Sunday, November 9, 2008

Swallow Swarm

They are moving as one, a cloud, each vapor particle is another bit of life that makes up the swarm. They gather together and you cannot follow the movement of just one for very long before it is lost back into the amorphous movement of the whole. The fluttering mass is made up of golondrinas: swallows. Flittering beings with crisp white bellies and shimmering green backs. I am wading across the pond and I notice the light is starting to slant at the whisper of the turning autumn and the grasses at the edge are lit golden. When the last ducks fly away, I begin to hear them. Their light, soft calls catch the breeze, and get lost in it. Looking toward the horizons, you won't see them at first, not until your eyes adjust to the layerless depths of a bright blue sky do you see the specks as they converge. Suddenly you draw a long breath in anticipation and excitement at what is about to wash over you: they are arriving. They follow an invisible current and you stand still taking in the experience of so many creatures moving over you. They splash and dip, twist and swell in waterfalls of movement. They drop toward the water's reflective surface to take a thousand tiny sips before swirling back up into the sky and you are surprised at how so many birds can create such peace inside of you. They are numbering in the thousands and yet their calls are still soft, intermittent. It would be easy to never know they were there if you didn't look to the skies as a habit the way I do. [photo courtesy of Amanda Hackney]

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Call of the Clapper Rail

The eastern shore is buzzing with birds. Outside my cozy little house the robins and cedar waxwings filled the cherry trees, a shimmering of wings and red leaves. After a jog under a blue sky with dark grey creeping up on the western edge I rode my bike around this refuge that has become my home. The familiarity of it is comforting and yet there is always something new to see each time I make my rounds. The scene from the marsh overlook is now awash with orange, I sat on the rail and dangled my feet as the breeze brought in a sky rippled in shades of grey. A pair of hooded mergansers, maybe the same ones from last winter, rode the current of an outgoing tide following the twists and turns along the creek. The male, with a brilliant white crest stuck close to his chestnut lady whose distraction with diving led to his crestfalling. I heard clapper rails upon clapper rails as they struck up a rattling chorus, invisible souls moving through shrouds of spartina. I looked out at the marsh and while it's peacefulness enveloped me, I couldn't ignore how the quiet scene was forever edged in blaring trucks as they roared down thirteen, the highway that slices it's way all the way up the peninsula. I think of how close this destruction caused by humankind lies and yet how, despite it, the clapper rail still calls. If this marsh was not here, if we'd continued to paste parkinglots and mini-malls on top of these spongy edges of our existance, the shadow of the clapper rail, the fluting call of the yellowlegs, the quiet strolling of a pair of mergansers, none of it would exist. But it does. The clapper rail still calls. The tip of the delmarva peninsula is a refuge, a place of shelter that provides a haven for the marsh and it's inhabitants. The Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge has been my home and I have had the honor of watching the turn of the seasons for nearly a year now. I've seen how there is such a reliance on this place by the birds-both the migrants and the residents. The reliance is on the fact that this land will be here forever, here to support these millions of bits and sparkles of life, here forever in it's natural condition. We are the ones that know otherwise and we who create otherwise. Humankind could have obliterated this land. But we didn't. So here it is. And do you hear the call of the clapper rail? I do and it brings me to tears.