Darren Higgins

Commentator

Darren Higgins is a writer and editor living in Waterbury Center who writes about topics including fatherhood, history, literature, and the environment.

Darren Higgins, / Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology

Birds embody movement — twitchy, agile, powerful, bursting with song and as light as the breeze. But there are nearly 400,000 birds at Harvard’s Department of Ornithology that will perch forever on the same branch or lie stiffly in cabinet after gray cabinet, songs silenced by the taxidermy cotton in their throats.

Every moment of every day, we are surrounded by sound. Right now, for example, there’s the sound of my voice, of course, but there’s also a slight hiss and fizz around it. There's the pizzicato pop of the last drop of milk falling into a cup of coffee, or the articulated clatter of teeth zipping up a raincoat.

When one reads a biography of a long-dead author, the ending very rarely comes as a surprise. And yet, there I was, sitting on my cot in a dingy, cold Irish hostel, in tears. I had just reached the last sentences in Richard Ellmann's incomparable biography of James Joyce. Ellmann writes, "In whatever he did, his two profound interests - his family and his writings - kept their place. These passions never dwindled.

After an unforgiving winter of deep freezes and deeper snow that bolted barn doors, car doors, side streets, streams, and even Lake Champlain shut, this is the season of unlocking - a time of softening ground and softening air, of swelling buds, rising allergies, and heaving roads.

Winter in Vermont is life stripped to monochrome. It's breath smoke, frost thick on the windows, and sleek, wind-sculpted snowscapes. But there are times, more times than you’d think, when this deceptive minimalism blooms into fantasy: Sun dogs glow on the horizon line. Chickadees and blue jays puff themselves into ruffled balls against the cold. A red squirrel, after warming itself all morning on the deck, drags a piece of petrified bread into our barn.