White birds congregate in the fields. We pass them often these days.  They’ve come  from Russia  to winter and feed in the fallow fields near my home – 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.   Not so long ago the swans were nearly extinct and the others struggled too.  It was due to the  lead shot pellets they would eat, scattered in the fields by hunters.  Then lead shot was banned and ever so slowly the numbers have  increased.  Now all are almost profuse.

Our son was young and small enough to fit in the crook of our arms the first time  we went searching  for swans.  They were just coming back and still rare.  We found mostly geese, hundreds of them, and a few swans.   As we watched, they all lifted suddenly into the sky.  Flew over our heads and all around us – a deafening and giant blur of  white blocking out the sky.  I thought my son would be frightened but he threw his arms in the air, laughed and screamed and pointed.

We wondered what startled them. What might have scared or threatened them.  What was  lacking  in their field?

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 have this magic,  this way of lifting away, quickly and suddenly whenever things don’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. Somewhere  in a jungle where no lights shone,  except for  the occasional camp fire. The train rattled and clanged and screeched to such a halt that all woke. All up and down the train head popped out.   I opened  my  window too and looked to see  a dozen bobbing lights appearing out of the dark.  Children laughed  and men talked loudly,  tools in their hands.   To fix the train and the tracks? As if they did this all the time. A celebration of sorts. The children waved as they got closer. 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.

Some have no need to wander.

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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