Living in Chartless Nothing

November 2 2018 – Juncos are back at the feeder, teal are in Delkatla and a Song Sparrow chips from the underbrush. It’s definitely fall as we head into darker days. The clocks have fallen back as well. I’m not the only one who wishes they’d stop doing that, the light comes and goes at its own pace without our interference. Perhaps we are trying to steal a march on time? It doesn’t work; birds are living proof that the seasons will unfold as they should. The earth moves around mighty Sol and there’s no point in trying to control that. Come what may, time unfolds at its own pace and birds come and go. A little later this year to be sure, the long, dry summer took a while to cool into fall and the birds stayed north a little longer.


Cackling Geese in Delkatla  M. Hearne (c)

Overhead this week streams of migrating Snow Geese moved over the island. We hadn’t seen so many in quite a while. Two or three have landed with the local geese to feed in the dunes. There are always a few drop-offs; those lingerers that are either too old or too tired to keep going. If a nice green field beckons, down they come to join the flocks of Cackling and Canadas in Delkatla and elsewhere.

We seem to have missed the Greater White-fronted Geese this fall. They have a high, laughing call and sometimes fly so high that they look like mosquitoes. On calm days their call drifts down and serves as a reminder to get the crops in and the garden put to bed before winter.

“The Sword in the Stone” written by T.H. White in 1938,  has some lovely descriptions of how it felt to be a White-fronted Goose. Merlin the magician turned young King Arthur into one and the place where he found himself “was absolutely flat where only one element lived: The wind. It was a dimension, a power of darkness and he felt himself uncreated…living in nothing – a solid nothing, like chaos.”

White described the geese as ‘sailors of the air, angled wedges tearing clouds to tatters, singers of the sky with the gale behind them…these mysterious geographers – three miles up, they say, with cumulus (cloud) for their floor instead of water.” When they ran into cloud the bird’s wings “next to their own wings would shade into vacancy, until each bird was a lonely sound in cold annihilation, a presence after uncreation…where they’d hang in chartless nothing.”

So, the geese are here for the moment. The small Aleutians stick together and seem to move as one across the green while the larger Canadas are more independent. The flocks of ducks, harassed recently by two Peregrine Falcons, rose and fell en masse before splashing vigorously into the rising tide.

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