Back when the world was warm and golden, when grasses stood tall in the meadow and apples still hung on the trees, Emme stepped out of the house one morning and came back inside to get me. We went out together and there, close to the porch, on its side, was the body of a woodcock, immaculate. Not a quill out of place. Its feathers as rich and warm as the world around it: chestnut brown and gray and black on head and wings, shading to hints of gold down its breast. Its long beak lay against the ground, its days of browsing for earthworms in the leaf litter over for good.
I imagine the way the world holds the memory of this creature, circling high above the meadow in spring, calling, hurtling out of the sky in search of a mate; that the world still holds this imprint; that at least I do.
Early last spring, earlier than I thought possible, I heard a woodcock calling, and worried for it; days later we had a hard snowstorm and the earth froze to iron again. I couldn’t imagine how it would survive deep snow and impenetrable ground. If this is that bird, and it did, it is dead now. If that was another one, then the season has been framed by two small deaths.
We surmise that it was one of the dogs that got this one and laid it at our door. Sometimes climbing the tree in summer I would hear it rustling among the dried leaves in the undergrowth beyond, and once, walking towards the tree, I startled it up and it flew into the ladder, flailed a moment, then winged into the brush behind the tree. That was the closest I’d ever seen a woodcock, until here by the porch.
I buried it close to the foot of the tree at the edge of the lawn, just into the woods. I placed a heavy slab of stone over it to prevent it being exhumed by animals wild or domestic, and set a stone on top as a small monument, and on that a round white river pebble, which later in the fall fell into the leaves and disappeared.
It is late in the day now, growing dark, and starting to rain into the snow; there is a chance of freezing rain later. As I walk to the tree, the grave catches my eye, a small crown of white snow on the black rock where a white pebble once was. A curled beech leaf has fallen and caught in the snow, a tiny bronze ornament. I haven’t thought of the woodcock in months, but now I imagine a green world at twilight, and a bird circling invisibly in the clouds above.