A peace envelops me the moment that I pass through the gate of the fish hatchery, as it always does. This is a magical place in my world. As my car slowly moves along the driveway, gravel crunches under my tires, breaking the near silence. I cut my engine and step out. A suspicious goose announces my arrival, to no one, with a mildly annoyed honk. We have come to a mutual consensus, he and I, over the past couple of years. We have agreed to disagree. So, I call a “Hello!” to him and he saunters away, flapping his broad, white wings one last time.
The breeze, while gentle, has a slight bite to it this morning. I pull my coat zipper higher as I turn my face to the warm sun and inhale the crisp air a little deeper into my lungs. I begin my familiar trek toward the frozen ponds. I am forced to squint against the sun as I study the shoreline and the dull brown reeds. I feel nostalgic for my summer friends – the turtles, frogs and fish, the cormorants, with their outstretched wings drip-drying in the trees.
I pause to lean over the low wall, feeling the coldness of the cement seep through my jeans and chill my legs. I raise my head to look across the big pond. I am startled by the starkness of the view. I can see beyond the hatchery. The barren trees that usually are shielding me with their foliage are no longer sentries, guarding me from the surrounding world. Their dark, brittle limbs, outstretched, now look naked and vulnerable in their openness.
A “Good morning, Candy!” is carried to me on a faint wisp of air and I turn to see Frank, the ranger, one of the guardians of this sacred place. He waves a gloved hand over his head. I wave back and return the greeting. Watching him work from a distance, I notice his warm breath escaping around his rosy cheeks in billowing puffs and realize that it has suddenly gotten colder.
A car pulls into the lot as I begin to make my way back to my car. Another regular has joined us this morning. Art is a cheerful, older gentleman. He waves warmly as he opens the passenger door for his companion, Sadie, an aged Beagle. Today, I see, is a good day for her. He places her gently down on the gravel. She spies me and tries to act nonchalant but her tail betrays her. I go to her, calling to her as I do.
I retrieve a snack from my pocket and stoop down to her. She daintily puts her graying muzzle into my hand, our eyes meet as I stroke her silky fur and in that moment, there is validation before she saunters casually away.
I look up into the sky and see fleecy crystals beginning to tumble downward. It’s time to head towards home. It’s time for tea.