I stumbled out of bed this morning at the insistence of two medium-sized dogs and a cat who's much louder than his size. I hadn't had my coffee yet, but they were dancing and prancing in front of the door, and I knew resistance was futile. So I flipped on the coffee pot, threw on a couple of layers of fleece and headed out, grumbling against the cold and my subcutaneous early-morning resistance to always following the dogs' agenda instead of my own.
We headed up into the orchard just as dawn hit the baby-blanket stage, an extravaganza of pink and blue. I walked with my head down, marveling at how quickly we've gone from green grass underfoot to this straw over-laced with frost. My attention turned to the sky when I heard, faintly in the distance, a panicked-sounding honk coming from the south. Looking up I saw a lone Canada goose, flying over the horizon toward me, his strong wings beating like an Olympic swimmer in the sky.
"Poor thing," I thought, "he's gotten separated from the flock." I had just begun to wonder what happens to solo geese when they lose their way when far, far in the distance, I heard a faint chorus of honking. Like the cavalry riding over the hill, a long line of geese angled its way along the northern horizon, heading straight for the singular goose to the south. In less than a minute, they had connected. The southern goose gracefully turned and took his place at the head of what had now become the familiar flying-V formation. He hadn’t been lost at all, maybe just an outlier (an outflier?), scouting their new direction.
As I stood marveling at this sight that, no matter how familiar and how mundane, never fails to just knock me out (the complexity of it all!), suddenly a flock of small birds took flight about 50 yards to my left. I glanced up and was instantly confused. I had thought they were sparrows, but these birds had bright red bellies. My mind instantly began searching its bird database. What kind of small bird in Kansas would flock like that and have scarlet bellies? I was interrupted mid-confusion by the sight of the first birds in the flock changing their angle and heading off to the north. Their red plumage suddenly disappeared. Sparrows, after all, turned vivid by the dawn’s early light.
Shaking my head in awe and wonder – ultimately my natural state on most of these morning meanders, regardless of their grumpy beginnings – I looked down in time to catch the cat and one of the dogs also staring up at the small flock (though I could swear I heard the cat whisper, “I could take ‘em …”).
Sometimes people ask me why I live way out in the boonies like I do. I wish I could just hand them this memory and say, “See?”
Image: iStockphoto.com/Gord Horne