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Again, they were there: Four ducks—two with long necks, one white and the other black, and two squat mallards whose emerald–green heads glinted in the January sun—dimpled the surface of the partially frozen pond; it was enclosed by simple homes that an extended family had built decades ago.

Unlike other times when I used to pause during walks, I noted many Suzys, females with speckled brown feathers, preening beneath the January sun, occasionally circling one of the males, then turning away. From the grassy bank, two Canadian geese strutted like self-important butlers intent that everything should be in order.

Indeed, it was—the selection process was underway. Once accomplished, the pairs of mallards will remain together, build nests obscured by long grasses along the bank, mate, guard the eggs until their May hatching, then feed and teach the ducklings over the summer. Their molting and growth and water-antics often had brightened my mood in past summers. Nearby, little children squealed with delight, jumped up and down. At times, cars also stopped.

Yesterday’s simple experience gave me pause; its joy of cyclical creation suggests an Unseen Presence at work in our lives, as well. Beauty abounds … It’s always close by.

As I flipped through Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five, it felt like I was being mesmerized by a kaleidescope: at its end, another rotated the wheel and produced a succession of actions, each containing bits of earlier ones that produced some continuity. A tough read, at the start, but its sheer absurdity kept me involved.

The centerpiece of Slaughterhouse-Five was the Allied firebombing of Dresden, a world-renowned cultural center in Germany, which the author survived as a POW in the larder of that building. This occurred in April 1945, weeks before the end of World War II. So psychically scorched was he that the novel only appeared years later: after the trashing of multiple outlines and drafts and fifteen thousand words. Only with the invention of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, his doppelganger, did the novel take shape; he would tell Vonnegut’s story, but with embellishments. 

Following his Dresden experience Billy became “unstuck in time,” and subject to the whims of extraterrestrials living on the planet Tralfamadore. Whenever stressed, he could also time travel to another time/place that soothed his chronic anxiety and introversion.

His anemic world, like out own, was filled with undeveloped characters that go through the motions of living, until swallowed by death and the author’s often quoted comment, “And so it goes.” the scene-changer that alters the story line toward another manifestation of destruction and death.

Curious that Slaughterhouse-Five still sparks moral dread, though composed decades before our own. On a feeling level, I sense the present global mayhem: the prevalence of denial, escalating power grabs, minimizing of values, and the garble of speech. The killing of psyche and body continue, perhaps more cunningly now than the 1960s.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five has held up a mirror to our times: its reflection demands change, and it must begin with me.

For most of the day, splishy-droplets scrimmed winter grasses, plank fences, and specter shrubs hugging my study, a subtle drenching sorely needed.

I pulled a chair next to the window, rather than collapse within grey’s moroseness: its palette revealed pewter skies, foggy mists, smoking chimneys, charcoal streets, sidewalks slickened like the hides of hippos. More belly rains threatened in the sudden splats whipping off my windowpane, then retreating as if scolded for intruding. Moments passed. Then, breezes lulled overhanging tree branches, slate-colored, and caught in its lethargic play a mussed piece of wrapping paper until lodged within hoar-covered ivy near the fence.

Then change occurred, slow at first: the droplets, icyfying. Plink! Plink! They caromed off my windowsill, sheened the piles of leaves resembling discarded gunboats in my backyard. Even silence felt like sagebrush with its healing aroma. The show continued. There was much to learn.

For an interval, all the greys surrendered to lighter hues releasing imprisoned outlines of my backyard. Rosy-greyness infused what appeared dormant. My spirit breathed deeply into the metamorphosis until swallowed by darker greys and night.  

But I had been visited as many others who had been colored, anew, by this experience. Grey does have substance.

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