White birds congregate in the fields. We pass them often these days. They’ve come from Russia to winter over, 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 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 birds numbers increased. Now they are almost profuse.
One day, when our son was young and small enough to fit in the crook of our arms, we went searching for swans. They were still rare. We found mostly geese, hundreds of them, and a few swans. As we watched, they lifted suddenly into the sky. Flew over our heads and all around. 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 and laughed, and screamed. Pointed wildly.
We wondered what startled them. What might have scared or threatened them. What was lacking in their field?
It made me think of trains. I’m not sure why. Maybe the movement made me think of travel, of what we see when we wander here or there, walking 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 everyone woke – up and down the train heads popped out of windows to have a look. I opened my window and saw a dozen bobbing lights appearing out of the dark. There were children laughing and men talking loudly, tools in their hands. To fix the train and the tracks, I wondered? As if they did this all the time. A celebration of sorts, it seemed. 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 quiet. I fell asleep to wake somewhere near morning, the waft of salty ocean air through the open window. The clang train on a track.
I wondered what it was they all did or loved or hoped for, those we passed in the night, that came to help. 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. 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.