for Mary Oliver

Nicole Schafenacker | Contributor

The grouse I had been watching all month died this morning

She hit the window hard around 9:00 while I was making coffee, a thunder of flight against the glass

It was the week after Mary Oliver died

I didn’t realize at first that it was the grouse I had come to think of as mine, I thought it could have been any bird

But when I stepped outside I could see clearly the freckled tail feathers with their band of inky black, the snow already falling on its warm body

Another story from two winters ago: An Elder called Grandma Pearl I had come to love and I were hurtling toward the Morton County prisonhouse after our bail to pick up her heart medication that had been confiscated when she hollered, “Pull over!”

A pheasant lay on the side of the road, it’s neck broken

She gathered it and lay it in the passenger side footwell. I remember the way she held it, easy, with care, but without the fear of handling something, well, dead

Its eyes were still open and I tried to not look at the way it’s underside of beak was turned as I drove, feathers iridescent and catching
the early November light streaming through the car window

The week Mary Oliver died I made a point to walk down by the Fraser river and listen to the tinkle of ice floes moving south

I felt blessed when a flock of wild geese flew overhead, the underside of their wings tinged with the warm light of pink and orange sunset, tips of their feathers transformed to light itself

But the death of this grouse is no different, it too is dancing

All month the grouse ventured from the woods to hop up to the limbs of the apple tree, shaking snow from its branches and clutching fermented copper-coloured bulbs in its beak before moving back to the shelter of dogwood, willow, and birch

When it was time to leave the Dakotas and Grandma Pearl she softened it by telling us that there is no word for “goodbye” in Anishinabah, it translates instead to something like “see you later”, because you will, in this life or the next

This morning the tracks of the grouse’s tail feather trace criss-crossing pathways in the snow

I cannot grasp forever and I’m not sure I want to

But the extraordinary thing about humans is that we live things we cannot comprehend all the time

I carry the grouse back to the woods, boot prints in snow adding one more cross to the path