Snowy passage

On a recent evening, as the canyon was settling into the stillness of our first real snow of the year, I stepped outside to take in the last shades-of-grey light of the day.  The snow was falling at just the right pace to let the far hills almost a mile up-canyon be just barely visible through the diffuse white filter of the falling flakes. From this barely-there backdrop, each closer ridge and hill was a bit more solidly “here” – the ridge across from us half-obscured, the one next door above Jim’s a quarter less present than normal.  And in the near foreground, the steady fall of visible flakes, turning the yard’s air into a filled three-dimensional matrix of activity, rather than “empty space” between me and the piñons, or me and the bird-feeder tree.

Snow somehow connects sky and earth in a way rain doesn’t quite evoke.  Perhaps it’s the slower falling: we can clearly perceive each flake passing by on its journey from cloud to ground. Perhaps also snow invites us into its presence more readily; even without hat or coat, I lingered long and easily.  Rain fills the space and leaves no room for us without succumbing to its moisture, while snow occupies the space while allowing us to enter without hunkering down. (Well, at least a still snowfall…biting winds create quite a different moment!)

So, there I am, drinking in the canyon’s body around me, appreciating the dimensionality provided by the flake-filled air.  A neighbor’s voice from across the way – surprisingly clear.  Then an odd creaking noise, just a couple of pulses of it, from up the canyon.  A strange sound: not quite mechanical, yet neither vocal (coyote? cat? human? No…) The raspy sounds come again, a few more, maybe four or five pulses jumbled together, a totally out of place artifact. What where who why?

And suddenly, I realize: cranes! Will I see them through the snow? The calls come closer, and yes!, a broad curved V – call it a very wide U – glides down the canyon.  Just a few voices (maybe a half dozen or so) from thirty-ish birds, wings pumping.  Now, just briefly as they pass by, the soft whir of three score feathered arms…and almost as soon as I can revel in this magnificently gentle touch being passed through the space between them and I, the subtle sound is lost, this expansive visitation sliding along silently once more, down over Thor’s and into the snowy distance.

Sandhill CranesWEB

Recording: Erick Burres Photo: Ask the Birds

Late! Caught in the storm en route to the Bosque del Apache? Most of the thousands of winter residents arrive there in November; this is either some cold-hearty crew that enjoys dancing the edge of winter on their way south, or a bunch of stragglers who reveled a bit too long in the late fall of their summer home, or perhaps relaxed into a spell of Indian Summer along the way….

They must have been winging their way down the eastern slope of the Rockies, swinging down over Las Vegas (NM) and Glorieta Pass, now picking up the Galisteo valley as they head for the Rio Grande.  For the time-stopping forty seconds that they passed through my snow revelry, they soared directly over the river, winging intently along the watercourse, which travels southwest here; interesting that they weren’t taking a southernly beeline to the Bosque, which would have taken them far south of this point.

No doubt my human speculations about where from and why now and which way are as far off base as they can possibly be; what do I know of the ways of cranes? And so I ask forgiveness for my indulgence, and return to that fleeting, extended moment when a fleet of wings passed through this wintry calm, and I say: carry on, wild ones!

About Jim

Night sky watcher; a mobile bit of earth's body. One foot lingering in Lower Cañoncito's piñon-juniper foothills at the southern tip of the Rockies, the edge of the Great Plains stretching away from the mouth of our little valley a couple miles downstream. The other foot re-rooting into the Land of the White Pines, home of my blood and bones, amidst the coastal plain and glacial hills and ponds of southern Maine, between the North Atlantic and the bones of the ancient Appalachian Mountains.

Posted on 2011/12/08, in Earth, Jimwords. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Victoria Cross

    I am wondering, Jim, when this occurred, and am envious of your moments there and then in the snow,

    • It was the evening of December 3rd…and they first came into sight just about exactly between your house and mine!

  2. Hi Jim; I gravitated immediately to this piece. Nicely written and I have thought and observed the same types of feelings about experiencing a snowfall here in the canyon. My friend Minnie had left a message about the cranes coming this way (I think she thought they were geese) and alerted me, but I was not home at the time and missed it. She lives west of here about a mile or so, so that is interesting about their travel pattern. Mayber there were cranes and geese at different but near times. I think it was on the first of jan or second. Good work. Here is my blog:

    • I missed that one! This was a month earlier….I think it was during the fairly intense cold snap, because I remember wondering whether they’d bailed from the area up around Vegas and were hustling south. I heard more recently that that cold spell froze up enough of the open water at Bosque del Apache that lots of birds left there as well, numbers lower than usual since then.

  3. Lovely. Like watching the Canada geese circle and come into the stubbled fields around the Chesapeake Bay near here.

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