Thursday, January 5, 2012

Animal Stories -- A Bird in the Hand


A memory plucked from a fast receding autumn, told today lest it fade beneath the complex accumulation of seasons spent in the field, with all their attendant marvels large and small…

I’m alone at Au Sable Light -- just west of the mighty Grand Sable Dunes, a couple of miles in from the nearest road and with some hundreds of miles of open water before me, stretching to Superior’s northern shore.  A bluebird morning in a splendidly remote place, it’s unseasonably warm beneath a high sky.

To reach the lighthouse I pass the site of three wrecks on the beach. Depending on the vagaries of wind, waves and sand, these are the visible evidence of the Graveyard of the Great Lakes, so named due to a treacherous reef off Au Sable Point.  This year, the Sitka is buried while Gale Staples and Mary Jarecki are at least partly exposed.  I’ve gone in just after sunrise in pursuit of long light and some hours into the work am thoroughly distracted by the geometries of light and shadow.

A bird’s eye view of Au Sable Light

Lakeside off to my left flies what peripheral vision takes for a locust.  I’m concentrating on my set up, left arm partly extended, hand outstretched.  The ‘locust’ comes to light on my index finger with the taut, slender grip typical of large insects.

I look down to find a tiny puff ball of a bird clutched tight to my finger. A heartbeat passes, then two. I stare at her and she looks squarely up at me. Then she’s off to the safety and comfort of the forest. I watch until she disappears, a fleeting speck lost to the autumn woods.

After later consulting my Sibley’s bird guide, I figure her for a female Common Yellow-Throated Wood Warbler. Tough to say for certain, as in that too brief moment I saw mostly only the gaze of her dark, liquid eyes and that’s what I’ll always remember.

Considering the season it’s at least possible she’d ridden favorable winds the entire width of Superior, was desperate for safe refuge and once hard to the shore fell in near exhaustion to my outstretched hand.

Or maybe with approaching dotage I’ve come to best resemble a gnarled old tree.

It doesn’t matter precisely what species, how, from where or why. That little bird was a fellow traveler in the wilderness and especially in time of need, those must always be made welcome…

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