New Years Swan Song

Friends, I am experiencing a few problems getting my web site up and running with all of the proper links for a new year. So I will continue to post my journal entries to the 2018 page for a few days until I can get things sorted out. I return home today, so may be able to get the posts on the right page soon. I will also add photographs to this post when I get it moved to Journal 2019. In the meantime, thank you for your patience.

2018 was a momentous year for us. We were able to travel to Japan, tour with our daughter and son-in-law, reunite with our exchanged daughter of 20 years ago and meet her family. We took what is likely the last sabbatical of our working career. We were able to spend more time with our grandchildren than has been possible in other years. And yesterday, on the last day of the year, we were able to witness one of nature’s most spectacular displays.

Every winter, Skagit County, Washington is a short-term home for migrating trumpeter swans, their smaller cousins, tundra swans as well as their cousins, snow geese. I had seen pictures of farm fields filled with the swans and previously had seen groups of hundreds of the birds as they were feeding in the day. Yesterday, we went to a place that is known as a nighttime resting place for the birds. We arrived in the late afternoon as the sun was sinking off to the west, giving the mountains to the east a wonderful warm glow.

The field was filled with the birds. It was impossible for me to estimate the number. There were thousands. About 11,000 trumpeter swans and as many as 55,000 snow geese have been counted in fields around the one we visited. We walked along the road, photographing the birds, being careful to not disturb them as they came in to rest for the night. Added to the fact that it was a sight I had never before seen was the sound of the birds. It was amazing to hear so many calling out to one another. The riot of sound was entertainment in itself.

Then a few birds took to the air. I was trying to get good photographs of flying birds when something caused a huge number of them to take off. The air was filled with birds. There were so many that I wondered how they could fly in such numbers and not run into one another. The huge mass of birds circled for a while before returning to the same field. The shutter on my camera was going as fast as possible as I tried to capture the moment.

We saw occasional migrating trumpeter swans and snow geese when I was growing up in Montana. The trumpeters are spectacular birds. They are the largest of North American swans and can stand 4’ high. But in those days they were rare. They were thought to be on the brink of extinction before conservation efforts began to support a rise in their numbers.

What we saw yesterday was something nearer to the way the birds used to populate this area, when they numbered in the tens of thousands instead of hundreds. It was one of nature’s miracles and something that I will remember as long as I live. It was a spectacular moment.

As I study the pictures of the evening’s phenomena, I realize that most of the flying birds I captured on film are snow geese. I do, however, have some wonderful pictures of trumpeter swans on the ground.

As I rise on the first day of a new year, I am filled with gratitude at the way that 2018 ended for me. I am grateful that my grandchildren could see such a spectacular natural display. I’m glad that they live in a place where the performance is repeated each year. I’m glad that their parents are appreciative enough of it to take their children to see it. I’m glad I got to see it with them.

I know little of the perception of birds, but it seems quite possible that the ability to see, process and appreciate the beauty of the event is unique to human witnesses. The birds may not understand how unusual and truly glorious their gathering is. It seems likely that it is one of the events of this creation that requires human witnesses to be fully appreciated.

I realize as I write this morning that like many of my experiences, words are inadequate to describe what I have witnessed. Still, it seems to me that the attempt to describe the event is a uniquely human characteristic. The desire to share the experience and publish it for others to be included is something that we humans seem to do in ways that are different from other creatures.

Of all that has been created and all that has come to life throughout the millions of years of this planet’s history, the glory of creation has come together with a witness who is able to recognize it and who tries to put it into words. It seems to me that this is a form of worship.

I know that my spirit is renewed by close encounters with the natural world. I know that my spirits are lifted by experiences with other creatures. The delight of my 18-month-old granddaughter at the sights and sounds of the birds is something that is as impressive and unforgettable as the birds themselves. And somehow, through no merit or earning on my part, I have been allowed to witness such an exuberance of birds and delight and awe and wonder. With the magnificent Cascade mountains rising in the background, the scene was so incredible, so wonderful, that I am just glad that I was there to see it.

And so we start a new year. 2019 holds wonders. I am waking to the world in a location that is not far from where we went to witness the swans and geese as they bedded down for the night. In a little while, when the sun creeps over the mountains, the birds will once again take to wing, searching for water and food and the essentials of their lives. All are available in abundance in this location. Then, following ancient patterns, they will sense the changing of the seasons in the lengthening of days and when the time is right, begin to migrate back to British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. The years go round. The cycle continues. And every once in a while, we are fortunate enough to see what is happening.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!