A few evenings ago I made my nightly pilgrimage around the garden and yard. After inspecting and filling the dozens of holes dug by migrating robins and brown thrashers, I made my way to check on the fall foliage of the birches, maple, and willow.
Along the back fence is an opening that looks out to my neighbor's 3 acres, and in the distance--about 200 feet--is a thick stand of mature trees on the edge of their property. Where that stand of trees ends and meets the thin line that runs along the back of my lot, is a small pond which marks the end of a long flyway, if you will, reaching back across many acreages running parallel to my neighborhood.
An autumn dusk is always breathtaking. The air is crisper and drier, the sunlight sharper, the musk of rich decay feeding new soil sweet and thick and reminiscent of the woods I would explore growing up in Minnesota. I am always home when I smell this air, holding it as close and far inside me as possible with each deep breath.
At dusk my chilling body leans against the chain link fence, and I can hear in some great distance Canadian geese--another call home for me. The cries shout far in this air, at this time, and I know they are searching out their nightly place among the cornfields not too far away, or the many small ponds that dot a nearby park. I don't think they are coming closer, but moving south, away from me, as they do this time of year.
But their calls remain constant, neither growing fainter nor louder. It's like my heartbeat, racing north, leaning slightly into the wind and suddenly darting right or left to catch an impulse, a desire.
I can't see them. Behind the cedars and elms is where they must be, but I am so low here, between the trees, a small gap in the line, I'll never see them.
Suddenly one lone call pierces loudly, rushes forward like a warning, a groping in the dark. I hear their wings like someone slipping on a warm coat in winter. Then there they are, no more than 20-30 feet off the ground, mapping the earth in front me. A perfect "V" of two dozen birds, pushing and pulling air, stable in the dichotomy of their actions, pulsing from east to west. I've never been so close.
The edge of the "V" closest to me is missing a bird, and as the formation slides by so low that for a moment I childishly think I can reach up, hook on and be carried away, I believe they have made a place for me.
And they have. The moment lasts all but two or three seconds, but I no longer exist in the same way that I did before. I am no longer the same person. As the calls slide over the horizon chasing the last faint yellow and magenta sunlight, I am here and nowhere, far away and closer to my place.
Stay still. Don't breathe. Be ready. They may come around again.