size of a quarter. At that point, from past experience, I suspected the “storm” might be a squall.
Sure enough, after reaching my car, the snow stopped as suddenly as it had begun. While driving home, it dawned that, during the entire shivering, warm weather-welcoming walk, I hadn’t seen any feathered harbingers of spring. What’s more, when I got home, not a single bogus bird was there to greet me.
© Art Kehler
Art lives in Harrison, Montana. His essays, stories, and poetry have been published in newspapers, journals, literary magazines, and on-line magazines.