Bosque del Apache

This is a guest blog post by Barbara Ellen Sorensen

Several years ago, I traveled to Socorro, New Mexico, with my friends Scott and Mary Jean to watch the sandhill cranes and snow geese performing what I refer to as “inscribing the sky.” Located just off Interstate 25, Bosque del Apache is a National Wildlife Refuge halfway between Albuquerque and Las Cruces. We stayed in Socorro because it’s the town closest to the refuge. We also chose the least expensive place to sleep: the Econo Inn, for $50 a night. It was cheap, but clean and simple.

Mary Jean said that the birds form fine ribbons that thread the sky. I told her that using the word “ribbon” in conjunction with bird formations was overused. So for quite some time, we had a good-natured disagreement on the best way to describe the indescribable.

Scott, a wonderful photographer, had to be up at sunrise and present during sunset. This was fine by me. I had never seen a migration of thousands of birds, so during the three days we were there, I wasn’t even thinking about the chilly mornings and evenings. The first sunrise, I wrapped up quickly in wool sweaters and a down jacket and, coffee cup in hand, set out with Scott and Mary Jean to witness for myself this curiosity of nature.

At first, there was no sound, no movement in the briny marshes, but through the mist, barely visible, we could see all across the marshes and ponds, hundreds and hundreds of birds. They began to call out to one another and gradually the riotous clamor of their wings took hold of the morning air. First, the snow geese began to rise like tidal waves.

While a discernible had unsealed itself across the sky: shimmering of lapis blue mixed with incredible pink ceylon. The colors erupted through this dry desert landscape with such an chimerical force that I truly thought I was able to smell a saltiness somewhere — an allegiance of the brackish lagoon and briny tidal pools. There was only the dead and dying organic matter all around me, no sea at all.

Other wonders began to divulge themselves: rainbow cacti, tamarisk bulrushes, rust willows. The other winged creatures came too: roadrunners, coots, blue herons, blackbirds, pheasants. But none could compete with the configurations of snow geese and sandhill cranes; the emergency of their flight, and how they held one another up against a shift of wind, a flush of rain.

We stayed all day and far into the night. When the reservoir of sky suddenly grew dark, they still came, descending to the ponds. But not before they first crossed the white lantern moon, its stillness ravished by the black outline of bird bodies slashing downward in regimented formation. They were reckless in beauty. They were blind with instinct, nothing more. Bone followed bone; wing followed wing. They were always oblivious no matter what time of day we saw them. They were oblivious to changes of light and air as morning turned to afternoon, to evening, then to morning again. They were oblivious to the evening’s magnetism, its hidden constellations not yet birthed that we strained our necks in anticipation of seeing. This was truly, an experience I would never forget.

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