Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bob and I continued our journey through the winter flocking behavior of snow geese and, especially sand hill cranes today. We woke before dawn in Roswell and made our way quickly to the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge where we hoped to see snow geese and sand hill cranes rise up of the lakes to meet the day. We were not disappointed. The deserted (by humans) refuge was swathed in mist and the temperature was 26 degrees when we arrived - the terrain pink and silver, sand coated in salt to the extent that we mistook it for frost or snow. Birds were as prolific as humans were absent - meadowlarks and hawks, ducks, pintail, mallard, widgeon, shoveler - and of course the centerpiece birds, the snow geese and sand hill cranes, who rose in clouds and glory from the misty lake - surrounding us in call and wing beat.

After the birds had taken to air, we went back to our room and slept deeply and sweetly - woke in time for checkout and a delicious Mexican lunch at a restaurant Bob found by asking the motel desk clerk where to get good Mexican food. At first questioning she sent us to a fancy looking place next door to the motel. When Bob asked her if she would send us to a really good restaurant if we were willing to drive further, she sent us down the highway to a family run place which was the real deal - owner's daughter waiting tables, owner's collection of models of vintage cars in a glass under the register, piles of spicy, nurturing food.

Bitter Creek refuge in the afternoon seemed to be on a different planet than it had at dawn. The cranes and geese were gone, and the temperature had gone up 30 degrees. Sun shown on a landscape dry and desert like. Hawks sat in trees and ducks continued to circle on the ponds.

We drove old roads, narrow and straight through dry land to the last location on our crane tour, Mule Shoe National Wildlife Refuge. It was here, at Paul's lake, that Bob first experienced masses of sand hill cranes before he knew me. He has told me so many times - at my request - the story of waiting by that little lake at dawn, only to discover that it was covered in sand hill cranes, more crane than water. He watched them take off in small groups for two hours. Tonight we watched them fly in - not out - as the sun set. The cranes called out in their melodic and graceful voices, the whole time we stood on the platform watching. They came in lines and vees from every direction as the sun sank and the lake took the sunset colors of rose and aqua. Some passed over our heads, crossed the lake, and found other lakes for their night's rest. Many though, drifted down through the air and settled at the far shore of Paul's lake, calling as night fell. We stayed until the velvet black of night had spiraled down, obliterating the last residue of pink light in the west. We stayed until the sky was silvered by diamond stars and we could reach up and touch the milky way. I felt four years old (the age I was when I learned the name of the milky way) and as old as the earth. This vacation has been truly magical.

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