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?