I stood at my bedroom window. The rising wind had drawn me to the glass pane. Was a rain storm arriving before I had a chance to put the garbage out? No, it was just a random gust of wind, swirling the already fallen small yellow leaves from the shad that guards the front door. I paused to watch the leaves dance across the damp grey of the driveway and into the side yard where the faded brown grass of summer was greening up from early September rain. Autumn will be here too soon. The thought of raking the leaves from the shad and the poplar and the white birch had me turning away from the window, reluctant to see more work piling up on the lawn.
Another gust, but with a different tone, had me turning back. It was not the wind that had made the noise, though branches were swaying in the brisk breeze. It was the swirling, glistening black of a flock of starlings that I heard before I saw. They swept in from the south, across the broad front lawn, not as a wave, but as a tornado of wings, twirling up, then down, to the right and then to the left. Grazing the lawn then rising again only to return in a variation of their first descent. There were dozens, maybe a hundred birds, a few on the front lawn but most to the left of the driveway, gathered under the black cherry tree. It seems the wind had shaken loose some of the small garnet fruit from the tree, a favorite of birds and chipmunks every autumn.
A sharp noise caused my eyes to swerve from the mass on the lawn. Just a few feet away from me, an industrious individual had landed in the gutter and was busily digging through the gathering debris. His orange beak poked into the damp leaves and browning pine needles, knocking them onto the roof and the ground below. Occasionally, his onyx eye found a treat. Up his purple-hued head would tilt as he swallowed his treasured tidbit. His feathers had the shimmer of amethyst and teal amidst the black, like the swirls of color oil makes in a rain puddle; iridescent and rich against the black. Orange legs supported his hopping gait as he moved along the length of the gutter in his solitary search for food.
Two of his fellows landed near him but without his industry, or optimism, they quickly flew away to join the others on the ground, digging in the leaves and grass for the few cherries that had been knocked to the ground by the wind.
The starling turned to look at my window. His head cocked at a quizzical angle, he hopped up the small slant of the garage roof towards me. Three hops, then a pause. Then two more and he stopped. One more foray brought him right below me, less than a foot away. He waited there for a moment, tilting his head once to the left, then to the right. He glanced back down at the flock beneath him. Then he looked me right in the eye as if to say “I am a solitary soul. They must travel together, safety in numbers, but I find the richer rewards by going my own way. Still, there are times when I wish I could be part of the whole. There are times when I fly among them. And, there are times when I must lead.”
He turned and flew straight away, above the trees. The flock paused, a few rising. Then they swirled into the sky and were gone.