Photo: Courtesy of Rick and Elizabeth Bass
Here in Northwest Montana, up near the Canadian border, spring comes in the form of rain, rain on top of snow, weakening the snow, so that as you walk across it, the snow opens up to bare ground with each step. Day and night you can hear the water running just beneath, warmed by the awakening earth. The rain falling through the trees makes a hissing sound as it lands on the slushy ice.
Through it all, the deer are trudging down the trails they've been making all winter long, their hooves compressing the snow into dense hard-packed ice that will remain long after the looser snow has melted away, the latticework of their passage as white as bones cast across the dark floor of the forest. The rain drenches the hanging black moss that they feed upon whenever they can reach it. The moss absorbs the rain until it looks like a woman's long black hair when she has just gotten out of the shower; until it pulls free of the branches and lands on top of the fading-away snow, where the deer hurry over and eat it.
The deer are waiting patiently for something—have been waiting all winter—and so, one winter 17 years ago, were my wife, Elizabeth, and I: for the birth of our daughter Mary Katherine. When she was born (I can barely remember the days and years before, as if they were a form of sleep), she emerged stone-faced, as we all seem to—stone-faced, or snarling—and though we had been up all night, and morning light was coming in through the hospital windows, it appeared to me that she was bathed in a strange sheen, an other-light, not so much reflective as luminous from within. And immediately upon her arrival, her face relaxed, and she smiled a wide, beautiful smile, and slowly brought her hands together—it seemed to be occurring in slow motion—and clasped her fingers, interlocking-style, without a hitch. I knew nothing about babies, but knew enough to be astounded.
Spring was early that year, and when Elizabeth and I brought Mary Katherine home, the ice in the pond beside the cabin we were renting had already opened up, and though the mornings were still below freezing, the Canada geese had already returned. There was a big, wide plate-glass window looking out onto the pond, and when we walked in that morning, bright early morning, the new gold sun was coming right through the window, and a flock of geese came flying up the narrow river valley, honking loudly. We stood there with Mary Katherine in our arms watching and listening as the geese kept coming closer, descending, their braying honks growing ridiculously loud, until it seemed they were in the room with us, or we with them.
It looked as though they were going to keep on coming, right on through the window, but they set their wings into a glide and landed on the pond's surface and coasted up to the window's edge, clucking and grunting and braying, and the ripples from their splashing cast shimmering disks of bronze and yellow across the cabin walls and ceiling, bathing the three of us in rippling pond light, and Mary Katherine just watched and listened, as if it were all the most normal and regular thing in the world....