I checked the weather app on my phone compulsively this morning, watching the mercury steadily climb, climb climb for the first time in six months. 50…60…62. At 65 degrees, I told myself ok, this is it, handed Rosie to Ms. Simmons, and headed down to the basement to pump up my mountain bike tires and don some spandex. After a long, long, long and sedentary winter, this fleeting initiative was no small success! My own inner spring rustlings felt alive!
As I pedaled across campus, the soggy grass soaked up my momentum and sapped my speed. My tires skidded and slid through patches of slush-covered trail, threatening to tip my handlebars far enough aside to put me on my side. I managed to stay upright, though, out past the stadium, across the Exeter River spur berm, and into the hemlock grove where the shadows grew heavy and the snow on the trail thickened in a wall of cold air. Soon enough, it was too deep and slick to maintain traction, so I turned around and traced the swollen river back in the direction I came. I noticed the banks reaching deeper into the woods where they had overtaken a stretch of trees growing on a flat, their trunks stretching up from roots submerged in inky swell.
As I exited the woods, I caught a glimpse of peripheral movement sliding through the air and glanced up to see two bald eagles not thirty feet in the air–level with the tops of adjacent maples–winging by directly overhead. I caught a glimpse of silvery underplummage in the bright morning light, yellow, grizzly claw beaks, one or two ruffled feathers. The second bird, just behind, was immature, mottled as a giant speckled hen. So close. So immense. So surprising that they were upon me and gone before I could hit the breaks to take them in.
As I slowed my pace in their wake, reveling in the unexpected delight of such a gift, I downshifted and pedaled lightly back toward the stadium, breathing in the smell of soggy grass and mud. I banked left at the sagging lattice fence of the dog park and rolled to a stop at the crest of Cobb’s bridge. I wanted to watch the water slide by where not five days ago it still held icy static. As I looked south, almost immediately I caught sight of something in the water. I thought log, for it stretched long and thin, tapering at the downstream end, and drifted with the outside current’s bend. When the taper curled upstream, across the current, my mind began to rearrange itself…plastic bag I thought. Some detritus caught on the river bottom and reshaping itself with the downriver pull. As it drifted closer, though, I recognized the flat head and chin resting in line, split horizontally by the water’s surface, the sleek, moose brown back, the forearm-thick tail tapering to a downstream point. Otter. At the moment of apprehension, she tucked her chin and rolled underwater without a ripple. Gone.
All of us, out and about in incipient spring, the eagles and otter and I.