I go to Nature to be soothed and healed. And to have my senses put in tune once more. John Burroughs
On Friday I awoke with a sharp pain in my shoulder blade. I must have slept in some awkward position; either that, or hunched up like a whale – beached and not moving, I slept in one position all through the night.
Later that day we drove to the Thedford Bog, an hour’s drive, to behold the annual return of the migratory tundra swans. In past years we have witnessed thousands of these stunning white birds (their white bodies accented by black bills and short, black legs) – some arriving with their co-pilots in flight, while others have already landed in the marshy, wet farm fields. Their annual road trip takes place bi-annually and is nearly 6,000 km, round trip; in spring, their destination is the Canadian Arctic. They will take the longer, scenic route and fly over the western provinces, first.
The majestic swans land in our territory for rest and fuel – Thedford Bog is just one of their many pit stops on their route. Like the swans, my family (many years ago) took to the highways and drove east to the American coast, in summer (not fall), often refueling at coffee shops or cheap, discount restaurants. Instead of coffee, eggs and bacon, the discerning swans dine on corn stubble left-overs from last year’s crops.
The flooded farmer’s fields (which many years ago were wetlands and marshes) is now arable land, but water-logged in spring – an enticement for the tundras.
But as soon as we turned off the highway onto the narrow, country road, a short distance from the landing area, we knew something was missing. In past years one can hear the sounds of the swans, in perfect harmony, the hoo-hoo-hoo that is so loud, even when car windows are rolled up.
As the car approached the fields (on both sides of the road) there were no parked vehicles – a sure sign there were no swans. And as we surveyed the wet land, we could only discern some white dots in the far off distance. Even with our binoculars, we could not clearly see them.
My friend in Toronto had texted me a few days earlier that as he walked his grandchild to school, a flock of tundras flew over his head; he counted 29 of them.
Now, I turn to my sister and husband and announce that the same 29 tundras have arrived. A far cry from thousands.
Later, I check out the website and learn that thousands had arrived earlier in the week, but by Friday they had flown the coop…er…bog.
Disappointed, we drove home.
But on the way home, we took the back country roads and my sister yelled out, “There they are.”
Yes, the tundras had landed in a different farmer’s field – land still water-logged and marshy this early spring. We were so thrilled to finally sight them, as my husband avoided a ditch when he pulled the car over. It was a skinny shoulder, to say the least; no room to get out of the car. (I tried to remember if sudden movements topple cars over into ditches.)
I grabbed my binoculars and hung half way out of the window, contorting my body and suffering more pain from my shoulder blades and back. To hell with the pain, this sight only comes once a year, so I was determined to view it.
There was a national bird conference – tundras, seagulls, mallards, red heads and Canadian geese – all swimming in the newly made ponds; corn stalks and stubble spoiling the glassy effect.
There were a number of birds that we couldn’t identify: some with green heads and colourful bodies; perhaps, wood ducks or northern shovelers? We were not certain since we do not normally see them in our neck of the woods, er… bogs. (Although they can be seen in the summer months, I am told.)
My sister and I were frantically holding our binoculars and juggling our bird books, flipping through the waders and dabblers sections of the books – shouting out “no, no, it can’t be a wood duck.” These are the few times that I wished that I was not a loner. If I had been with an actual bird group – the seasoned pros would have identified the ducks. Instead, I’m a newbie, and my sister wasn’t much better at ID-ing the mystery birds, either. So I had to rely on Google and bird apps that were too slow. (And I was hanging out a window, remember?)
Finally my husband (who is not a birder) wryly observed, “You might want to just watch the birds, instead of wasting time trying to label them.” (I so dislike it when he is so right!)
A sigh. Recognition. Awareness.
Sometimes I need that reminder that in my quest to capture the moment (or label it) I forget to pause and appreciate it in its fullness.
My husband reminded me of something that I deeply know – that it is in the silence and in the stillness of Nature, that the sacred is felt. The sacred, that feeling of Oneness with the Universe, will only grace us when we are being, not doing.
It is why we stop and look above us when we hear the hoo-hoo-hoo-ing of the tundra swans or the honking chorus of the Canadian geese or the melodious sounds of the ubiquitous sparrows.
Because when we pause, we feel the Sacred.