COUNTY AGENT GUY
It seems like the invasion begins earlier and earlier each spring.
I don’t mean the foul-mouthed political campaigns. I’m talking about the arrival of migratory waterfowl.
Birds are supposedly endowed with mystical knowledge. They somehow know when to return to their nesting grounds and can navigate using celestial cues and Earth’s magnetic field.
This only shows how bird-brained they really are. They wouldn’t need any of those unreliable methods if they simply let Siri plot their route.
This year, the first gaggles of wild geese appeared in mid-February. I recall that last fall the geese didn’t leave until quite late in the season.
This means that they arrived at their wintering grounds, then turned around and came right back. I can empathize with not wanting to spend time in a particular place. I feel that way about Bed, Bath and Beyond.
A few days ago a humongous flock of snow geese landed on the field east of our house. From a distance, they looked like a sea of flappy, white pillowcases.
Snow geese are notoriously skittish, and something – perhaps the random twitch of a blade of grass – startled them and the flock erupted into the sky like an ash cloud boiling out of a volcano.
When it passed overhead, the feathered thunderhead briefly dimmed the light from our neighborhood star.
A few minutes after the flock departed a lone male goose flew by, honking forlornly as if he were saying, “Guys! Where are you? Weren’t we supposed to gather at Heppler’s slough?”
I could tell it was a guy goose because he was steadfastly refusing to stop and ask for directions.
I know from experience that hunting honkers is an exercise in extreme exasperation. The spring when I was 9, a galactic flock of snow geese alighted on the hill south of our dairy farm.
I tried to count them, but tallying wild geese is the mathematical equivalent of drinking from a fire hose. I simply settled on the estimate that there were a trillion geese, give or take a billion.
The hill was literally alive with the sound of music. That is, if a cacophony of raucous honks and squawks qualifies as music.
The geese sat on the hill and gabbled all night. Early the next morning, armed with my trusty Red Ryder BB gun, I tried to get a sneak on them.
I knew it would be challenging to bag a goose. Shooting my Red Ryder had taught me that in order to down something of such size, I would have to get close enough to slip a noose around a goose’s neck.
Maybe then the bird would hold still long enough for me to draw a proper bead on it.
I crept along a fence line and was able to get to within a fairly short distance of the flock, by which I mean I was still half a mile away. I knew that the only way to cover the remaining ground would be to belly crawl.
Belly crawling across a muddy stubble field isn’t my idea of fun. Within moments, my clothing had accumulated a layer of mud that was thick enough to support a crop of carrots.
I was still several hundred yards away when the geese burst into the sky with such unison that they appeared to be a single organism.
The geese had somehow sensed my presence despite my totally stealthy sneaking, which had involved only minor amounts of moaning and muttering about the mud.
I watched in awe as the winged cloud swirled off into the sunrise. It then dawned on me that most difficult part of this adventure would be explaining to Mom why my clothes contained more dirt than the actual field.
One of my first lessons regarding the mystical powers of birds was bestowed on me in first grade.
It was a balmy spring afternoon and one of my older sisters and I were walking home from our one-room schoolhouse. As we strolled past a grove, a meadowlark belted out its lilting tune.
I asked her sort of bird that was.
“That’s a weather bird,” replied my sister with an air of confident authority.
I was about to ask how a bird might earn such a name when the meadowlark warbled again.
“Listen,” exclaimed my sister. “He’s singing, ‘It’s going to be real nice today!'”
It was impossible to argue with such an irrefutable, self-evident fact. From then on, I referred to meadowlarks as weather birds.
This misperception lasted for some years. “Hear that?” I said to a little boy one spring morning. “That’s a weather bird.”
“Don’t be such a goof, Dad,” replied our 6-year-old son. “That’s a meadowlark.”
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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