Nightfall On The Lake

He'd come with his head down, as if searching for something among the rocks on the road. What could he have possibly found new here, in a land surrounded by waters, on the shore laden with miasma? The narrowness of the bank? He knew all about it; the shiny grit? – not even slightly changed from yesterday; the darkness of the mud? – it seemed to be the same since the beginning of time. Nothing amazing. But when he eventually spotted the hand holding a pencil on a white sheet of paper, he addressed it as if it were the only living thing around. "You're writing a book to keep you warm, huh?... I was a young lad once…" and the man called Iuda Afanasie, or Zamirca, or maybe Canareica sat down a bit further, on a damp, crooked tree stump. I've returned to this strange world for so many years, and I'll probably never fully understand it. Letting yourself be torn to pieces by the image of the willows along the Nebunul river is romantic, of course. Cutting aimlessly through the morning mist and yet trying to understand the possible cry of the seagull needs no explaining. But losing your heart, falling in love with the flight of birds is the most reckless folly, juvenile flurry in which I've become a master for the rest of my life. As I was laying down the last shade of ochre on the canvas, suggesting the rusty surface of the reed plots which constituted the background for a flying egret, the first snowflakes started to fall. From the same place, at the edge of a marsh, for yet another season, I watch the avocets (Recurvirostra avocetta) and the barking bird (Antpitta avis canis Ridgley); strange birds to whom I've devoted most of the time to decipher their behavior. Towards the summer I set up my watch camp on the brook between the sea and the lake, next to the common terns (Sterna hirundo), only to go on a chase later on, in February, in my sleigh with knife-sharp runners, over the frozen lake and towards the horizon melting in the grey sky, following the barking sound of a red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis). As a result of spending my youth this way and in such a region, I started to have a different understanding of the world between the waters, which had also become my own now, with all its animals, plants and people. Far from being something strange, over the years I gained more and more of a revelation of the connections between the inhabitants of those lacustrine lands and the birds. Some while before I had found two colonies of Caspian terns (Sterna caspia), guarded by the sea to the left and the Danube's muddy waters to the right. Zamirca's long fishing boat carried us both over the waves, the man steering it either with the oars, or the punt pole. Once we got to the island, we were assaulted by the common terns swooping from way up high to sprinkle their purgatives on us; it's the universal way of welcoming the local barbarians, which I also experienced several years later, somewhere in the western hemisphere, not too far from the North Pole, but the performers were different: terns (Sterna paradisaea), no different from their relatives here in terms of behavior. "Oh! Universal doltishness!" I shout, redirecting my thoughts to some – could there be more? – of those made in the look and resemblance of… A bit further away, the presence of the birds is betrayed by their agitation and large numbers: quarrels, croaking, uproar, flapping of wings, noisy outbursts, unexpected moments of silence listening to the calming sound of the waves washing the sand. Then again, the same rustle, the same humming coming to a sudden halt, again and again, how many times?, sharp sounds all the while until dusk… The night lowers its huge curtain full of secrets and questions over all there is on land and in the air. In the light of the lamp, a handful of people celebrate the return of the wives. The harmonica and the drum blend their sounds into a prolonged, rhythmic song, doubled by the sharp voices of several women: monotonous voices, decomposed into semitones and uniformed again, incredibly identical, seeming to come out of the same chest. The lamp light is yellow. There are dozens of empty wine bottles gathered in strangely-shaped groups on the tables. Every now and then, in the dark, you can see the red sparkle of a cigarette quickly fading away. You can barely notice the smoke being exhaled. The men have bony fingers, bony faces and gestures, and their minds are swimming in alcohol at this late hour of the night. The drum continues to beat alone. Misty looks get together, then break away, and break like glass, awakened by the new jolty sounds. It's not a rhythm, it's a swirl coming out of the instrument; whatever comes out from twirling bass buttons and the white keys of the accordion is definitely not melodic. There's an abundance of dissonances, the keyboard is too small for the tone-maker. He gives a drunk smile with the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, almost certain of the ridicule in life and… Iuda Afanasie keeps filling my glass. A flock of dunlins (Calidris alpine) sat on the bank facing Sahalin gulf, small birds with grey feathers and a black spot on their chest, accompanied by other reddish birds, restless and full of energy, always searching for food, their beaks thrusting the mud like the needles of a sewing machine. Mating is in full swing in the colony. The young wooers offer anchovies (Engraulis encrasicholus) to their brides, and the offer is accepted or rejected, according to the mood of the lucky one. The ritual is simple, the grooms don't look at each other, they fly off together, and then return, everything makes you think of one of the chases in Bonnie and Clyde; other Caspian terns (Sterna caspia) flew off after that pair of lovers, as if drawn towards a new dimension of reality; the crowing lasts for some times. The game continues on the sand, among the bushes of common purslane (Portulaca oleracea). With the upper half of the head colored in black, during the fights the eyes are protected from the beaks as sharp as daggers; this weapon should not be seen, in order not to dare. Even now, during the game of love, the female and the male face each other, their heads turned in opposite directions. The chase starts again. All the way up in the sky. Like a whirlwind, the birds descend dangerously close to the foamy waves of the sea, fly above them, take another leap over the island, and seem to get lost behind the reed wall of the delta, only to reappear soon and calm down in the same place with common purslane. Their kin nearby, animated by such a circus performance, jump one by one, so that the agitation spreads over the entire flock in no time… The women sat up. They're all standing now. There they are, moving, starting to dance, they're even dancing, they are really dancing, their breasts quiver brutally, their hips swing jerkily. The transgression to the swinging motion is barely perceptible; the pagan influence survived in time. Once again, the large, heavy breasts are thrown to the side and up and down. The bodies heat up. Soaking in sweat, the shirts stuck to their bodies. The nipples, aroused by sinful thoughts, are shamelessly provocative. A shiver goes through their body, transformed into a forgetful and releasing moan. The sweaty faces and arms give out a faint smell of sour milk; the Milky Way looks sour, too, interrupted for a moment by the trail of a meteor passing by the Cygnus constellation. The dance has no name, and neither does the song which turned now into a lament, talking of savage loves similar to and as natural as birth and death. In the faint light of the dying lamp, the bride slowly iridizes to white, the color of innocence from the naïve painting, standing out more and more from the group of other villagers in the heat of the night; in fact, she is related to every one of them. Even to the groom. The whirling white wings of the hundreds of birds superimposed on the sky make me think of the pastel I could start, but never completed, unless I were some sort of Renoir or Luchian, but I'm not…; a moment's dreaming. Innocent soul, high spirit: white and bluish; the whiteness of the birds, the blue of the sky; purity, meaning. A non-color and a tone: a world of symbols of the palette, and what symbols there are! Here's what goes through my mind while looking at the whole and what will stay in my memory until the moment comes when it will accompany me on the white trail beyond. The one-meter-long objective, resembling the eye of a Cyclops, well-fitted on the sturdy tripod, waits for the moment of the first picture to be taken. The waiting is long; the patience of the watcher is never-ending. The same man, acting as a scientist, notices the surrounding and takes notes. He sees and uses his intuition to understand, as much as he can; in time, things become clearer. Eventually, many years later, he will write a book. Will someone read it? Egrets, spoonbills (Platanea leucorodia), gray herons (Ardea cinerea), purple herons (Ardea purpurea), avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), Antpitta avis canis Ridgley, pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus), all kinds of ducks, golden plovers (Pluvialis apricaria), plovers (Charadrius apricarius), curlews (Numenius gen.), lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), marsh terns (Chlidonias), sea gulls (Larus sp.), even geese, swans, bitterns (Botaurus stelaris), marsh harriers (Circus aerugineous), warblers (Acrocephalus), buntings (Emberiza gen.), penduline tits (Remiz pendulinus), bearded tits (Panurus biarmicus), European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), hoopoes (Upupa epops), bee-eaters (Meropidae), common rollers (Coracias garrulous), and many other representatives of this kind of dumb animals pass in front of the secret hideaway. The finger presses the button; the pictures follow one after another. The camera, inventor of memories, captures not only what happened, but also the history of the moment into one picture. What could the thrill of not missing the moment be, if not a moment of the past? Out of the blue, the horizon turns grey and cloudy. The eastern wind brings the clouds nearby, depriving the sand from sunshine for a few hours. Gusts of wind start whirling around the hideaway and in the feathers of the birds. The whirlwind passed under the nest of the golden plover over there, caught in a quarrel with another one regarding the limits of its territory, and one of its eggs rolled over in the purslane bush. The quarrel of the two birds, well-justified on both sides, continues until late at night, with no clear ending. There will be other confrontations as well. Just like in real politics. Through the viewer of his piece of machinery, the ornithologist follows the golden plover returned to its nest. He sees it stretching out its neck, its head tilted on one side, carefully looking at what is his and is not at its place, namely the egg. One move and it's next to the egg, sticking its beak under its fragile shell and rolling it back next to the other brothers and sisters caught in the process of becoming. At dusk, silence descends with light steps over the earth, and over the waters. The sky is full of stars. The man casts his questioning look towards the center of the galaxy, his eyes lost in the Sagittarius constellation… Mist lingers heavily over the people sitting at the table, over the houses, willow trees, lake, everything becomes damp and uncertain. Surrounded in a yellow sphere of light, the lamp remains the only source of heat. Small drops of water fall around it, they float here and there, surreal and equal in size. A small crack and the lamp is broken, thick fingers lower the wick. A woman's lips take the form of blowing. A plume of smoke rises instead of the flame – the spirit of the fire – and then everything turns into nothing, the same nothingness which can even mean the leaden fog around here. Strange words are spoken hastily, the smell of gas dissipates moistly into the air. The song heard before, clinging on the eaves, floats in the air, turns into a column and descends, flies towards the sky, pretending to be a bird, goes away tumultuously, and returns melancholically. The matches die out with a sizzle. The few men standing up reel like the willows, or maybe those are real willows? Roosters sing for the third time… At the break of dawn, wild geese fly so low you could touch their flapping wings with your palms. From the damp and crooked tree stump Iuda Afanasie, or Canareica, or maybe Zamirca gives me a long look and whispers: "You were wondering whether you're writing a book to keep you warm?" "…" Without the shadow of a doubt, wild geese fly low at dawn, so low you could hold the flap of their wings into your palms.

by Dan Stănescu