January 6 and the thermometer marks 49 degrees – unnatural, bitterly unnatural; but undeniably pleasant. The snow which had stood shin-deep yesterday morning is all but gone, leaving behind a wet spread of grass too green for this time of year. What snow remains sends up steam-wraiths in a stiff south wind, carrying the damp further afield than ever it’s blown before.

I’ve been awake for four hours, though the sky is just now truly light enough to see through the dirt-pearl clouds above. Either that wind isn’t doing a thing so far into the heavens, or there is no end or beginning to the cloud cover, just a massive roll of singular color and no particular shape.

The wind can be heard here below, both in itself as it lows in from the south and in its effects: The rustle of bare branches, the snap of an American flag that hangs in the Cosley’s yard, the complaining cry of the chains holding a FOR SALE sign on three abandoned houses nearby. Those sounds pale to the cry of a lone crow, heralding his murder.

Crows in a neighboring treeThey’ve returned, after four long years. The West Nile that terrified humans slaughtered the crows, more than ninety percent of them vanished from the county. We once had murders thirty strong landing in our trees, calling to one another, coming to dine on the blocks of suet and scattered seeds and berries I laid out against autumn’s dearth and winter’s chill. It’s been four years since I heard the cries in greater numbers than two, but this month they came back with a vengeance.

They don’t remember the food I laid out for them, individually or through ancestral memory, and so the local squirrels run fat and sassy on the bounty I mean for the birds. It’s only a matter of time, though. Eventually one will raid a squirrel’s nest, looking for young flesh and blood; and will turn a black eye onto the picnics below. Then it’s war in my yard, a return to form between two tribes in the day and mobs of possums in the night.

That cry itself is undercut by the bells, eleven long tolls from Immanuel Lutheran. I don’t know why eleven bells at eight in the morning, but I don’t see much point in questioning it, either. Faith is faith and if that makes eleven out of eight, as long as they’re happy it’s little of my concern. The animals are fed, my coffee is strong, and I’m three hours into my writing.

The weather – the wind and the damp – were just a sabbatical. It’s time to go back to work.