Stamina and perseverance

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 5:15pm

There was a time when Canada Geese had about them a mystique. They were the birds in a Joni Mitchell song, those “in chevron flight, flapping and racing on before the snow.”

We watched them fly in formation, rising up to leave us, honking as they passed over the open pastures, their long necks clad in black velvet extended, a sure sign winter was on its way.

Now, they, or some mutated form of them, stay much of the time. I blame them for. . . everything. Of late, in addition to eating the newest grass, and annoying the sweet dog, and being a general nuisance, I blame them for chasing away the glossy ibis which landed where the glossy ibis used to land when the grass was cut as it is now, in the swale where water stands after heavy spring rains.

They annoy me by their sheer numbers. I watch them languidly rise when Autumn gets close, fly a few yards and settle. They come creeping up into the pasture from a hollow on the east side of the field, a place I am increasingly convinced they huddle and scheme.

In my borderline obsession with the geese to the south, who spread out and defy me even trying to photograph them, I missed the ones lurking in the pond, the parents I spotted for the first time yesterday, marching across the pond lot with their fuzzy goslings. These families used to be quite charming.

It seems to be an odd year for birds. A few days before I heard of sand hill crane sightings I came across a photo of a pair in that same field where the geese now reign. It was taken in early April a whole ten years ago, after a great west wind that it was speculated had blown them off course. They stayed a few days, just enough that I started hoping for more permanence, then they were gone.

This year when time is standing still, and mid-May feels like March with sunshine, things we can mark are slower. I think, always, that the egret has been around for a while before I see it in April, and that may well be the case this year. It is a creature of habit, of perhaps more accurately, of Nature, and it flies the same loop every evening, rising from the pond behind the house, swooping out over the field and settling, I have always presumed, in the Mansion Pond, on the other side of my neighbor’s hill.

It rose up, one of the past days of near-gales, and struggled, bound and determined to follow the same course. We have all seen birds hang in the sky, trying to fly into the storm, but this one hung, then moved like an airplane landing in a cross wind. It was a mighty battle but the egret prevailed.

These birds, all of them, have a stamina and perseverance one has to admire. One morning when little ones started their song, it was so loud it was audible over the roar of the wind. I could do without them outside my window at 4:30 a.m., trying to cling to the branches of the trees next to the house and tall grasses below, calling the slow moving sun to hurry up and show itself.

Looking for the geese, the suddenly elusive family, I did see a barn swallow, all iridescent blue and buff, bounding around on the roof, all by itself, neither in a group nor swooping, open-mouthed, capturing a smorgasbord of insects. There was a single red-wing, so bright today, out in the orchard lot, bouncing about in the new grass. Between them, they triggered a memory of a gift I received when I was a child, oddly flesh-colored plastic birds, waiting to be painted into a red-wing and swallow and probably an indigo bunting or scarlet tanager or goldfinch, all with sharp markings, easily identifiable to a child’s untrained eye.

I wonder, briefly, what kind of paint it was in those little containers that it adhered so easily to plastic, and decide I do not want to know.

The pond is stunningly blue in the afternoon sun, but wide and empty, even of the geese. The cat tails on which the red-wing blackbirds used to sit, positioning themselves as though posing for a photo, are long gone, swallowed by general overgrowth, and I am not seeing the slash of white that betrays the egret, elusive until it flies.

But I know the geese are lurking and scheming and plotting.