Tuesday morning, 90 minutes before sunrise. Thick, low clouds like a blanket blocking out the stars. 28 degrees Fahrenheit with a south wind pushing the temperatures colder. I’d like to sleep in - and yet I’m awake.
Maybe I’ll just go for a walk and then do some writing. Or Yoga. Now I’m dressed in all the clothes required to keep warm in these temperatures. Walking outside I notice I have my camera and my car keys. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll just drive out far enough to see if there’s a slit on the horizon through which a bit of sunrise could occur. Huh, I’ve arrived at the lake even though there’s no slit at the horizon.
Scanning down the lake I see something my mind can’t interpret. White. A wall of white on the water. Way down at the other end of the lake. Large. Really large. Would you look at that, I’m in my car driving to the other end of the lake. Guess I’m going for a walk down there.
At the other end of the lake I can see - snow geese! I can hear them too, now that I’m down wind. A lot of snow geese. Thousands. When I finally walk as far as I can go - at least until I learn that walking on water trick - I just stop to watch and listen. A magnificent cacophony of honks and whistles. Higher pitched and louder than Canadian geese with more variations.
All at once they lift from the lake. The sound suddenly so loud as if someone has cranked up the volume. Thousands of wings and thousands of screaming voices all at once, swirling up into the air. Some go high, some stay low, some land again quickly, some take a long path before leaving or returning to the group.
Each time they go up they come a little closer to where I’m standing. The rest on the lake until something else stirs them up into the air.
I watch for over an hour. The light was poor and the wind in my face was strong but the experience was pure enjoyment. A few years ago I got to experience 500,000+ snow geese at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (2 hours north of my location). I’ve never seen more than a few hundred here until now. Eventually I estimated there were likely 10-15 thousand in this flock! So nice of them to come to me!
Thank goodness whatever inside me really runs things knows better than my mind. The next morning they were all gone without a trace.
Footnote: Same conditions on Friday except 20 degrees warmer. This time there were about 2500 snow geese, on the south end of the lake so I could watch without facing directly into the wind! Makes me wonder if cloudy days with a stiff south wind are when the snow geese are more likely to stop? I always thought it would be days with a north wind, so is this a trend or an anomaly? Is it just the wind patterns this year or has this happened in past years and I’ve just missed it by staying in? Curious!
Video from Tuesday, 12/07/21
Video from Friday, 12/10/21
Notes on Snow Geese:
You may wonder why you see both white and dark birds in the photos and videos. There are both “white morph” and “blue morph” snow geese and many variations in between.
The All About Birds site says they are “the noisiest of all waterfowl”. It also describes watching them as “a little like standing inside a snow globe”. I’d have to agree with these descriptions!
Video notes: The wind was strong in my face and it’s hard to hear the geese over the wind! Funny how my ears can tune the wind out but the camera cannot. The second video from Friday, 12/10/21, has better sound in the first clip.
Mary Oliver writes so eloquently in her poem, “Snow Geese”:
Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last! What a task to ask of anything, or anyone, yet it is ours, and not by the century or the year, but by the hours. One fall day I heard above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was a flock of snow geese, winging it faster than the ones we usually see, and, being the color of snow, catching the sun so they were, in part at least, golden. I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us as with a match, which is lit, and bright, but does not hurt in the common way, but delightfully, as if delight were the most serious thing you ever felt. The geese flew on, I have never seen them again. Maybe I will, someday, somewhere. Maybe I won't. It doesn't matter. What matters is that, when I saw them, I saw them as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.
Maybe delight IS the most serious thing. I’m so glad I saw them, when I saw them.
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