My house turns cold. Our oak trees rise high enough to perpetually shade the small dwellings in which we live. This soothes in the short spate of hot weather but come October, the deepening gloom brings chill. I struggle with whether to turn on the heat. I loaned my wool blanket to visitors and haven’t gone to retrieve it. The night will be long.
Migrating flocks return to our island. On the morning drive, I pass large swathes of them as they settle on the shimmering surface of the Mokelumne River. I pause to watch their easy drift. I know my cell phone’s camera would not do justice to the sight of them. I don’t even try. I watch from the car window as they lift a lazy wing to change course. Envy grips me as I press the accelerator and continue towards town.
I take a short cut to Highway 160, headed towards a physical therapy appointment. Beside the slough, I let my engine idle. Huge swaths of hyacinth choke the flow of water. Birds nestle among the clusters of green. Around one corner, I spy the swans that we’ve been watching all summer. I thought they must surely be gone, but I see a little group of them. I take a photo before continuing. Later, I run the picture through an application on my phone that tells me it’s a mute swan, an introduced species that threatens the ecosystem of the environment to which its drifted. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife cautions that I should report these sightings. I decline to do so. I decide instead to pretend that they aren’t what they appear to be. Perhaps their months of huddling amongst the weeds in the slough near my home has morphed them into an ex-pat, a refugee from the place whose shores they no longer remember.
Meanwhile, the days grow shorter. I watch the weather in my own home town. I have not seen a first snow in five years. I have not stood on cold concrete steps to sling salt across an icy sidewalk since December of 2017. Someone else will be calling the chimney sweep and stacking wood on the hearth where I once sat reading books to my toddler in front of a crackling fire. Instead I crank my neck backwards and study the skies for signs of rain. I look at the air fares and wonder where I will spend Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. I contemplate the wisdom of trading my Midwestern roots for the loamy soil of the California Delta. Unlike the long tendrils of vegetation and the heavy brown bird, I chose to come here. Perhaps, like them, I do not belong in this verdant land.
Yet here we all are: A Missouri girl, the water hyacinth, and a flock of mute swans, all just doing our best to thrive against the contours of a world far away from anywhere that we feel certainly, surely welcome.
It’s the twenty-fifth day of the one-hundred and eighteenth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.