The refuge is unusually quiet as we drive in. No raptors soaring the sky. No herons hunting at the fringes of the lakes. No flashes of swan white flickering on the lakes.
Late March means nesting (the herons and raptors) and migrating (the swans). So there's often not so much to see. We're here because this place is holy in a way that never fails to feed our hearts and souls. And never once have we left without the gift of some new amazement.
Without warning the sky fills with Canada geese. Hundreds squawk/honk their way overhead - a massive chorus of urgent bicycle horns both discordant and melodic. Small vees form into focus, then blur out of focus as the birds flap north. Just as suddenly, they wheel in the sky in a confusion of wings. I'm amazed there are no collisions and wondering if some of the racket isn't watch-out alarm.
They settle in a nearby field and for a few minutes the only sound coming through my open window is the wind-driven rustle of dry grass standing guard over baby green nettles.
Only moments later, the air fills again - elegant goose bodies and heart-stirring goose music. I can't tell if these are the same geese, or different. There are gatherings of them everywhere we look. Far more than we've seen at one time in the refuge all winter. Usually they only take to the air at the sound of gunshots, but the hunters are gone. There is no outer reason for their restlessness.
Again, they seem to be leaving the refuge, beginning to form the vee that will carry them to their northern home safely. I wonder if I'm going to be lucky enough to witness the exact moment of migration. Again, they u-turn with an abruptness that is unsettling to watch.
It takes us a long hour to move through the meadows and canals and lakes on this day - the last visit of the winter. Time and time again the geese repeat this sky dance, from every corner of the refuge. I feel their restlessness. I feel the urgency pushing them into the sky. I feel the ambivalence pulling them back - something saying not just yet. As we drive away, the air is quiet again, the geese grounded. But not for long.
photo from Flickr