It's always a thrill to hold one of my new books in my own hands after the necessarily long gestation period of the publishing process, made even more difficult nowadays by my inevitable aging with its concomitant realization that time is at last running out on me. Yesterday a thump on the porch awakened me from my old man's afternoon slumber and I tottered down the hall to the front door to find a cardboard box awaiting me, left by the Postal Service. It contained my author's copies of my long-awaited debut nonfiction book Season of Terror.
Yes, it's odd but also exciting to be 74 years of age and still be able to regard oneself as capable of producing not only a new work but a work in a form heretofore wholly foreign to one. Of course I've previously published nonfiction pieces in magazines and have contributed, along with others, short articles in a couple of nonfiction books; but I've never before attempted a sustained written account that was not borne up almost wholly by my novelist's imagination. Nor have I previously had to weather the scrutiny of fact-checkers and peer reviewers which is inevitably part of one's experience with an academic press. But here it is at last: Proof that I have, against the odds, done it again; written a book that has found favor with a publisher of distinction, the University Press of Colorado. Bless them for casting a bit of valedictory sunlight into the evening of my writing life!
But, as always, reality has its way of balancing every new good thing with something that may seem not so heartening. Nearly simultaneously with the arrival of my books, there has come into my life what I can't help regarding as something like a harbinger of ill fortune. Unlikely as it may sound, my messenger of doom is a pretty little slate-colored junco--yes, a tiny gray bird--which for the last week or so has been flying from one window to another of my house, pecking madly at the panes as if desperate to gain admittance. I think it is male (my Roger Tory Peterson bird book suggests it isn't that easy to distinguish male juncos from their mates) and it may think it is waging some sort of protective war against my house, which does loom above the bushes where its nest may lie. Poor thing, if this is so, of course it's engaged in a hopeless struggle. Judging from the amount of droppings it's depositing on my porch, it may already know this, and be confounded by the knowledge.
But in my present state of mind, under assault as it already is by encroaching cognitive impairments, I can't help but regard my besieging bird as some sort of messenger of ill portent. Perhaps, I think, this insistent bird is a living metaphor for my nearing fadeout. Perhaps it is the shape of my death or my senility steadily pecking away, not at my windows but at me. Only a self-obsessed writer could conceive of such an eventuality, you say. And you would be right. But still, how else to regard this resolute little courier who seems so anxious to deliver its message?
I must confess, though, that one feature of his behavior does not seem to smack of doom. After a period of insane pecking, his custom is to retire to the porch railing, lift his head to the sky and unleash a beautiful stream of joyous song. Could this mean that he is offering me not death or senility but a promise of something better? Does he mean that if I admit him, the same giddy pleasure that is in his song will be mine as well? Now, you say, this fellow Price is finally ready for the funny farm. But think of it, the bird is here night and day; in the darkest dark I can hear that song of joy pouring forth between his pecks at the window-glass. Yes, he may be demented. Or he may only be persistent; he may only be determined to give me the message that there is joy to be had--joy unheard of in this world with all its troubles.
In an effort to fend off my junco, Ruth has festooned the porch with plastic bags which the wind inflates and blows about. I wonder what the postman thought of them when he delivered my box of books. But my bird is undeterred; he perches on the bags to peck, then flutters to the porch rail to sing, then flutters back to one of the bags where he defiantly remains, pecking away, now and then turning his head to fasten a beady eye on me as if to judge whether I am paying proper attention. The sill of the window and the floor of the porch are spattered with his leavings, but somehow he seems proud of the mess he makes, of this evidence of his undying resolution. At first I churlishly thought of dispatching him with my air rifle. But now I'm growing fond of him, and of his persistence which I can't help thinking may be a kind of mad dedication. Perhaps he believes he has a mission to perform; or perhaps he is performing it and is waiting for a signal that I know and understand his purpose. Are these competing signs, this bird and my new book? Am I to believe by the evidence of the book that there is more remaining to me and to my life than I think? Or am I to believe that the bird represents all that I am soon to lose? And if that's the case, does his song mean that, after that loss, there's a joy to be known that I cannot now imagine?
What do you mean, little bird? Why so anxious? Why so determined? Am I that important? Or am I only a reflection of yourself in the window-glass? Do I not exist at all? Is your song a promise? I wish I knew.