They leave sporadically. Some of them go at the first hint of fall’s advance. Others hang around until the first snows herd them southward as a rancher with heavy-footed cattle lumbering across pasturelands; gorged on the last of summer’s grasses. The air is sullen and stilled by their absence; the void of song leaving a hole wide and gray. Trees stand as tenements emptied, their residents having taken wing for warmer skies.
But it was the geese really. Their movement was monumental; indescribably massive in scope as if a whole nation of waterfowl moved in unison. Other birds would cluster in sordid bands and bounce southward; a grouping here and a grouping there. But geese . . . they would advance as an innumerable army seizing the very skies themselves.
As a kid, they would surge down the Atlantic flyway as if it were a conduit that compressed untold millions of geese into an invisible highway in the sky. The main body would come in droves of thousands; an endless string of black pearl strands being pulled southward; waving like the tail of a grand kite in the wind. It was too vast to embrace; being one of those things in life that defies the parameters of our imaginations and spills far outside the reach of our senses. Because it does, we’re never quite done with it because we never quite absorb it all. It slips by experienced as something grand, but we inherently know that the grandeur that we were able to embrace was but a minuscule part of the whole. As I kid, I knew that.
The Atlantic flyway cuts a mystical swath through the heart of the southern Lake Erie region. All but an hour's drive or so away from home, we would tumble into the car and head out to sit on the sidelines of the miraculous. From miles away, you could see thin layers of black string formations low-slung across the sky; birds ascending and descending in numbers too vast to count. The water, the adjacent fields, the roads themselves were thick with them, each seeming to be an exact replica of the other; each energized with a corporate sense that something grand was afoot that was as individual as it was collective.
Even as a kid I knew that what I was observing was but a moment in time. Some things are too grand to last for long because you can only absorb so much wonder and majesty before you’ll explode. But therein lays the rub. You want it to last, even if the sheer pleasure of it all kills you. At least death would be happy. You’d die with a smile.
To appreciate most things you have to let them go. Some things become even more precious by their absence. When you lose something you grieve the loss and the exercise of grief can be brutally hard. At the same time, appreciation for that thing is dramatically enhanced in kind of a give and take exchange. It’s the push and pull of life that as a kid watching a million geese I didn’t get. All I wanted to do was to stand in the middle of this ocean of airborne life and somehow try to be a part of it; to find my place in it and believe that I could join it if only in the celebration of a season turning and a migration transpiring.
In feathered constellations of hundreds and sometimes thousands they would launch themselves from all around me in a deafening burst of pounding wings and haunting voices; assailing the sky and rising to warmer horizons. And in it I was left behind, simultaneously feeling a sense of abandonment, an equally thick sense of loss, but a deeper instinctual sense that this was right and proper and good. I had to let go. I had to let it be. I had to close out this moment, let it pass into my history, go home and resume my life. As a kid, that was tough.
Yet there was something temporal is the grandness of it all. Jacques Deval said, "God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages." Some things cannot be bound over or held, despite our desire to do so. It's in the context of un