An Hour by the Pond

Those little kids didn’t even notice the cold, or the ominous way the clouds were piling at the horizon’s edge in thin mounded folds like batter poured in the pan. You’d think it was balmy spring to hear the joy in their voices as they practiced on their scooters.

I was parked on this half-acre of asphalt because it abuts the pond I bring Uncle Ed to.

Some of the cars around us stood empty, as their owners took a quick walk, but many more were inhabited by people who like to look out at this small-scale landscape as serene and self-contained as a paint-by-number canvas.

“Kids and animals like any kind of weather,” I was thinking, when along came a golden retriever. He trotted over to a spot directly in front of our car, throwing eager glances at his owner behind him

He seemed to have something in his mouth and sure enough, once his black-haired mistress caught up to him, he lifted his chin in a “Check this out!” way, then dramatically dropped a well-mouthed tennis ball onto the frozen ground. The obvious message: “Your move.”

She picked up the grey grey-green ball, and for the sheer teasing fun of it slowly raised it high in the air, then carried it low, moved it wide to the right, then wide to the left, like a clergyman making the Sign of the Cross.

The dog followed her motions with his head, but brought to the game a look of intelligence that took things to a level beyond the mere shadow of her Father-Son-and-Holy-Ghost routine. So subtle were his movements he looked like more the catcher in a game of baseball, silently communicating his series of Yes’s and No’s to his pitcher on the mound. “Go get it!” she shouted, finally making the toss. And the dog tore after the ball, fetching it up in his jaws just inches before taking a nail-scrabbling skitter out onto the ice.

I looked out then at the lake’s still-unfrozen center portion, where a dozen brown ducks paddled, nicely color-coordinating themselves with the dark, choppy waters.

I looked at the lake’s frozen margins, where a similar number of white birds played the same color-matching game as they stood on the ice, displaying their profiles and looking like dancers on the floor of a ballroom, waiting for the music to start again.

I listened to see what this music might be made of, and heard the calling of birds and the shouting of kids, the barking of the dog and one thing more: From the car parked beside me I heard the soft rhythmic sound of an oxygen tank attached by the usual tubes to the nostrils of a woman contentedly reading her book, pencil in hand.

I guess in a way these sounds were all notes, written on a musical staff made of a wind that sighed even as it sifted through the piney branches. I guess they made a kind of morning anthem that everyone present was happy to hear.

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