Celebrating an Odd Anniversary

Isn’t this where we came in last year? Back in March? With the Snow Geese and White Fronteds flying through? With murmurations of black birds poetically gracing the skies? With something called a coronavirus threatening worldwide mankind, a pandemic creating fear not seen in our lifetimes? 

Now, a year later, with similar plans to head to Nebraska for the Sandhill Crane migration, a trip that was canceled last March because of Covid-19, we move hopefully forward with less fear and a sense of confidence for the future. Thankfully a year ago our human consternation didn’t halt the Sandhills nor did it stop the murmurations or those stretching skeins of geese gliding noisily overhead. It stopped only us.

Finally, thanks to vaccinations and covid consciousness, we seem to be closer to our former normality. A couple of weeks ago it seemed warm enough to invite friends home from Texas for a steak fry. Not warm enough to break a sweat, yet with enough warmth to carry the deck table and chairs from the studio and the bag of charcoal out to grill the first steaks of spring. All of us were vaccinated and we still practiced social distancing. It was a glorious and welcomed night. Then, a couple of days later the deck was once again covered with snow. 

The skies, stretching from horizon to horizon, were dotted with skeins.

Yet, what a week! The warmth. The “political calm” that has seemed to settle in since the inauguration. Beautiful arrays of sunrises and sunsets that have been both joyous and spectacular. Plus we have watched nature awaken around us. On a recent morning a male pheasant, with those red eye patches in contrast to those startling green facials, was striding through the path where half-melted cross country ski tracks were cast in twin shadows. His stride was as if he owned the prairie, which I suppose he has as much right to ownership as I. 

Then suddenly came a second rooster, and a third. I called for Mary, and we watched a parade of male pheasants, perhaps ten, as they followed one another in near military formation up the path cut through the tall bluestem. It’s not that we don’t see pheasants in our restored prairie. Usually a sighting comes on a startled flight after being flushed by Joe Pye.

Thus the curtain was drawn on the breaking of Spring, of our highly anticipated anniversary when the sight of normality seems within our collective grasp. In the intermittent warming, with quilts flapping on the clothes line, our first small murmuration of redwing blackbirds circled the grove, scurrying from tree cluster to tree cluster, then into the bluestem for nutrition. Later, on the way home from picking up a borrowed cot for our trip next week to central Nebraska for the Sandhill Crane migration, we passed a murmuration stretching as far as we could see. It was a blackbird vortex rising from a field into the sky. One of those had we been distant would have been pure feathered choreography.

For more than a week the Snow and White-fronted have been in the wetland just over the rise from our prairie.

What has been so rewarding and entertaining for us, though, has been the unexpected arrival of a massive flock of Snow and White-fronted Geese that chose the wetland over the rise from our prairie to recoup and recharge on their way to their Subarctic and Arctic homes. They began arriving on a Sunday afternoon while I was on a call from nature at Maplewood State Park. Just two hours after having a solo picnic in a parking lot overlooking a frozen lake that was surrounded with hillsides of snow, I walked out of the garage to see a skyful of skeins overhead. As with the pheasants, this is just something that causes you to pause in appreciation. 

The skeins continued to fill the sky for a couple of hours. Thousands upon thousands of geese, high in the sky, all heading northeasterly. After sitting on the deck with a nice white wine (a prelude to summer, right?) while watching them for quite some time I finally broke down and headed to my studio to fetch my camera. There was both ample time and opportunity in the skies above. We have no way of even guessing how many flew over, though they were in the thousands.

We passed this huge murmuration of “black birds” that would have been poetry in the skies is seen from the side, stretching for as far as the eye could see.

Then the surprising magic occurred as they began filling the melting wetland just over the rise. We could hear them at night, and in the morning as the sun rose. They seem to be feasting, noisily, in adjacent fields, with as many arrivals as there are those leaving. It’s a constant movement that has now lasted for at least a week and a half. In time silence will announce their departure. 

Having such closeness to the natural world reminds us of life unencumbered by a human pandemic and the ills of our human existence as reported in the news. We can now offer a sweet sigh of relief as this anniversary, marked by the timeless migrations of our feathered nature, that a blip of our human history, one churned by ugly politics and those that questioned the reasoning of science which might have saved countless lives, is seemingly evaporating in front of us. 

What a joy of watching this seasonal ritual of nature unfold before us, helping us celebrate this odd anniversary of our personal human survival after the pandemic.

We should rejoice in this odd anniversary of mankind that we’ve survived to hear the geese as we lay for sleep, that we can watch with wonder with their coming and going from the nearby wetland, that the winged poetry of the murmurations are still in the skies and that within a week we’ll be seated in an overnight blind witnessing once again the magnificent Sandhill Crane migration in central Nebraska. All is most welcomed. 

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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