Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Birds by snow-light--

It snowed all night on Sunday. It snowed all day on Monday, and then on through the night. And now it is snowing still, and the heart of the big rugosa is cheeping like mad, its branches shivering but not losing snow as juncos and chickadees and sparrows take lovely, dipping flight. They practice evasive maneuvers against the shadow of the kestrel, quick-sailing in groups from rose to hemlock. The rose hips hold up toques of snow, and the canes are thickly outlined. Lighting and pecking, the birds rock the feeders. Now and then a chase weaves right through the densely-packed rugosa canes, more marvelous and intricate than any CGI speed chase through a film-forest.

I woke to the strangeness of snow-light through my lids, feeling that all was hushed and stopped. And I had a weird feeling of being alone, the only person awake for miles. Perhaps I was still dreaming because I had some dim sense of being a medieval monk, holding up his little candle against the dark and the barbarian hordes, that everything I cared about was beautiful, gracious, and full of light but under assault by the world.

And then I surfaced a little more, and rolled out of bed to pack lunch for my youngest and roust him to do a little chemistry homework before school. So now I am having a cup of tea and watching the wandering snowflakes and the birds puffing themselves up against the cold. For now, the kestrel is nowhere in sight.


  1. Even your descriptions of awakening to a snow-bound Cooperstown read like the opening of a novel. Beautiful

    I'm galloping about like a thing demented trying to be organised for the holiday starting on Saturday. Hey ho!

  2. Oh, that's kind!

    I should like to see you galloping--and the holiday will be wonderful.

  3. From the fury of the Northmen, deliver us oh Lord - or perhaps your sparrows ask to be delivered from the fury of the kestrel...

    That bit at the beginning of The 7th Seal, with the kestrel hovering - I can never see it as deadly menace, knowing how fragile and tenuous the kestrel's hold on life is, so many futile stoops to every one mouse or vole caught to keep them from starvation. Henry Williamson knew better. I'm quite glad we put up power lines for them to perch on and save them some energy in hovering. Ours don't catch birds much, mostly small mammals; sparrowhawks catch birds and raid bird feeders.

  4. Lucy,

    I've seen ours flash down and away a number of times, and once I was daydreaming and staring at the birds and saw the whole stoop and the little sparrow crumpled in the kestrel's claws.

    I suppose that I have Henry Williamson to thank for my first book. I was an innocent poet who knew nothing about book publication, when I read the David R. Godine reprint of "Salar the Salmon." In my innocence, I thought that if David Godine liked this wonderful, strange book that felt so kindred to me, he might just like my novella and stories. And so I put the manuscript in a manilla envelope and sent it to him. And he did. (They decided to turn it into two little books, but eventually I withdrew the half with stories, as so much time had passed. But the novella was my first published book.)


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.