“So long, It’s been good to know ya,” is the song the classic American folk group, the Weavers, used to end every concert with. And I could hear Pete Seager and Company singing away in the background when about 9:30 yesterday morning a flock of about 60 Sandhills took flight and the DAR’s with them. They spiraled up into the cloudless blue above, and headed north to begin their migration.
They, of course, were vocalizing their own accompaniment, more raucous than melodic. But hey,… whatever works. Soon they were reduced to beeps on the radio receiver until those too faded into silence. There’s always something hauntingly sad yet joyous about such an occasion.
The wonder of it all might be best celebrated with a toast to all the great people and all their great efforts that made this moment a reality. But still, you’re left with the feeling you had when you put your child on the school bus for the first time. It’s a jungle out there, and a hell of a long way to Wisconsin. And I wish I’d gotten to know them better…the DAR’s, I mean. Sure 19-09 was a familiar ultralight alumni. But those other two DAR chicks. They were just so darn cute! Meanwhile, our nine little characters looked up briefly in half interest, then went about their foraging. Perhaps they were dining on “It’s all about ME” grubs.
Not that the day started out that way. What I mean is, things started out pretty mellow. At 6:05 am the twelve Whoopers flew in together from Dinsmore Slough. No Sandhills, no ducks, no geese. Just white! You could almost hear them singing “We are the World” as they moved as one across the field, probing and grubbing as they went.
Then at 7:30 the Sandhills arrived. First a dozen, then maybe 20, followed by more in dribs and drabs until they numbered about 60, loosely coalescing into three distinct groups. That’s when the DAR’s traded the novelty of new friendship for the security of old and mingled with the Sandhills. Meanwhile the nine UL chicks simply wandered through the maze of grey, out the other side and off to the far side of the field.
All this was punctuated by the arrival of three playful bucks (as in deer), two sporting wall worthy racks as they sparred for a quick round or two in the midst of the Sandhills. One could not escape the urge to blame the complete incongruity of the scene on Monty Python. Soon the bucks ran off to answer their hormonal call of the wild, leaving the Sandhills to listen for their call of migration above the ever present din of nearby traffic, and the occasional lonesome train whistle, the kind that lives in at least every third country and western song.
But Mother Nature can out shout even the loudest of man produced ear worms, and when she calls, nature listens and the curtain rises on the symphony that is migration.
It was lonely for a while. The chicks continued their probing explorations in their favorite places with complete innocence and trust. Perhaps too much of both. What will life be like now without the presence of these other spirits, without their vigilance, their wisdom, their experience? Though the ties were loose and seemingly non-binding, did there exist by their presence a karma of protection? Has the threat level just ratcheted up? Have the challenges and threats just grown exponentially?
I sat in the bush watching the chicks a few hundred yards away, haunted by all this when seemingly out of nowhere a small flock of Sandhills appeared from high above. They parachuted down to where the chicks foraged in complete innocence. Then a larger flock appeared, then another, until there were over 100 Sandhills standing shoulder to shoulder with the still unimpressed chicks.
The mountain was again coming to Mohammed and perhaps bringing with it that special something that makes things turn out okay. And as the sun dropped like a lead sinker into a pool of dirty water, they all flew off to the slough to roost together.
It was dark when I got out of the van to unlock the visitors center gate, and as my hands wrestled with the lock, something ran out onto the driveway 10 yards in front of me, stared at me momentarily, then ran across into the bushes. A bobcat!.