The sun shone brilliantly Saturday. In celebration, I spent the morning taking photographs at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
I wondered what sights I’d see as I headed to the refuge. The week prior great flocks of ducks had shared the open water, rising in concert at the screech of an approaching raptor, settling again once all danger had passed. The air was alive with the sounds of squawks and rushing wings. Small birds cheeped from the cover of yellowing willows and cattails. Canada geese crossed the sky in long, trailing V’s, honking wildly as they jockeyed for position on the lake. Diving ducks disappeared beneath the water’s surface to reappear suddenly at some distance. Wood ducks and mergansers swam among pelicans and coots. Swans stretched their wings. Great egrets worked the edges of the cattails. Terns scoured the shallows.
On Saturday morning the pools were relatively quiet. Under the midday sun, mallards lazed solitarily on the open water. In defiance of the shortening days, dragonflies helicoptered back-and-forth; bumblebees and monarch butterflies flew between late-blooming goldenrods and field thistles. Rosehips and dogwoods painted red the lake’s edges; aspens brushed the shrubland in golds and yellows. Above the stunted trees, a red-tailed hawk hovered, then dove. South of the refuge headquarters, a family of trumpeter swans pulled succulents from beneath the pond’s surface. A northern harrier flew low over the cattail marsh, turned wing and headed east. Northern shovelers idled on waves as the sun shifted to the west.
We head now into October. The days shorten. The early morning bike rides prior to work have ceased. I get no more than a half-hour ride in at the end of the day. The world is in transformation. By month’s end, the air will have taken on a bitter edge. Come Halloween, the first snow will surely have fallen. By Thanksgiving, winter will have firmly set in. At the refuge, snow will sift through rattling cattails where last Saturday trumpeter swans fed. Come January, blizzard winds will howl unchecked across the frozen ponds. I will wake in darkness and head home from work in the same.
But come mid-March, as the sun gathers strength with the approaching equinox, the sounds of rushing wings will once again fill the air. The honks of returning geese will announce a new season. The days will lengthen, the earth will wake, and life will begin anew.
“All is a procession,” Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass. “The universe is a procession with measured and beautiful motion.”
Today the earth tilts on its axis. The days shorten. Our fall into winter begins.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: Original 1855 Edition (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2007): 95.