Thursday, March 04, 2010


The air today has that soft, moist smell of spring. It wafts in through an open window. At home on a Monday, I am playing the role of full-time mommy as Adrian recoups from a fever and ear infection. We have laughed and played. Listened to the Mamas and the Papas as I beat out the rhythm with her Dora the Explorer tambourine. And we watched one of her favorite movies, Fly Away Home.
Silly faces on a quiet sick day at home

The movie is based on the true story of Bill Lishman, a Canadian who pioneered the method of teaching young birds their migratory routes using ultralight aircraft. The closing scene is full of lovely, sweeping images of the fictional main character, a little girl named Amy, flying the final few miles alone with her Canada Geese. The scene always makes me cry, but today it left a lasting sensation of longing deep in the pit of my stomach.

Migration. I spent so many years deeply engrossed in the northward and southward movement of wild birds. From mid February through late May, and then again from late August through early December, you could find me standing on the shore of a lake or lurking deep in the forest or walking through golden prairie grass—nearly every day—watching, waiting, discovering the wonder of migration.

Since Adrian came into my life, it has been more difficult to put my finger on the pulse of migration. And now that I am focusing much of my free time on training my body to endure a trail marathon, I am finding myself even more torn than before. Mother - birder - runner.

But even as I pour my energy into training, migration is happening around me. Last weekend, running the trails at Clinton Lake, I gleaned Yellow-rumped Warbler chip notes over the sound of other runners' footfalls. On treks around the neighborhood, Belted Kingfishers have uttered their toy machine-gun rattle overhead. And, of course, flocks of geese headed north and west speak the story of spring.

Drake Cinnamon Teal among Blue- and Green-winged Teal
Photo by Linda Williams
It's as if I am blindfolded in my bedroom—a place of perfect familiarity. I do not need to see migration to know that it is there. Sure and steady, the birds move on a calendar of their own, driven by daylight, magnetic currents, and low-pressure systems. March 1: the first Turkey Vultures glide in on a south breeze. March 15: Blue-winged Teal arrive, and among them a drake Cinnamon Teal bobs its head. April 1: the nasal call of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher carries through the still-barren trees, though their buds are swollen and poised to burst forth with another year's foliage.

I'm not watching them, but I know they're there.

To know something so intimately, and yet only catch the occasional glimpse of it in passing... This is a beautiful but bittersweet sensation.


laurie said...

Beautiful. As usual. You're such and excellent writer!

Deb J. said...

You have such a way with words. Thanks for sharing.

Gary said...

Sweetly written, my friend. there's poetry in your prose!