By Sleight of Wing

'Birds of a feather flock together." I always thought I had reason to quarrel with the accuracy of this old adage. From my general observation through the seasons, the brilliantly scarlet American cardinal, like the European cuckoo, is seen only singly or with its mate. Such birds of a feather may couple, but certainly not flock together.

Or so I believed until the other day. There I am, my car at a standstill on a dirt-track road some 40 yards or so from a large leafless tree. Yes, leafless - but, strangely, partly flecked with scarlet: One of its branches is blossoming cardinals!

I count seven palpitating shapes in a single, vernal cluster. In pulsing color, the birds celebrate the tree.

Then, suddenly, even as I watch, the cluster plunges in its entirety - sweeping down and out in one lovely, autumnal rush! The tree triumphs, as in this feathered moment Spring remembers Fall.

By sleight of wing, two seasons meet.

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