DUCK SOUP: Whirl Away

I am not a real birder. No "life list" of myriad species observed. No journeys around the world to spy endangered rarities. And I am terrible at remembering calls -- barring a few blatantly distinctive exceptions, most of the twitters, whistles and clicks that avians utter leave me clueless.But I love to watch -- floating downriver in a canoe, beer in one hand, binoculars in the other, steering paddle under my arm, keenly alert to the wild things all about.There's a Red-Shouldered Hawk atop a dead palm trunk tearing at the unseen prey pinned in its claws. Chunks of wet-red-something ripped and swallowed. A white spotted brown Limpkin wails like a banshee and resumes poking a long down-turned beak between weeds in search of Apple Snails. Now a dull grey Eastern Phoebe zooms overhead, stalls for two beats and veers to a nearby branch, its twitching breakfast bug briefly visible. And gone.Unless you spot birds engaged in courtship or building nests, their primary interesting activity is eating. Bird seed is big business, no? Not so different from us, really. We woo. We find housing. We eat. Having those three squares passably covered for the moment, Susan and I are in the canoe again, watching.The present journey has been more than usually colored by death -- always there, to be sure, but this time not easily ignored. An American Alligator floating upside down in the weeds and a River Otter similarly positioned against a drifting log credit someone's misguided marksmanship. A young Grey Fox bearing no apparent fatal wound lies stiff amidst pine needles which still trace the pattern of final contortions. Strangest of all, beneath four feet of clear flowing water, a White Tailed doe.We paddle back over her, wait for ripples to flatten and look again. Completely intact. Two forelegs hooked around a submerged branch are kicking languidly in the current. Her head is thrown back and she lies belly up, small teats attesting to her gender. We guess she has not been dead long, else the gators and turtles would have parted her out.We paddlers apprehend other shadows as well; each with a Mother's sister enduring untender cancer therapy. We are all terminal. Some of us are led to believe we are more specifically informed, but no matter. We each owe the earth one body, our tuppence for the piper who has favored us with this lovely tune and this wondrous dance.Dust to dust. Geologist Vladimir Ivanovitch Vernadsky referred to life as a "disperse of rock." We are not separate from the earth's crust, Vernadsky observed, we are just the parts that visibly wiggle. Agitated molecules whirling into dervishes, CEOs, peasant farmers and canoe paddlers. Moving always moving.And what motion! Vultures, both Black and Turkey, soar together overhead. Up and up into the yonder until binoculars are insufficient to follow their flight. Searching for leftovers and riding the wind. Nice work if you can get it -- perfect players in the recycling loop, probate jurists in this mineral disperse.Apart from the buzzards and headed higher, an adult Bald Eagle, wings stiff as twin ironing boards, circles above a juvenile Baldy practicing her moves. I once met a woman who hang glides for sport and recalled rising impossibly high on an updraft above Mount Shasta -- wingtip to wingtip with our national bird. She said the eagle first seemed curious about the nylon-fledged interloper in its airspace, but presently grew bored and moved on. Up.I look up. There atop a bleached pine snag sits a vigilant Osprey, black talons biting into pale wood. I aim my binoculars and am startled at the view. Over the feathered shoulder hangs the waxing gibbous moon, a semi-circular mirage set in aching blue. Wondering under my gaze, the bird's head pivots and we look together at the familiar lunar image.The Osprey turns back with a shrug. "Oh, that." Nothing there but dust. No water there for dancers to drink. The party never got started.Here on Terra Firma the party never ends. I eat another boiled peanut, sip my beer and watch four Eastern Painted Sliders plop off a log. Miracle after miracle, we celebrate, we whirl.


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