Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stillness of the season


Earlier this week, as I pulled into my Workplace Parking Lot, I saw a group of crows clustered in the trees by the pond. At first I saw two...then one flew up from the ground and there were three...then another, and four. In total, there were five, perhaps six, hard to tell as they were flying around such that I never saw the entire group at one time. I wondered if, perhaps, it was the family group I had observed over the summer, as mentioned in my previous post, "Juvenile Crows and Growing Goslings."

Other than that, it was a very still and introspective day. The sky was gray, intermittently spitting rain. One of those days when I couldn't even wish I were free to bird (free as a bird?), for the weather made the specter of work that much less dire...no point in wishing for freedom, if it's just going to rain.

Even my memory of birding last weekend was not that exciting. Despite all the cool water birds (and life-bird Franklin's gull) that other birders have been seeing around Clinton Lake recently, I have had my usual late fall/early winter not-much-of-anything birding.

Saturday I walked around Mascoutin Recreation Area's Houseboat Cove trail for a while. Mostly I saw blue jays. I headed towards the grassy area, where a large flock of red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds were making quite the ruckus. Along the way, I also saw: American robin, mourning dove, turkey vulture, black-capped chickadee, red-bellied woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, red-tailed hawk, song sparrow, field sparrow, American goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, American crow, and ring-billed gull. There was also a solitary female wood duck swimming along the "cove" part of the Houseboat Cove trail.

And also the bird that made the whole trip worthwhile: a great horned owl, flying so soundlessly across the path in front of me. It alighted in a tree on the opposite side of the trail for a couple of minutes, long enough for me to get an excellent look, and then took off again, doubtless looking for a quiet place to roost until nightfall.

It is moments like this that I hope for: a sliver of time where nothing is wanting. Where I am completely satisfied, exactly the way things are. With that silent beat of wings, surprising for such a large bird, that effortless and yet ponderous movement across my field of view...there was nothing else that could be wished for. Nothing lacking. A sliver of perfection.

Stillness is November's gift. The fields are shades of brown, taupe and tan. The month begins with the day of All Saints (and then All Soul's, or the Day of the Dead) and ends with darkness. Winter is scurrying ever closer. The fall migrants are hurrying southward, and the first fall visitors just starting to arrive. Outward, everything is so still, a moment for reflection.

Inwardly, I am anything but still. The great horned owl is a moment of transcendence. The crows at work, an approximation of the same. The rest of the time, my mind is whirling, scurrying, chasing the worry of the week. I bird, in part, to escape this, to find a moment of rest, of contemplation...to experience the stillness of the season. In the presence of the great horned owl, I achieve this. The rest of the time...'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

1 comment:

  1. "To find a moment of rest..." That's an aspect of birding that I experience, but hadn't consciously thought of. Birding brings me such highs and lows, big, happy grins and 2-year-old temper tantrums (as in, frantically turning the pages of Stokes for the 5th time, yelling, "This stupid bird doesn't exist! It's not in the stupid guide!") Birding is one time when I really am living in the moment, totally focused on what I'm doing and seeing. And, seeing owls always makes the day better. Owls are magic! I find November to be the month of resignation. To quote from a book I'm reading now, "Birdsong by the Seasons", by Donald Kroodsma, "The seasons of birdsong follow the seasons of the sun. As the sun dips low in the winter sky, the northern woods fall quiet; those few birds who remain call softly as they search for food to survive the short days and long, cold nights." Mom

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