The sun is setting on the lilypond, winking on the water between the floating circles of the lilypads, winking on the brown leaves caught on the green surface of the dense lilies. The wind is stirring the water, rippling the mirrored trees on the bank, and now the deep red leaves of the sumac are falling, too, and the yellow maples and the orange sassafras. Soon the pond will be covered over with lilypads and leaves. In only a little while—five years? ten? no more than a blink—the water will cease to echo these trees and this sky. Today the brown water is glowing in the autumn light, on fire with light and color and motion, but the pond is dying.

It is impossible to believe the pond is dying.

The lilies are choking it, starving it of light and oxygen. Soon there will be no room left for fish or frog or snake or turtle. There will be only lilies, lilies from edge to edge, a marsh of lilies where nothing else can live. In summer the lilies bloom—oh, how beautifully the lilies bloom, how fragrant their flowers!—and even now, at the very end of autumn at the very end of the day, the lovely pond is filled with light, encircled and embraced. The leaves resting on the lilypads, the hawk floating overhead, the rabbit crouching under the tree—all life piled on life—and still it is dying.

The pond is dying, and now I am thinking of the starlings reeling through the sky at dusk, the glory of the starlings in motion, wheeling and dipping and rising as one black beast made of pulsing cells, as one creature born to live in air. But the starlings don’t belong any more than the lilies belong; they are aliens here. This is not their sky. These are not their trees. They are robbing the dogwoods, leaving no berries for the mockingbirds. They have claimed every nest hole, leaving none for the titmice or the bluebirds or even the bossy chickadees.

When a starling hangs itself at dawn on the wire holding up my peanut feeder, and I wake to find it dangling there, black and stiff and cold, I can only pity it, hungry and confused and now lost to the world. But a downy woodpecker, unconcerned by the specter hanging above its head, is finally getting its fill of peanuts.