The cormorant and the mayflower

cormorant and mayflower

I was walking across the Point Street Bridge recently, here in Providence. There’s an ancient wooden piling / dock beneath the bridge, which is now terribly rickety and unsafe.

But the birds love it. There are always gulls and ducks there, and sometimes egrets and swans. And almost always there are cormorants: lithe delicate birds with slender curving necks and broad wings, which fly low over the water’s surface and dive quickly to snap up fish with their sharp little beaks.

The cormorants were resting that day. It was warm and humid, but there was a pleasant quiet breeze blowing off the land toward the ocean; I could feel it up on the bridge, and the birds on the piling could feel it too.

One cormorant was facing into the breeze, its winds outstretched as if it were flying. It stood and rocked gently in the cool breeze.  I took some pictures, but I’m not very good with my phone’s camera, so you can barely see it:

cormorant flying

“He was pretending to fly in the breeze,” I said to my friend Cathleen later, showing her the photo. “He looked so serene and happy.”

“He was drying his wings,” she said soberly. “It’s just instinct.”

Maybe Cathleen is right. But I prefer to think that the cormorant was dreaming about flying.

It does my heart good to see things like this. Not very many things make me truly happy, now that I’m a sour old codger. Partner makes me happy, and once in a while Apollonia or Cathleen says something that makes me laugh.

But seeing that bird in imaginary flight made me happy. Sometimes small things – a flower, a tree, a bird – take us out of ourselves; they make us realize that life isn’t as difficult as it might be, and that sometimes there are moments of pure unconsidered joy.

Which brings me to Elinor Wylie.

Elinor’s poetry is mostly forgotten nowadays. She was active in the 1910s and 1920s, and died in 1929. She’s a minor poet, but (I think) an important one. I have bits and pieces of her verse rattling around in my head all the time.

This is the last stanza of her poem “As I Went Down by Havre de Grace”:

As I went out by Prettymarsh

I saw the mayflower under the leaves:

Life (I said) is rough and harsh

And fretted by a hundred griefs:

Yet were it more than I could face,

Who have faced out a hundred dooms,

Had I been born in any place

Where this small flower never blooms.


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