Snow Geese on the wing. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Living in chartless nothing

By Margo Hearne

Juncos are back at the feeder, teal are in Delkatla, and a Song Sparrow chips from the underbrush.

It’s definitely fall as we head into darker days. The clocks have fallen back as well. I’m not the only one who wishes they would stop doing that — the light comes and goes at its own pace without our interference. Perhaps we are trying to steal a march on time?

It doesn’t work, and birds are living proof the seasons will unfold as they should. The Earth moves around mighty Sol, the life-giving sun, and there’s no point in trying to control it. It’s probably what we are trying to do, but come what may, time unfolds at its own pace and birds come and go. A little later this year to be sure — the long dry summer took a while to cool into fall and the birds stayed north a little longer.

So, it is now November.

Overhead this week streams of migrating Snow Geese moved across the island. We hadn’t seen that many for a while although two or three have landed with the local geese to feed in the dunes. There are always a few drop-offs — those lingerers that are either too old or too tired to keep going. If a nice green field beckons, down they come to join the flocks of Cackling and Canada geese in Delkatla and elsewhere.

We seem to have missed the Greater White-fronted Geese this fall. They are the ones with the high laughing call that sometimes appeared so high in the sky they looked like mosquitoes. On calm days their call drifted down and, like us, reminded the ancestors to get the crops in and the garden put to bed for the winter. And if some of the birds landed, there was food for the winter.

The Sword in the Stone, written by T.H. White in 1938, has some lovely descriptions of how it felt to be a White-fronted Goose. Merlin the magician turned young King Arthur into one and the place where he found himself “was absolutely flat where only one element lived: the wind. It was a dimension, a power of darkness and he felt himself uncreated… living in nothing – a solid nothing, like chaos.”

White described the geese as “sailors of the air, angled wedges tearing clouds to tatters, singers of the sky with the gale behind them… these mysterious geographers – three miles up, they say, with cumulus for their floor instead of water.” When they ran into cloud the wings “next to their own wings would shade into vacancy, until each bird was a lonely sound in cold annihilation, a presence after uncreation… where they’d hang in chartless nothing.”

So, the geese are here for the moment. The small Aleutians stick together and seem to move as one across the green while the larger Canada geese are more independent. The flocks of ducks, harassed recently by two Peregrine Falcons, rose and fell en masse before splashing vigorously into the rising tide.

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