A VIEW FROM THE TOP
Why the Wood Stork Sings at Dawn
It is an interesting phenomenon, I think. I see her (I am certain she is a female but have no objective reason to believe it) most mornings at around the same time. I have dropped off the other runners. They are tri-athletes (and most are about 20-25 years younger) and not “real runners,” but they do keep me “honest enough” for the middle 6 miles of my 9+ mile run most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Ha. I do like their good company even if they argue endlessly on the relative merit of various racing cycles that weigh less than my breakfast.
I am headed home, down the long fairway on Number 9. Or maybe Number 11, it matters little or not at all. This run invariably starts alone in the dark from my house before 5, and often ends that same lonely way an hour and some later (the loneliness of this long distance runner not being a fiction by a long shot) under the street lights, but there is a short window of opportunity in middle of summer into very early autumn (as if we have that here) to finish this run in the gentle light as the day breaks from its sleep and the sun begins its steady ascent. And it is then and there that I see her most mornings.
I am running to the northeast and she is gliding low, at tree top level, always to the southwest. She used to fly over silently but one morning by chance I decided to wave at her solitary figure as she soared so effortlessly overhead in the dim not-yet-morning sky, and she croaked back at me in the odd sounding way that herons and cranes and storks do. A single mournful sound and she continued on her way and me on my way, to wherever we were going. It became a habit and now we are regulars. I wave to her. She sings to me.
She disappeared over the winter to wherever she goes and I honestly worried that she might never be back. Then one late spring morning I heard wing beats low overhead and the familiar greeting. Come on now, there is no crying in running. Is there?
The Canada geese are certainly more enthusiastic. They fly with great energy to the ponds of the golf course in their special “V,” honking excitedly for all they are worth. Around my house we call it the “goose alarm.” Who could ever get tired of that sound? Or shoot at it either and try to kill it?
Or me? I unexpectedly ran into a hunter in the National Forest not too long ago while I was running mindlessly on the Munson Hills trail one morning. He was dressed in full camo and had a rifle slung across his arms. His face was even covered with a black balaclava. Ugh. I was back in the rice paddies again for an instant and I never even served in Viet Nam. Then he waved in greeting and so did I. My trepidations vanished.
Other critters will greet you on the golf course if you let them. Mourning dove sleep in the middle of the unlit fairway and take off like a covey of quail if you startle them, and yourself. Fox and possum, dillo, cats and dogs wander on through. Their eyes are an eerie glow, green or yellow, in the beam of our headlamps. Hawks aplenty during the day but they are silent sentinels before sunrise. Not so the barred owls though (“who cooks for you, who cooks for youuuuu…..????”).
Mockingbirds and cardinals sing the earliest here. Take off those ear buds and listen to life. Lightning bugs glow late here too. Take off those dark glasses and look at the life around you.
And that wood stork with her spoken hello, she remains a constant. When the run with friends is over and they have sped away in their SUVs and pick up trucks (dammit!), silent miles still remain for me. I imagine that her remaining miles are as silent as mine. We can get so utterly lost in our miles. And in our lives. We forget that we need to come out and wave and sing hello to each other. She reminded me.
“My mind concentrated and my body relaxed, bones and flesh fused completely, I drifted with the wind, east or west, like a leaf from a tree or a dry husk, and never knew whether it was the wind that rode me or that I rode the wind.” (The Book Of Lieh-Tzu).
The wood stork shares this, her song, with me, when she sings at dawn.