Spring is coming to us here in Oregon, in its messy way. Yesterday, the Real Doctor and I got out the tandem and rode out to the house at Oak Creek. In the course of that ten mile ride, we experienced bright sunshine, overcast, rain, sleet, snow, and (again) bright sunshine*. At the house, the daffodils are starting to bloom, and some of them have even avoided becoming garnishes for whatever salad the local turkeys eat. As we were talking with a neighbor, we were interrupted by the classic spring experience: over the noise of the wind and occasional logging truck, we heard the classic “rusty windmill” sound of cranes.
Looking around, we spied the largest flock of migrating sandhill cranes I’ve seen in my entire life—more than a hundred of them, arranged in a huge, north-pointing V. By the time they were overhead, the racket they made (and the jaw-dropping sight of these birds) made conversation impossible. These wonderfully elegant birds and their creaky song of spring are what I tried to remember later, during our ride home, to counter the miserable winter weather and my miserable winter legs.
It may have been these very same birds who cheered me up a couple of months ago. I was driving home from a tiring stay with my parents (it was essentially a two-month long siege to get my mom to accept some help dealing with my dad; I was successful, but psychologically, I was a wreck). Brother M., the Bay Area high school biology teacher, had mentioned that he was going to be doing a workshop in the Sacramento Delta that day, and I said wouldn’t it be wild if we could meet up. We both sort of laughed the idea off.
So there I was, driving past the giant wind turbine near Tracy after five boring hours behind the wheel, when brother M. calls me and asks where I am. I had gotten a really late start, and was about two hours behind my anticipated schedule, so I thought there was no hope of meeting him. However, he was a little more sanguine; apparently these workshops move at a leisurely pace. He called again as I was leaving Stockton, and over a garbled cell-phone connection he gave me the instructions: turn off at this exit, go under the highway, go straight over the bridge, turn left at the second turn, go past the silos, past the gate, and we’ll be at the bend in the road. It was everything but knock twice, whistle “Annie Laurie” and say that Joe sent me, and impossible to remember. So, when I got to that exit a few minutes later, I just stopped under the highway and called him up. He said “Great. JUST STAY THERE.”
So I did, and he (and five other high school teachers) rolled up about two minutes later—an improbable feat of coordination considering that I had left from Los Angeles and he had left from Burlingame, spent the day kayaking and birding and hiking in the Delta, and was just about to hit the last stop on his day’s tour. I followed his car straight, over the bridge, left at the second turn, past the silos, past the gate, and there at the turn in the road was a dozen other people, all with spotting ‘scopes and binoculars.
It was easy to see—and hear— why this soggy field of corn stubble was special.
The sunset sky was full of birds and their calls. It was full of birds to the point where it seemed that there wasn’t room in the air for any more birds as their flocks wheeled around to find the best place to spend the night. It was so full of their calls that we sometimes had to shout to hear each other. There were flocks of hundreds of geese and ducks of several different species, and so many cranes! As crowded as the air was, the stubbly fields were just as crowded—this field was the place to be if you were a goose, that one was the dancing ground for the elegant but noisy cranes. The fat, red sun sliding behind Mount Diablo did little to warm the chilly November air, but it provided a perfect backdrop for the elegant flight of the cranes.
After a while, I gave up on the binoculars that I had been offered by another teacher. The sun was down, the sky was darkening, and I just wanted to lose myself in the raucous avian scene. When it was too dark to see anything, I bade brother M. adieu and continued north with a much lighter heart. While I was dealing with my parent’s situation, it was real work to keep up my desire to deal with another day. It was tonic to see all these beautiful creatures, screaming at me, at each other, at the universe, “LIFE! LIFE!! LIFE!!!” Spring sings this biological imperative too, and yesterday maybe some of those same birds tried to remind me of it.
*and by the way, I heartily endorse Showers Pass brand cycling rain jackets, made in Oregon. They are far and away the best I’ve every tried, keeping me and the Real Doctor dry and comfortably warm--but not hot--no matter how crappy the weather or how hard we’re working. Never wet from rain, never clammy from sweat—I’ve never experienced that with any other garments.