Birds

White birds congregate in the fields below the road. We pass them often these days.  They’ve come  from Russia  to winter and feed in the fallow fields near my home. They are tundra swans, trumpeter swans, snow geese. The  Trumpeter swans  are big and white with long curved necks.  The geese  are smaller but just as white with wings tipped in black.

For many  winters we have gone looking for  the swans.  Mostly to the north of us.  Not so long ago the swans  were nearly extinct, mostly due to the ingestion  of lead shot pellets.
The county to the north banned the use of lead shot and slowly the numbers grew. Now they are everywhere and we don’t really need to go looking for them.

One  grey damp day, when our son was young and small enough to fit in our arms, we drove north through the winter fields to search for swans.   They were still rare and hard to find. Mostly we found geese, hundreds of them. How loud they were.  As we watched, they lifted suddenly into the sky.  Flew over our heads.  My son threw his arms up in the air, laughed and screamed and pointed.

Naturally we wondered what startled them, they looked so content. What might have scared or threatened them.  What was  lacking  there in the field  where they fed that they felt the need to leave?

It made me think of trains.  Like I do when I walk the railroad grades  near my home, the ones that once had tracks but now are bike trails and walking paths. Maybe the movement made me think of  travel,  of what we see  when we wander here or there, along train tracks or on bikes,  in planes,  or cars.  And birds, they always had this magic,  this way of lifting away, quickly and suddenly whenever things didn’t sit well.

I once rode trains in Africa.  One an overnight route to  from Moshi to Mombasa.  the train broke down somewhere in the night, in the  jungle where no lights shone,  except for  the occasional camp fire. The train rattled and clanged and screeched to such a halt that we all woke from our slumbers.   I opened the window to a  buzzing quiet.  Out of the   dark came a dozen bobbing lights.  Children shouted and men talked and carried tools.   To fix the train and the tracks? As if they did this all the time. A celebration of sorts. The children waved and shouted things I didn’t understand.  A man below my window  lugged a giant pry bar and another pounded with a sledge hammer. The train  conductor came  and they worked together long into the hot night. Then it was quiet.

I wondered what it was they did or loved or hoped for.  And this train, I wondered,  did they ever get on?  Did they desire to leave, to lift up and fly away? Maybe some and not others? And why ?

I wonder about the lives of others.   How it is they live and what do they think or do or love or desire?   Once,  on a bus from Chetumal to Belize City,  the deep green sugar cane  waved under a sunny  sky and Bob Marley played on the radio.   The driver sang loudly as he  turned off the main highway and stopped in front of a brightly painted house.   His,  I supposed.  A woman came out from the house,  slim and beautiful, with a small boy behind and  a bag of food in hand.  The driver scooped the boy up in his arms and kissed him and turned to all of the passengers  and  waved and beyond, off in the distance, the blue of the Caribbean sea  bounced and waved   and  he  put his  son down and kissed the woman and took  the bag of food  and then we continued, he driving and singing loudly.

Why have I wandered?  What made me fly from my fields and stray so far?  What hope?  Or fear?  Or desire?

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Aunt Beulah says:

    Oh, I liked this so very much. It touched my heart and my experience. Many times I have “…wondered what it was they did or loved or hoped for,” but not as beautifully as your words did. The story of the driver in Belize is a wondrous thing, especially combined with your last sentence. This is such powerful writing for anyone who has traveled any distance: far away or close by. Have you considered submitting it to a travel magazine?

    1. Thank you ! I hadn’t considered it for a travel magazine but I like the suggestion. The driver in Belize has stuck with me for many years – they all seemed so very happy.

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