Sunday, March 06, 2005

Something Had Happened Here

I stood in fresh snow near where the big, uprooted tree rests half-submerged in the river and listened to the water flowing between and around the drowned branches. It was a complex, musical sound and I felt the absurd urge to photograph it.

Suddenly I noticed something at my feet: feathers, hundreds of them, lying on the bright, granular snow.

Something had happened here. I looked around. There were big gray feathers, and smaller white ones, half-down. They were on and in the snow, some even half-caught in ice.

It was a wild scatter, not a gentle moulting. Something savage had occurred. I looked upstream along the riverbank's snow. A trail of animal prints led to the little feather field where I stood. Something had feasted on bird, probably gull, and left only the feathers behind.

I looked closer. Amidst the glaucous gray and white of ice and feathers were small spots of red, eye-catching as the red of berries in a late winter thicket.

I've spent months and months haunting the riverbank with my camera, documentarian of the death of weeds, lovingly capturing their decline, fearlessly recording their mowing-down, dessication, attenuation, uprooting, rot.

This, though, was different. Less metaphoric. Closer to home. I felt as if I were taking pictures at a crime scene.

This was a question of meat, not phloem. Blood, not chlorophyll.

But, of course, this was not a forensic matter. It was no more a murder than a sparrow eating a berry is a robbery, or the wind overturning a tree into the river is assault.

Then again maybe there was a certain culpability. The river's unnatural scrim of human detritus draws the seagulls here, lures them miles inland. It, like most places tainted by city, is part landfill: tasty, poisonous.

So there was a perp after all, I thought, uneasily. An accomplice. A conspirator.

It was the oldest denouement in the film noir book, the quintessential surprise ending, plot twist. I looked furtively around, and took off through the underbrush.

The law, the natural law, was hot on my trail.

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