Sunday, November 17, 2013

Birds and Trees

Last week, we drove to the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge in the town of Willows.  We do this almost every year, with friends.  Always, we drive through the sanctuary to see the huge numbers of birds that nest and feed while migrating along the Pacific Flyway.

This year, the weather was unseasonably warm.  The sun bathed the wetlands in yellow light.  We saw hawks, Northern harriers, coots, mallards, Canadian geese, and pheasants.  The reeds and grasses along the roadside had been trimmed back, so we had excellent views of the waterways.

Note: I know nothing about birds.  Robert and Roy and Josine opine heatedly about the differences between buffleheads and grebes.  I can tell that the ones with green heads are ducks, and that’s about it.  Still, I love the Refuge.  I love that people have made a place for birds to congregate and rest.  My favorite thing is the way that vast hordes of birds, compelled by something invisible and therefore mystical, will suddenly surge out of the water, swarming into the sky, calling and honking madly.  The racket is unlike anything I have ever heard before: raucous and insistent and both ugly and beautiful at once. 

The next morning, I woke early and went for a four-mile walk in the area surrounding our hotel.  The neighborhood is quiet and flat, the homes well-kept.  It was breezy, a surprise since the day before had been still.  The trees shivered in the wind, their leaves rattling against each other, an ever-present static.  Whenever a gust blew in, I found my eyes drawn to them, as though their noisy shimmying was a show they were putting on just for me.

There are birds where I live, and trees.  But sometimes you see them better when you’re away from home.  That’s where you realize that the clamorous caws and hoots, the rustling overhead that is like an urgent whisper, are really Nature’s way of calling out, of telling you to pay attention.

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