One of the great privileges of being a bird-know-it-all is that now and then someone lets you into a moment of grace that flies or sings its way into their day. It happens on Birdline, the CBC phone-in show I help with every couple months on CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky. It happens when I run into people who have a bird they want to tell me about. And it happens by email.
The day before yesterday, I received a note from Swift Current artist and writer, Phyllis Nakonechny. Last year, Phyllis's beautiful book, Vidh: A book of Mourning came out, garnering a nomination for Saskatchewan Book of the Year. (Here is a page from her publisher, Hagios, on Vidh.)
Phyllis, as you will see, when you read her message reproduced below with her permission, is a deep soul whose closely observed writing comes through even when she is just firing off a quick email to a friend.
I had the most amazing, lovely experience this morning. I went out my back door to sit on my winter bench to enjoy my coffee on this blue sky morning.
As I sat I became aware of the sound of birds.... I knew it was birds because it's winter and I don't live near a pond/marsh, because truthfully the sound was more like that of summer in the country than of January in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. I want to say it was like the incessant singing of frogs in the dark, but it wasn't croaking, more like very loud humming and buzzing in a continuous sound - no breaks -like the constant sound of grasshoppers on a hot August day.
But before I could look around to find the source of this -what I knew had to be a - flock of birds somewhere nearby, suddenly directly ahead and above 8 large white-winged birds started making beautiful soaring formations in wide sweeps across the sky - I could actually hear their wings flapping - and I thought to myself: they look like the Canadian Forces Snow Birds practising their aerial tricks. They made about 6 different aerial dances and then flew off.
I don't know what they were, but I was grateful to have witnessed their great white wings soaring above me. I knew the sound of the birds hadn't been coming from them, but maybe they were reacting to the loud sound of birds that still filled the air.
I could still hear this loud metallic humming and I turned now to look for the source. Two lots down from my back yard there they sat high up in the bare branches of the trees: I have no idea what they were. I have never seen such a group of 40 (?) VERY LARGE birds. I mean I have seen one hawk sitting on a fence post, but never so many such sized birds all together in a group.
I ran indoors to get my(unfortunately) small binoculars and tried to see them close up. They were basically a brown but their inside tail feathers seemed darker and a different shade altogether. So then indoors again for the (unfortunately, again)small Sony cyber-shot camera. Here they are with the first photo cropped a bit so as to bring them closer to the eye. I came indoors again to get more coffee, hoping to sit outside for a bit longer to see what they looked like if they flew, but alas, when I went back out, they had all gone. I don't know how long they had been there before I went outdoors, but the time that had passed had been about 10 or 15 minutes from when I had first heard them. I know you can't see them well, but do you have any idea what they could have been?
And Phyllis's birds? Bohemian Waxwings, but, as my wife often reminds me, putting a name to someone's bird is not nearly as important as naming their experience. In this case we could call it "a mid-winter epiphany."