A skiff of snow fell overnight, and in the morning, the dogwood tree in the front yard, so glorious just days before, wore its leaves in patches like a mangy dog. A bluebird flew in and landed on one of the thin branches.
Another joined it, then another, followed by waxwings and robins, as if the fallen leaves had sprouted wings overnight and were back, standing in as replacements. It isn't a bad trade-off. For the leaves, their first flight is their last, but the birds keep flying. They animate the tree in a way leaves never can.
The few dogwood berries that remained were strewn on the ground. Taking stock of the inventory, the birds hopped to the ground to bolt down their breakfast. One bluebird peered under a leaf, located a neon red berry and swallowed it whole in one gulp. Within a few minutes, the flock had cleared the yard of berries and moved on.
Not all of the birds were so fortunate. A purple finch crashed into our sliding glass door and laid on the deck like a fallen leaf before struggling to its feet. Listing to one side, it perched wobbly, hanging on to life with a tenacity known to wild things. Hoping to shelter it from the frigid breeze, I took an old towel outside, shaping it with a cavity for a windbreak, and gingerly set the bird inside.
After a while, it dropped the seed, lifted its head, and surveyed the surroundings with a renewed recognition. It seemed to remember, for the first time in a while, that it could fly.
With a swift motion, it picked up the seed again, hopped to the top of the towel, and lifted off. One fallen leaf had taken flight.