There was a pond in their yard.
Not in some back corner, bordered by stone, featuring fat goldfish, built from a home improvement kit. This was a small lake, fully visible from the master bedroom window, on thirty one acres of forested New England, a body of water fed by brown trout and otters and current generation, pedigreed bullfrogs.
In the front yard.
And, that first Christmas, four months shy of their officially announced engagement, she’d traveled there with her intended to meet his parents.
Winter favored the contiguous Connecticut boroughs, their white Covenant spires gathering all to worship every Sunday in the heart of each town. East Woodstock was the destination and, to her delight, Currier and Ives,’ Christmas card perfect. As their tiny white Ford Festiva tooled around the bend, past the orchards and the fenced in horses toward the private drive, she was sure they had stepped into her grandmother’s “Ideals” catalogue.
Greeted at the door by a beaming Norwegian, and warmly embraced, she was led into the livingroom to meet the entire family. Perhaps it was the strings of Swedish and Norwegian flags lacing the Christmas tree in the bay window, or the Drambui on ice; but, by evening, a grandly atmospheric golden lighting bathing everything had found its way into her imagination, and she was heady from the fumes.
Her husband to be was a true blonde, with large, immediate, bright blue eyes. He loved his life. Always outside playing, whether it be to fish in the sound, or hunt small game, or deeply immerse in some well-planned orienteering, no day was complete without at least one eagerly awaiting adventure in the vastness of the great American refuge which surrounded him.
That afternoon – clear, not too cold – seemed perfect for a short expedition.
They’d stood at the kitchen window, she drying the colander with a tea towel, he gazing out across the pond as his mother prattled on. The opposite side of the water was bordered by a steep rise, forested towards the top, across which they could watch the eastward traveling path of flocks of fowl. As they stood gazing, to their astonishment there appeared four, possibly five large birds the size of pheasant, in horizontal flight just above the evergreen canopy – their feathers: solid white.
From the yard where he had hastened to take her, and through the high-powered binoculars, red crowns could clearly be seen. Her husband to be was beside himself: “They’re ptarmigan, Hon-Bun! Ptarmigan!”
She stood, staring out over the vast expanse, watching the white creatures in their slowly floating processional. White ptarmigan. These trumped the sighting of a bald eagle, or even one great blue heron. In the spirit of a four leafed clover, she wondered if this were an omen. The good kind, after all. She was almost 36 years old that year, and even meeting this young, eligible, white collar professional the previous spring had been a fluke.
Fluke. Summer flounder. They’d been fishing already, on the sound, the two of them. And, hiking – all the way up Mt. Washington, to the summit, in her mother’s cheap white track shoes from Hill’s Department Store. Camping – at Big Rock, next to a celebrity musician and his family. But, now. White ptarmigan. She turned, to see if this mystical experience had translated to her future husband.
He was nowhere to be found. She called out; her voice caught the ear of his mother. He and his father had gathered their gear – their buck shot, their hunter’s orange, and their rifles – and, made for the woods.
Sure enough, seasoned game boys, they weren’t long gone. In short order, her intended came bounding into the house like a Golden Retriever pup, his prize tucked proudly under one arm.
He’d shot one of the white ptarmigan.
Following the wedding, her new spouse had reluctantly emptied his apartment and moved into her house, a short lived respite to be followed by a season of daily commutes to a nearby college for additional certification and, from there, a job relocation two states away. The freezer cleared of its contents, in the very back, wrapped repeatedly in plastic bags, was the body of the white ptarmigan. By the end of the next summer, her mother was dead; seven months later, so was her marriage.
The spring thaw arrived gracefully in the Great Lakes, this year. The winter, taken as a whole, was far less ferocious than in previous seasons. Bald eagles, rare snowy owls, and a remarkably tame coyote or two were photographed in the nearby state park. But, like that short, bewildering episode in her life, truncated by errant choices and death, never again would she see a white ptarmigan, dead or alive.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 3/15/16 All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.