Sometimes I wonder about certain words. “Countless” comes to mind, for as I was crossing the prairie yesterday my eyes caught a distant skein of geese v-ing across the windshield. My thoughts at the time had nothing to do about spring, yet there it was.
A brief glance at the rearview mirror told me I had missed seeing a few skeins behind me, and looking to the south on the horizon it seemed there were countless others. There is that word again … which can be taken in various ways. Such as, too numerous to count, or perhaps, not counted at all. Both work in this instance.
As my car neared the pothole region of the prairie, and in both winter fallowed grain fields and restored prairies, and in the potholes themselves, all were alive with either feeding or resting geese. In a few of the more remote potholes, also known around here as wetlands or sloughs, paired geese were walking on failing remnants of ice checking the mounds as nesting possibilities. A few knobs of mud or muskrat mounds even had a goose nestled on top.
So joyous is springtime in the flyway, for the geese seemed excited and noisy in their rest. Once home we could hear them over the hum of the wind on the wetland over the hill. A near constant drone of “honking.” They were in their element, completely unconcerned of anything other than the promise that comes with eons of migration activities across continents that still continues.
For mankind, this isn’t a spring of much promise. Across the world the untamed coronavirus is closing borders in forced quarantines. My son and daughter-in-law in Bergen are in a two week “forced’ protocol because they have just returned from a trip to Budapest. Indeed, the entire country has “closed down” as have others in the EU. The sports leagues, from high schools to international soccer leagues, are either cancelling events or postponing seasons. A nearby senior care center has closed itself off from all visitors, family members included, until the threat has passed or is under control.
When I noticed the skein of geese I was actually thinking of Alvin Toffler, who wrote a short essay in the early 1970s called “Ecospasm,” where an incompetent leader was completely unprepared for a perfect storm of catastrophic issues from a stock market collapse to a pandemic, all great forces of economic collapse. I was thinking of just how close we are to the “whack-a-mole” hysteria of Toffler’s “ecospasm” right now.
Initially we sort of smirked away any seriousness of Covid19 for it was perhaps a far and distant threat that might cause a mere ripple in society if it occurred here at all. Now, though, it is real, and as a country we’re completely unprepared. Who can imagine the personal impact, let alone the economic impact this may have on each of us as individuals. Let alone the stress on our medical resources, and especially for the working poor who are receiving no help whatsoever from either our incompetent President and a Senate that is without an ounce of compassion for common man … as we each fear a common sneeze, a cough, if this shortness of breath is from uncommon exertion, too much weight, or a true symptom of an exotic and potentially deadly virus.
And another skein of geese crosses the sky, high against a lightly lit cloudy prairie sky …
We have entertained thoughts of once again of returning to Nebraska for the Sandhill Crane migration, for this is one of epic numbers and significance. Fully two thirds of the world’s Sandhill population funnels through a small stretch of the North Platte River. Juggling calendar dates and figuring a three-day hole for the trip down and back has sprinkled our thoughts. Then came an email from Crane Trust. All visitor activities have been closed down. All along the shallow river, not just in Wood River. Yet, like the Canada geese, the Cranes are coming. They have for eons, just like the geese. Nature flies on without us.
Although my chosen highway had no shoulders for safe parking alongside the pavement, I simply couldn’t help myself. There seemed a compelling need to witness this phenomenon of nature, to see these countless skeins painting the clouds above, the communal goose talk in the prairie grasses and corn stalks, the strutting and rest on the icy surfaces of the wetlands, the poetry of flight as they eased down from the sky to alight so softly.
It’s day 72 in China for the virus, and it spreads ever so quickly from country to country, with at least a two week incubation before the symptoms arise. Here we are in our second week. As life as we know it comes crashing down at least temporarily, spring arrives on the wings of countless skeins of geese. For me, at least, they have rarely been such a welcomed sight!