Near to here, there are many old almond trees from a mad tulip fever of almond orchard speculation that the area experienced 100 years ago. Every February, a beautiful, delicate and fragrant cloud of blossoms appears above a near by town. I was driving West, towards this heavenly cloud bank a few days ago. It continues to grow thinner - many trees have been cleared away and houses dot the hillside in larger numbers than the trees now. The trees fall in winter storms of their own accord, too, and some become too old to bloom much. Only birds and woodland creatures harvest their fruits. These beautiful remnants are blooming now. There will come a February when the blossom cloud will not rest above the town; The delicate white flowers will not perfume the breeze, and these old friends will cease to be the harbingers of Spring.
There is always something to watch, and almond blooms this year, still, portend the Spring. While winter is still here, at least, calendrically speaking, I offer you an ode to this year's remarkable winter of robins.
Winter Tide Robins
They swooped out of an orange cloud bank, one storm-edged sunset:
A winter flock of Robins.
Late afternoons they gather to greet the gloaming. A noisome fluttering of hundreds,
with chuffing clucks and sharp zeet-tweets, together with a shuddering of wings colliding with leaves,
like a window shade accordioning up and down; like a lace-edged Spanish fan, shutting abruptly: rápido.
They take hours to arrive and settle- to find their branches.
Boughs begin to bend with their weight. Invisible in the
leaves, they are shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek- A dense packing of red breasts.
The sounds fade and the sallying birds dwindle.
Where are they all day Where were they this time last year?
Where are they all day? A widely spaced pack, they are legion.
Sixty flap in from the North and settle briefly in a tree.
Then another wave from the East.
The first group lights out, and another hundred approach, circling from the West.
The dusk sky is spattered in all directions with Robins.
This flock, it might be much larger than the yard-
They may reach as far as the main road.
Maybe over the ridge, across the stream.
Maybe as far as the Salinas.
They might stretch eight miles to town.
They might be over the coast; they might be in the desert:
Monterey and Inyokern.
A poet, at the sea, begins a haiku about their rufous chests.
In town, a folksinger pens a ballad to their numbers,
and miles and miles away, at the unknown edge
of their winter gathering, a novel's first chapter commences:
The winter robins darted over the house.
A bit of local almond history.